by Martin Denton · January 12, 2016
To begin, let’s talk about how you became interested in the theater. When did you first realize you wanted to become a playwright – and why?
I've been a storyteller since I was able to speak and a writer since I learned how to spell, but I never became a playwright until the end of college. I was studying creative writing, fiction and poetry, and always felt like the grass was greener in the dramatic writing conservatory. I love literature, but film television and theatre were my true passions. So I took a playwriting class as an elective. For that class, I adapted a short story of mine called Small Talk into a one-act play. I had struggled with the short story. It never really came together the way I wanted. But when I told the story through dialogue and action, it took on the form it was always meant to take. That's when I knew I wanted to write plays. I sent that one-act play to The Actors Studio Drama School and was accepted into their playwriting track. And that was that. It is ironic that I've only ever written plays, as my very first exposure to theatre was my father always bringing us to Broadway musicals. I would love to collaborate on a musical one day.
Who taught you how to become a playwright? This could be particular teachers, or artists who have influenced you even if you never met them.
The great Edward Allan Baker is my teacher, friend, and mentor. He is the one who saw potential in that little one-act I sent in. If he hadn't started me on that journey, I don't know where or who I would be right now. The best kind of teaching is when someone helps you recognize and reinforces what you already know, and that is what Ed did for me. He helped me harness the inherent ability to write from the heart, and to use my own life for inspiration. After a three hour class, that man would hang out and talk with us in front of the school for upwards of another hour or so at least. His very personal approach to teaching has not only benefited my writing, but my teaching as well.
So far we’ve published 2 of your plays on ITN, With a Shrug and Unearthing the Tramp. What were the inspirations for those plays? I know that Tramp is based on an actual occurrence; can you talk about how you first learned about that event, and what made you decide to turn it into a play?
With a Shrug came after the death of my father. The cleaning out of a deceased parent's house seemed like a juicy place to start a play. Once the idea of the gun came into play, the whole thing sort of fell together from there. Unearthing the Tramp was a gift. I don't remember where I read the story online, but once I realized it was true, I knew it had to be dramatized. The online article only explained the Who What When Where and How, while the question of why remained a mystery. And so, I took it upon myself to explore that. My MFA thesis needed to be a two person one-act, so I took that as the opportunity to finally tell that story. I found the digging to be a great activity to go with the dialogue. At first, I wrote a total farce to honor the absurdity of the story. But I failed to honor the very real and dire circumstances of these two very desperate characters. Ed Baker encouraged me to dig a little deeper, so to speak, and find the heart of these characters. The result was a mix of comedic farce and realistic drama that I think works well together. In both cases, Shrug and Tramp, I found setting and place to be a great jumping off point.
We have 3 more of your plays coming to ITN soon. Can you give us a bit of a preview of Teenie, Better Than Nothing, and Broken Record? What are these plays about, and what should our readers expect?
Teenie was also inspired by an online article. I read that a man was going to jail for the murder of his eighteen year old daughter. He shook her as a baby, was arrested for abuse, and served his time. The girl lived in a mostly vegetative state for eighteen years, and then died. Her death was deemed the result of injuries sustained as an infant, and so this man who had grown up and improved upon himself so much in the past eighteen years, was being charged with murder. There was just so much grey area there, which is where the best plays are born. I love the theme of redemption, it echoes in much of my work, but none so much as Teenie. Different readers can expect different reactions to this play, but most should expect a series of very mixed emotions that will leave them wondering. Better than Nothing is about a young man close to death who refuses to repent. His mother calls upon the help of a local priest to come and save his soul. What follows is a spirited debate with very personal jabs from both sides, which ultimately leads to disaster. My own Catholic community was an inspiration for this play, as well as those like me who never quite fit their mold. Readers can expect blood. Broken Record is sort of my Long Days Journey...that is to say, I never imagined it would be revealed until after I was gone. It is my most personal play. It is also my longest. This was the one time I allowed myself the luxury of writing a big long play. My family on my father's side was the inspiration for this story. It should be noted, however, that for the sake of conflict and drama, I made them a more bitter and resentful version of my very loving and forgiving relatives. The core story is an old woman who needs to see that her schizophrenic son will be taken care of after she is gone. But there are other stories and back stories and characters at play which complicate things. My home town of Utica is as much a character as anyone in this story. Readers can expect a more novelistic approach to playwriting, in which their patience will be handsomely rewarded.
Is there a Nick Priore “style”? What are some of the things that your plays all have in common?
All of my plays, with the exception of two, take place in my hometown of Utica, so there is sort of an upstate style. New York actors have mistakenly put a NYC accent on my characters, but the Utica accent is closer to Chicago than anything. I write the way that people talk around here. Many Italian characters. Many brilliant professional actors have spoken my words, but none so naturally as the actors at our local community theatre, Players of Utica, for whom the words were written. I am a naturalistic writer, but try to maintain a subtle sense of surrealism, as is the case in life. I also do not draw a line between comedy and drama...life doesn't separate the two, so neither do I.
Finally, can you tell us how you write your plays? Do you write them out in longhand, or on computer? Do you take notes and store them away; do you outline the plays before you start writing? Do you like to hear scenes from the plays as you go along, or do you wait until a full draft is complete before having anyone read them?
My favorite part of writing is coming up with an idea. That's the fun part. From there, it's a lot of work, but the initial brainstorm is always exciting. Once I have the idea, I try jotting down a little dialogue freehand, then take to my laptop and let it flow. Sometimes ideas come before I'm ready to flesh them out, so I take note and store them away until the time is right, as with Unearthing the Tramp. If I know how the plot will play out, I may use a rough outline just to make sure I hit every plot point, usually in my head, but in most cases, the plot and theme seem to fall into place as I write, and then of course are refined in revision. The way I see it, plays can either be written from the top down or bottom up, meaning start with story and find your characters, or start with characters and find your story. There is danger in both. One runs the risk of being a great story with one-dimensional characters, and the other runs the risk of having fully fleshed characters in an incoherent situation. I try to do both at the same time and meet in the middle. At the Actors Studio I was involved in the Playwright Directors Unit and the Playwright Directors Workshop. In one group, we would present an entire piece at once and comment. In the other, we would only present sections of plays and comment. Both are very helpful in different ways, but I prefer for the play to be presented in its entirety so the people commenting have more context. http://www.indietheaternow.com/ITN/ITNPlay/priore