Q&A… from a reader!

Well it finally happened.  Not only did someone read my blog, but they took up my stupid challenge of asking me questions. Well done Courtney! Well… done.

Courtney, from a school… somewhere (her school was not specified so I supposed this could be a bot or a friend humoring me, but hopefully she’s real!)  asked me six questions as part of a class project.  I rambled a bit but hopefully this isn’t too obnoxious to read.

Any who, her questions are!

  • Some basic biographical information such as your birth date and general early life.

I was  born January 1st, 1983 (if I was still acting I would lie right now and say either say 1989 or “I can play mid twenties, let’s just leave it at that.”  But now that I’m just a writer let’s go with honesty.  I’m 33 baby!).  I grew up in Arlington, VA a suburb outside of D.C.  My father was a correspondent for ABC news.  Mom ran her own business working with elderly clients and their families.  I have one older brother, who’s had ten different careers but seems to have settled “continuing education for dentist.”  Which I would’ve never guessed would be the career he picked.

As a kid, I think I was fidgety, weird, and in my own head a lot.  My parents used to say “uh oh, he’s gone to Ian land again” because I wouldn’t be listening and making strange faces.  This all should’ve been a warning sign that I was headed for a life in the arts, but at the time I was just considered, at best, quirky, at worst, maybe should be tested cause something’s not right with this one.

  • Where did you study to become a writer?

Well… I took some playwriting courses at Fordham (which is where I went to college). I applied to be a double major in acting and writing but was not admitted into the playwriting program due to “I don’t know, the programs pretty full Ian. Just be an actor for now.” So I didn’t study writing there a ton.  But I did find ways to write on my own.  I would write a play and then organize an reading for my peers to come to. I submitted a play to the New York International Fringe Festival and got in and then self produced my own production.  Stuff like.  But honestly I don’t have a ton of formal training. A lot of what I learned came from friends, articles, the internet, books, faking it, and writing groups I joined after college.

  • What was your ‘call to action’? Why did you begin writing?

I guess I’ve always had a lot of creative energy and imagination but I was so bad at spelling and grammar and like… writing essays or doing English reports it didn’t occur to me I could be a writer.  I did better with extra credit projects in the vein of “make your own video” or “write a 5 minute play about the Odyssey.”  My freshman year in high school I met a guy named Josh Halloway (who now writes for Jimmy Kimmel live) and we really encouraged each other to write more. Particularly comedy stuff. We both liked Saturday Night Live and were eager to write skits and host our school’s variety show.  We wrote skits, then short plays, then produced a sketch show on cable access (this was way before Youtube was thing), then wrote and produced a movie together that about 30 people saw.  So I guess that’s where my “writing life” really began.

But really there’s just always been a restless part of me that likes to imagine stories, scenarios, characters, etc.  My brain has been wired like that since I can remember.

  • What inspires your work? Are there other writers or theatrical styles that influence your writing?

A few things inspire me.  One, and this is maybe an unsexy answer, but I’d say “economics” is a big inspiration. The desire to eat and buy things.  I make a living writing plays, so more plays equals more money (not a lot of money mind you, if owning a house and having good credit is something you really want as an adult… beware of playwriting!).  Also the fact that I have no other skills.  That’s what gets me out of bed and forces me to sit at my desk. I am bad at 99% of jobs, so I have to make this one work.

But that’s very cynical and only part true.  What inspires me, like other writers?  Well when I was in high school I saw production of Angels in America that was very eye opening/brain melting. It made me rethink what a play could be/do. The Simpsons, Seinfeld, SNL, The Daily Show and Friends were all shows that had a big influence on me in high school and I think informed my sensibility.  In college I’d add Arrested Development and the British The Office to that list. Early David Mamet and Good Arron Sorkin and Martin Mcdonagh, and Quentin Tarantino I love for their dialogue.  I’m not the best story teller and am not great at structure, but I love dialogue and feel like it’s one of my strengths.  Finding the rhythm of how two people speak continues to be my favorite part of writing, and those writer’s in particular I love reading, watching, listening to.

And then lately, seeing school productions of shows I’ve written has been a huge inspiration.  I don’t get out to see as many productions as I’d like, but every time I do it is so god damned fun and exhilarating.  I forget how much energy teenagers have and what goofballs theatre kids are.  The experience of seeing a show done in a school setting is just so pure, there’s nothing like.  Every time I go it really makes me want to write more plays and up my game.

  • What specifically inspired “The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time”?

Again, not a sexy answer, but every year I try and write at least 2 plays for Playscripts or Stage Partners so that I can make more money to eat food and go to the movies and stuff.  When I write for Playscripts (or a company like Stage Partners, which I recommend you check out too, there new and hungry and doing exciting stuff for the youth market) I have a set a parameters: Plays need to be 25 – 35 pages long. The cast should be big but flexible.  No bad language. And if I want it to get produced a lot it should be funny and hopefully have a premise universal enough that most high schooler could relate to it.

Parameters are good for me. I’ve never been one who can write or even enjoy completely esoteric art pieces.  I like to know how many pages something should be, what’s the general structure, etc.  Even when I made a web series, which could’ve been any length I wanted, I decided on a 7 – 10 minute length per episode (which by the way is WAY too long.  Would you watch a webseries with no famous people on Youtube that was 10 minutes long. No you would not).

Anyway. For this particular play I was trying to think of a premise that could sustain a “Playscripts play.” It’s tricky because on top of everything else, it’s good if you can find something that isn’t time sensitive.  A One Direction spoof would be great 3 years ago. But now that they BROKE UP! Broke up! I’d be screwed. (Don’t read to much into this. I did NOT write a One Direction play or fan fiction. And if I did, it’s with a pseudonym so complex and secret you’ll never link it back to me!).

So this go me thinking about universal experiences. “Well kids get dumped in high school all the time. I certainly did! A few times! Maybe that would be an interesting theme to explore.” And then the creative gears started to turn in my head about all the funny and embarrassing scenarios in which someone could break up with another person.  So I knew I was on to something!

But that’s just an idea.  The thing that really, I think, made this piece work was the character of Eve.  I knew there would be some sort of magical guide, since I wanted scenes to take place in different decades,  but I didn’t know who this person was or why she was doing it.  But I forged ahead and started writing the first scene, and I just happened to be  in a particularly impatient mood: the first scenes of these plays, I often find hard to write and their very expository so I try to get through them quickly.  And then I instinctually made Eve the voice of my impatience, by having her say things like “shut up! Come on let’s go! We need to get through this.” This made Eve  a character who was bitter, frustrated, and had little patience.  So then I asked myself “why is she like that? What’s her problem? Why is she so mean?” and the answer was “oh! Light bulb!  She must of gotten dumped herself!  In fact maybe she’s the victim of the WORST dumping of all time! OOooohhh!”  Which then gave the whole play a structure and drive it didn’t have.

Sorry, this is a very long answer, the point is, I was inspired by one thing, but I didn’t really find the play until I started writing and it appeared to me.  This doesn’t always happen, (check out Orientation!  That play is a mess!) but when it does… it’s very satisfying and fun!

  • How did your experience as an actor influence your work as a writer?

Being an actor was invaluable to how I write.  In my experience acting was basically just trying to get inside another person’s head. Wondering how they talked, walked, what their past was.  I think about this all the time with every character I write.

I also think a lot about what would be interesting role for an actor to play. Even small parts I try to think “would I have fun with this character as an actor? Is there enough there?  What could I do to make it more interesting, human, different?”

On top of that I read every script I write out loud to myself, to get an idea as to how the dialogue would sound.  So it’s like getting a first read with a good serviceable actor any time I want. If I didn’t have that skill, I’d have to wait and organize a reading (which I still do), just to hear it out loud.  Aaron Sorkin does this, he used to be an actor, and I stole that trick from him.

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