Meet the Playwright: Robert Wray

by Martin Denton · October 7, 2015

When did you first get the theater bug – and when did you realize that you wanted to become a playwright? 

The theater bug got into my system around the time I was 7 or 8 years old and wrote skits to perform for my family as well as poems. Why this desire to write and act presented itself at such an early age I have no clue, but it's been with me ever since and has never abated. It wasn't until I was an undergrad at SUNY Purchase however that I wrote my first "official" play (as a course assignment), and when the teacher, an inspiring man by the name of Joe Stockdale, held it up in class and said, "As crude as this is, it still made me cry," it instilled in me the confidence (and craziness I suppose) to pursue writing for the stage. 

How do you write your plays? Please talk about both the mechanical aspects (do you write on a computer, with paper and pencil, on little note cards?) and also about the more abstract aspects (where do you seek/find inspiration, do you outline the plays or do the characters just appear to you, etc.?). 

The process of writing plays is a daily never-ending one. I have tons of notebooks filled with ideas, snippets of overheard dialogue, character sketches and so forth which I draw from (and continually add to) while I develop a new work. I use a typewriter--believe it or not, lol--so it takes me longer than most to complete a project (on average about 2 years), but I need that visceral/kinesthetic connection to what I write, and when I see the blank page darkening with real letters in real time (and hear the klickety-klak of the keys), I feel like I'm creating something of substance. That said, I never outline a story. I tend to use a "follow the yellow brick road" approach--the first brick often being a character or characters--and find out as I go what the story is and where it wants to take me.The main inspiration for a play usually begins (and ends) with character. 

Diversity and parity are important topics in the world of theater this days. How important is diversity to you in the creation and production of your own work? How important is it in the theater you see and enjoy and are inspired by? 

As far as diversity goes in my work, I'm essentially color-blind and purposely write plays that virtually anyone--regardless of race--can do. My first concern is the story; my second concern is having the most talented individuals involved telling that story, whatever their background/creed. 

How did BULLET FOR UNACCOMPANIED HEART come to be written? What inspired you to write the piece? What was the writing/development process like? How long did it take to write, and how many drafts have there been? 

The origins of BULLET FOR UNACCOMPANIED HEART are two-fold: I had a tremendous desire--after reading the works of Italo Calvino--to push language to the brink, to see how far I could go with it without erring into pretentiousness. I also, for better or worse, was in a severe depression, and this play was my attempt to write my way out of it. It took many years to find its final form, and countless drafts, but...voila. 

In the play, one main character is a blues musician, while the other is a punk rocker obsessed with crosswords. Do you share any of those accomplishments/obsessions with these characters? How did you find these (a)vocations for Anya and Dugan? And also—how did you name them? 

In writing this play, and in wanting to explore and eradicate being depressed, I chose various motifs that revolved around the idea of Suffering. Thus the blues, which deals often with issues of suffering and how to process it and move on. When you're deeply in the dumps, you can only take in the simplest of things, and in the simplest of ways. The blues does this like no other art form I know. Some of the other motifs are the Ovid story of Actaeon, who suffers greatly at the hands of Diana, and the Book of Revelation, which deals with suffering on the grandest of scales. Anya's punk rockness comes from her inherent rage, and her obsession with crossword puzzles I discovered while I was writing the first scene; it became a major aspect of her--and the play--as I continued following the story, or "yellow brick road," as it were. In essence, the play is a self-portrait: Anya being the side of me that needs to face the truth, Dugan being the side of me that needs to escape said truth, and Milo being the symbolic consequence of both these actions. 

Why did you decide to premiere the show in the New York International Fringe Festival? What was the festival experience like for you? How did it compare to other experiences you have had with work in other parts of the country/world? 

I submitted BULLET FOR UNACCOMPANIED HEART to FringeNYC after a friend of mine had a show done there and enjoyed the experience. While it was challenging, I too had an overall enjoyable experience and will probably submit again. Each production is different of course, the main difference with FringeNYC being that you're more hands-on and involved with all aspects of getting the play up on its feet. In short, it's theater at its all-encompassing best--I wouldn't trade it for the world.





More about the playwright in this article:
Meet the Playwright: James McLindon
James McLindon now has a collection of three plays published on Indie Theater Now, complex and interesting scripts.
Meet the Playwright: Nick Rafello
Nick Rafello is an articulate and exciting new addition to Indie Theater Now. You should become familiar with him and his work
Meet the Playwright: Michael Reyes
Michael Reyes, new to ITN, has two plays online. From his interview he seems to be a fine addition to the site.