Tonight and tomorrow night are your last chance to see I Like That, our November show at PianoFight. We sat down with the playwright Gabriel Leif Bellman, to learn more about this great new play!
TP: Where did the inspiration for this piece come from?
GB: [My partner] Sara [Judge] and I had talked about writing a play together, and it was really her push that created this. One big inspiration was a lot of time thinking and arguing about the most recent generations and how art reaches them. I’m still thinking about it.
TP: How long have you both been working on it?
GB: I guess there are two answers here. One is since the dawn of time and the other is four years. I’m very happy with where it is right now.
TP: What was the writing process like?
GB: Working on a project with another artist as a writer is a real joy. So much of writing is just you and the blank page/screen, so to be able to interact and get feedback from a living breathing human made it a unique process. Sara is a fantastic director. To be able to write something very much without limitations and see her make it come alive is very gratifying. I wrote a lot of things that I didn’t think could be done in live theater, and she figured out how to do them. She’s amazing.
TP: You’ve seen it on its feet twice now at Theater Pub. Any surprises after watching it come to life?
GB: It’s just so incredible to see the impact it has had on audience members. People have been really moved by this play, and it is sort of surprising- because you really never know. I really feel like it’s not my work at this point- but some living breathing mash-up of bodies and music and words. It’s alive. I feel connected to it, but also I’m enjoying it along with everyone else.
As a writer, I never set out to write something for an audience. I always write for myself, for what I’d like to see in my head- so it is nice when something that I find interesting/funny/sad resonates with the audience. I believe sharing work with others is part of the job of being an artist, and once you put material out there it just goes where it will. It doesn’t have to be a positive response either- I don’t actually think that the role of art is to affirm. This piece has been giving people different experiences, and I have my own experiences with it that vary from show to show. It brings up a lot of different things for me, but I don’t believe as an artist I have the right to “explain” what that experience is. I’ve been surprised by the amount of strangers who have come up to me after the shows and are loving on the play. I think it speaks to a hunger for live art and also what an important public service Theater Pub is providing.
TP: You have some famous cameos in the play – do those historical figures have particular significance to you?
GB: I really enjoy “modernity” and many of the characters are icons of modernism, and also they speak to a bohemian ethos that I want San Francisco to hold on to. I’m not totally convinced that there is such a thing as post-modernism, and I wanted to position them alongside that ongoing debate. Each of the characters also has significance to me personally, as I’m sure they do to each of the actors and audience members (even if they don’t realize how). We live in an age of so much information but information is not experience, so bringing these figures out of Wikipedia for a spin felt right.
TP: What is next for you?
GB: Next for me? I have a writing project I’ve almost finished, which is a compilation of short fiction that was mostly published in different literary journals and also a new longer piece that I wrote which is a comedic parody of the type of nonfiction popular social science books that have become accepted as a genre to themselves. The title for that book is “Nonfiction Fiction and Other Fiction” and I hope to finish it by the end of the year. I have another play I’m starting, and a film project, but I don’t like to talk about those things that I haven’t almost finished yet. I believe if you talk about the details of creative projects before you get them close to finished, it fills the same space as writing them would, and then they don’t exist. Also, on December 20, I will have a piece of my writing performed by actors at Stagewerx as part of Action Fiction. I have another one of those in May as well.
I Like That! has two more performances at PianoFight on Nov. 23 & 24 at 8:00pm. $5 suggested donation at the door.