by Martin Denton · November 10, 2015
You are one of Indie Theater Now’s youngest playwrights, and JULY HOUSE is very much a play about people your age, in their 20s. What are the important things about your generation that you are hoping to communicate to audiences in your work?
This particular play shows individuals dealing with a real global conscience. Our protagonist’s mother certainly dealt with it too, but the next generation seems to have new ways of handling the world’s injustices. The way the characters communicate to each other with cell phones and lots of sarcasm is certainly evident of the generation as well. I’ve always wanted the actors to have their personal phones with them when they perform, so checking of text messages is natural. Some of the characters are trying to define their generation, in the way that every ten-year period in American popular culture is given a defining label. In reality this type of compartmentalizing and defining of time can be a fickle exercise. In July House, a constant struggle of “defining” seems to be a defining attribute of milienals.
What brought you to the theater? And when did you realize that you wanted to be a playwright, and why?
I have always been a bit of a class clown and storyteller. I’ve also always been performing songs in a band of some sort. I love stories and words and I love the romance of a live human event. I think live events and original stories are crucial in this digital age. For me a good play should be a mix of: reading a good book, a beautiful house party with strangers and friends, a story around a campfire and a concert where you can grit your teeth, drink whiskey and cry. I can attempt to accomplish all of those sensations as a playwright. I realized I wanted to be a playwright when co-directing my second play in college. Creating a breathing story, on our feet, with a democratic team was thrilling.
Who taught you how to write plays (this could be a teacher, a playwright, or anyone in the world)?
My mother guided me into it, my professor at UNC, Bland Simpson, truly believed in me and helped me to develop story telling and the art of guiding an audience along. My summer at New Dramatists exposed me to modern writers who could use poetic symbolism in stories that felt real, funny and heart breaking.
You went to school in North Carolina and were active in the theater scene there for several years. What is the theater scene like in North Carolina? How does it compare with NYC?
North Carolina has a wonderful theatre scene, even though the beloved High Point Shakespeare festival has recently come to a close. Playmakers Theater in Chapel Hill does excellent work and many of my professors from UNC are in the company there. Joseph Haj, the artist director from Playmakers, just became the AD at the Guthrie, so that tells you something. Triad Stage, in my hometown of Greensboro, is a lovely space and does a good job of staying up with the trends as well as being a southern theater. Man Bites Dog in Raleigh is a cool spot and you can always catch some great outdoor theater in our beautiful mountains or beaches. I saw some great theater in North Carolina growing up.
Who are your heroes? And who are your theatrical heroes (if different)?
My heroes are certainly my grandmothers, who were and are both amazing women who lived with love and passion. I think John Muir is a true American genius. I love Bob Dylan and what he did with poetry and song. Theatrically, Athol Fugard is the most powerful dramatic voice I have witnessed. Quiera Hudes’s plays are beautiful to read, although I have not yet seen one. I think Eugene O’Neil and Sam Shepard made being an American playwright badass, which I appreciate.
You’ve worked with a few of NYC’s leading nonprofit theaters, such as Signature and the Roundabout and New Dramatists. What have you learned about your craft in these positions? And what have you learned about the theater world/industry in general?
I’ve been very privileged to have these opportunities. At Signature I was essentially taking tickets and getting hearing aids. I saw some amazing shows and some not so good shows. I learned that some times “talk backs” could feel like a case of the emperor’s new clothes. Signature is by far my favorite theater in New York and I think should be the model for American theaters. New Dramatists is a beautiful place and I was able to read and be around some of the best living American playwrights. Today, I feel our best playwrights are women and their writing seems so simple and effortless, yet full of a heart that I don’t think we have in our more classic American dramas. At Roundabout I had a nice glimpse into the business side of the non-profit theater. The artistic director over there seemed like a brilliant businessman.