There’s something incredibly inspiring about I INTERVIEW PLAYWRIGHTS, a blog started by playwright Adam Szymkowicz. Originally started by Adam as a “fun project” five years ago, the blog’s now grown to include the inspirations, challenges, advice, and shameless plugs of over 700 playwrights, including Theresa Rebeck, David Adjmi, Annie Baker, Jordan Harrison and Craig Wright. Adam and the blog officially hit 700 last week, and to celebrate, we talked to Adam about the blog’s humble history, its future, and how it’s changed his work as a writer.
Hey, Adam, congrats on an amazing 700 interviews. Can you tell us a bit about how and why the project started?
I had a blog and didn’t know if I should keep writing about theater. I was in the second wave of theater bloggers when there were only 20 or so of us and I was burnt out. At about that time, (June ’09) I had a play called Pretty Theft up in New York (now published by Mr. Sam French) and I was getting interviewed for the first time and it was fun doing interviews. I thought maybe other people might like being interviewed too and so I decided I would interview a bunch of friends of mine who were playwrights and then I kept doing this consistently for the next 5 years.
Was there an initial goal when you set out in terms of how many playwrights you wanted to interview?
I never thought I would get to 100.
Have you ever featured an interview with yourself?
For #100, I asked the first interviewed playwright, Jimmy Comtois, to interview me. I thought that would be the end of the project, then Theresa Rebeck came back to me with her answers and I so how could I not continue?
What is the future of I INTERVIEW PLAYWRIGHTS? How long do you plan to keep the blog going?
At the moment, I’m still doing it. I kind of want to stop but I also want it to continue. So…
Lastly, I want to talk about your Sam French published plays: we handle two of your titles: the intelligently crafted, delicate Pretty Theft (a personal favorite) and the visceral, atmospheric Clown Bar, which has been running to MUCH acclaim in NYC. There are intense difference in story and style between these two plays, but both share a fierce creativity and theatricality.
I have written many plays. Between Pretty Theft (written circa 2004) and Clown Bar (written circa 2011) I wrote 13 plays. So it’s not surprising to me they are very different from each other. I was in very different places in my life and in my work and I was playing with vastly different ideas, characters, and kinds of theatricality.
Pretty Theft came out of a class I took with Chuck Mee where we were supposed to steal each others’ work and all write plays about Joseph Cornell. I didn’t end up using anyone else’s text and the play is only a tiny bit about Cornell if you squint really hard. But it’s my version of what I think a Chuck Mee play is.
Clown Bar is one of my genre plays but falls toward the end where I started to blend genres. I call it a clown noir. You can see the start of a noir in some of the Pretty Theft restaurant scenes but I explore it more in later plays.
In between Pretty Theft and Clown Bar, I wrote a play about high school, a riff on Chekhov, a cowboy comedy version of Hamlet, a noir about a firestarter, a fringe show that’s interactive, a solo show about a dog, a play about American soldiers in Iraq, a lesbian pirate play, a comic book genre play, office play with a ghost, office play with a kidnapping, a Mee inspired office play, and a play about two sisters, one who kills the other one’s boyfriends. Eleven of the 13 were produced and three are published. I have written eleven more plays since Clown Bar, only one of which has been produced so far. I am currently writing what will be my 37th full length play.
Wow, that’s a lot of plays! How’s your work as a playwright changed since you started I INTERVIEW PLAYWRIGHTS? Has it? What have you learned from all these interviews?
I don’t know that it has affected my writing so much as my general outlook. Part of the reason I keep doing it is because playwrights can be an inspiring bunch. There are a whole lot of really talented people doing this thing for almost no money. For the love of it. Considering how many good plays that are out there and how few production opportunities for new work, any production is a major coup. I have been lucky to have 60 or more productions of my full length plays but there are some beautiful plays by some talented playwrights that sit on a shelf for years and years. So it’s a hard thing to do. And often frustrating, but yet so many people are doing it.
I’m starting to come to the realization that I may never run out of playwrights to interview. I estimate that there are at least 10,000 playwrights seriously writing plays in the US. Every year there are what? 150 playwriting MFAs given out? 200?
People drop out, sure. Go to write for TV or stop writing. But it seems like there are more and more of us as time goes on, not less. The Yale Horn prize, (in which I have twice been an almost winner) had over 1000 entries last year. So yeah, it seems valuable to try to record as much of this as I can as long as I can keep doing it. I want to pat myself on the back and stop but I just posted another one.