Peter Hsieh brings us this theater/alcoholism as blog entry as part of our ongoing series of guest bloggers. Enjoy!
It’s a warm, windy Saturday night. Downtown Campbell. Girls in black dresses with guys in candy colored button ups, walking around in groups of four and five. Playwright Peter Hsieh sits down with Other Peter Hsieh to talk playwriting and writing producible plays over a few rounds of drinks.
There are two of me. I am not Special. I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake.
Round One: Peter – Long Island Iced Tea. Other Peter – Jack and Coke.
Other Peter: How’ve you been?
OP: Keepin’ busy then? Got any plays opening?
P: Yeah I got a few, one in Ohio and two in New York.
OP: No Bay Area productions?
OP: That’s because everyone hates you here.
OP: You’re on the ‘do not work with list’.
P: Says who?
Peter laughs and rolls his eyes.
P: Whatever. Aren’t you supposed to talk to me about probability or something?
P: Producibility? Is that even a word.
OP: I think so, and if it isn’t it should be…what?
P: Nothing. Just go on with the thing.
OP: Alright but first I gotta tell you this funny story.
Round Two: Peter – Long Island Iced Tea. Other Peter – Margarita
OP: Bro, another Long Island?
P: I need to wash the taste of that story out of my mouth.
OP: C’mon, it was funny.
P: Not really.
OP: To each his own. Anyway, I want to talk to you about writing “producible” plays. For emerging playwrights there is sort of a, uh…pressure I guess to have your plays produced, and to have more plays produced.
P: Yeah, of course, and I’d say that pressure exists for all playwrights though it’s probably easier for David Mamet to be produced than…
OP: Everyone else.
OP: So for all the emerging and indie playwrights out there with less swag than Mamet, I’d imagine that production opportunities are harder to come by and in order to get their plays produced they write more producible plays.
P: One of the things I’ve noticed when looking through play submission opportunities is that a lot of them are looking for world premiere plays with small casts, simple staging, easy technical demands, unit sets, etc.
OP: For sure.
P: Length is a big one too. There are a lot more opportunities for shorter plays to be produced, for obvious reasons, so that’s definitely a factor in uh, in determining what kinds of plays people write. And I understand that it’s a time and money issue for most theaters and that for a theater, especially a smaller theater, to be producing new works is definitely a risk. The fact that there are so many theaters out there putting out calls for new works is something to be really happy about.
OP: I’ll drink to that.
They clink drinks and drink to that.
P: I guess the problem comes from the idea that if your plays are getting produced, you’re a good writer and that the more productions you have the more successful you are, so in order to get more productions they write those plays with the small casts, simple sets, and what not.
OP: So basically a fuck load of plays featuring two women having tea and talking.
P: I guess.
OP: Good grief.
Round Three: Peter – Vodka Redbull. Other Peter – Pink Panty Dropper
Peter smiles at Other Peter and shakes his head.
P: You know, instead of ordering a pink lemonade with double shots of Everclear and Tequila with a Corona on the side you could’ve just had them bring you a pink panty dropper, because that is exactly the same thing.
OP: I know, I just…
P: Couldn’t bring yourself to order that.
OP: So what are your thoughts on playwrights writing more “producible” plays in order to get more productions?
P: Personally I’m kinda against it. I mean, I would never hold it against anyone for doing so and I’ve done it too but it feels a little bit like selling out. People should write what they want to write and encourage others to do the same. They shouldn’t worry about whether or not it’s going to get produced a bunch. You are not your plays. You are not the number of times you get produced. You are not the length of your resume. And you are not the reviews you get for your plays. You wanna write a play about time traveling dinosaur hunters, go for it. You wanna write a play featuring trendy vampires and a toy bunny rabbit come to life, go wild because there is somebody, some director or theatre company that will love it and produce it and they are gonna do it right. You might not get a whole lotta productions, you might just get the one, and it might take years but that’s all you need.
OP: I like how you referenced one of your own plays. That’s very Tarantino of you.
P: What is?
OP: To reference yourself. Anyway back to- Peter interrupts Other Peter
P: Hang on. I gotta use the restroom. I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Peter smiles and finishes the rest of his beer before getting up and walking over to the restroom. He returns a few minutes later with a toothpick in his mouth.
OP: Where did you get the toothpick?
P: I carry them, around. They are green tea flavored. But after ten seconds they just taste like regular toothpicks. So what were you going to ask me?
OP: So you are part of two different playwriting groups, Asian American Theater Company’s New Works Incubator and City Light Source New Play Development Series, and within those groups playwrights give feedback on each other’s plays.
OP: Based on your experiences within those groups and outside, do you think that playwrights are being told to write more producible plays and do you think that is a prevalent problem?
P: No I don’t think it’s a prevalent problem, but here and there people will give feedback in regards to producibility rather than content or quality of writing. I personally find the latter more helpful but I understand that producibility is very important to a lot of playwrights and that they would like to know if people did not think that their play was producible and what they can do to change that.
OP: Right, who wants to spend time writing a play that never sees the light of stage?
P: Exactly. Feedback is there to help you and you take what you can from it.
Round Four: Peter – Gin & Tonic. Other Peter – Diet Coke.
P: Throwing in the towel already?
OP: Taking a break. The Pink Panty Dropper is really hittin’ me.
P: So I had my full length play Super Turbo Overdrive read at Incubator back in October and it’s got flamethrowers, gatling guns, fast cars, and stuff. And the story itself is pretty out there too, it’s a coming of age dark comedy about two high school friends and the trouble that ensues when one tries to take the other’s mom out on a date because of a video game based wager.
OP: And does he?
P: Take her out on a date? Yeah, and part of the play is set in the future and it follows a bounty hunter driving around through the desert.
OP: You just don’t give a fuck about producibility do you?
P: I guess not. I mean I do but I really love flamethrowers and fast cars, and I feel that theatre can benefit from having more of that.
OP: What you just described to me sounds more like it’d work better as a film.
P: If I got a nickel every time I heard someone say one of my plays would work better as a film I’d have a stack of nickels tall as my dick.
OP: So how many nickels is that?
P: A lot.
OP: Let me rephrase that. How tall is your dick?
Round Five: Peter – Blue Moon. Other Peter – Shock Top.
P: The message I’m trying to get across is to write what is in your heart and don’t be afraid to go against convention. Try to have fun with it, otherwise what’s the point. Especially if you’re an emerging playwright. And all that stuff I said earlier about the flamethrowers and stuff, that’s just me – that’s just what I am into, find what inspires you to write and go for it. At the end of the day it’s good writing that counts. Does your story move people? Does it feature complex and well developed characters? Is it interesting? Does it have good dialogue? No amount of explosions, werewolves, and high tech weaponry will save a bad story. I would take ‘Before Sunrise’ any day over The Avengers or any of the fuckin’ Marvel movies.
OP: Scarlett Johansson though.
P: Good dialogue and dynamic characters though.
OP: And that’s why you don’t have a girlfriend.
P: Currently. But when I find one she will be smart and beautiful and fun and we’d stay up late drinking wine, talking about movies, planning weekend trips, while listening to Francoise Hardy on repeat.
OP: That’s weirdly specific.
P: I have insomnia so I find the time to be weirdly specific.
OP: Insomnia actually explains a lot about you…who are you texting?
P: This girl I know.
P: I’m trying to see if she wants to come have a drink or something.
OP: What did she say?
P: Nothing yet, I just texted her.
OP: Does she also like ‘Before Sunrise’?
P: Yeah, actually she does.
OP: I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.
Round Six: Peter: Trenta Iced Green tea with 2 pumps classic. Other Peter – Venti Coffee.
Peter and Other Peter decide to go to a Starbucks, because the caffeine in Peter’s system is running low.
P: I’d like to give a shout out to some really great work I saw recently that I feel exemplifies what I’ve been talking about.
OP: Cool. P: My favorite show that I saw during the 2012-2013 season was Spacebar: A Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman by Michael Mitnick at City Lights Theater Company. Lisa Mallette directed it, it was a world premiere and it’s got jet packs, futuristic stuff, outer space, drunk Keith Marshall in outer space, Morgan Voellger on rollerblades, and at the center of it all, it was a very beautiful written play about a teenager with big dreams trying to reconcile and make peace with the things in the life that aren’t going so well. And like…it was so good. Just fucking excellent like…I dunno.
OP: I know. I saw it. It was excellent.
P: Right? Another awesome play was Stuart Bousel’s play for this past year’s Olympians festival See Also All, which covered like the entire Trojan War like some sort of magnum opus compendium, it’s got a big cast and more characters than the fuckin’ Simpsons and it’s violent and sexy and funny and like there was this game show section too. And it’s not grandeur for grandeur’s sake either, it made sense and it was good story telling. I brought my buddy Pastor Fred Gilham to the show and we were talking about it on the way back, and about how refreshing it was you know? Most of the time when you see a bigger show it’s usually like a kid’s play or musical so it’s good to have something like this. Something with teeth. And balls.
OP: There were balls? At a staged reading?
P: I’m talking figuratively. And on the topic of big casts I gotta give one last shout of to my friend Steve Boyle and the work he’s done with San Jose Rep’s Emerging Artist Lab. He’s worked with big casts, brought out dry ice and buckets of water, had live musicians and stuff. One of my favorite shows he put on was a modern retelling of Macbeth set amidst the Arab Spring conflicts and he beautifully blends the two to create something fresh, new, and edgy. The adaptation he did was definitely not playing it safe and being the director, he brought out the big guns and killed it – which just goes to show, that if you write it, there will be someone out there to direct it.
OP: Dude, hot twins just walked in.
Peter turns to see that indeed hot twins have walk in.
OP: Do you think we should see if they wanna sit with us?
P: Sure, if you want to.
OP: Did that girl text back?
P: Yeah, she’s busy.
OP: For sure. So anything you’d like to say in closing?
P: Yeah. I’d like to share a quote from one of my favorite authors of all time, Mr. Chuck Palahniuk. He said “The first step – especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money – the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.”, and this is something I believe in strongly and with every beat of my heart.
OP: That was the smartest thing you said all night.
P: What about all that stuff on producibility?
OP: Anyway, the twins are looking this way, I’m gonna go ask them to come over. They can be our Marla Singers.
P: Why, cause you’re my Tyler Durden?
OP: That’s funny because I always thought you were my Tyler Durden.
P: Conceited much?
OP: Oh, the irony of that statement.
P: Just go.
OP: Let’s get together yeah yeah yeah…
Other Peter gets up and walks over to the twins while Peter smiles and shakes his head.
Peter Hsieh is a playwright from San Jose, California. Like him on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/peterhsiehplaywright. Other Peter Hsieh is a soap salesman.