JOE WAECHTER PROFILES
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I’M WRITING THIS AT THE COLDEST POINT OF THE YEAR HERE, when people hustle around too bundled up to talk to one another. I mention this not to discourage you from visiting Minneapolis (really, reports of our winters are greatly exaggerated) but because it seems like the perfect time to be working on Joe Waechter’s PROFILES, a play whose characters exist in isolation from one another, yet are always searching for connection. Joe wrote the first 60 pages of PROFILES at a 24-hour silent retreat. One feels that contributes to both the loneliness and the urgency that shapes the piece. Joe speaks in the interview inside about “writing the white space,” a bold and daring approach in a theater field that I find often insists on emotionallysaturated, plot-driven storytelling. In PROFILES, characters interact but never fully connect, and their attempts to elucidate their own identities with language—through dating profiles or job applications or letters—somehow fall short. It’s those tiny braveries and sometimes failures that ultimately keep the cord taut and engaged between the characters and the audience. Their journey is utterly and distinctly theatrical…meant to be experienced viscerally. Words, dialogue, actions—these are a playwrights’ Craftsman. Yet somehow both surgically and poetically, Joe writes in the space around words, speaks with the silence that comes after or instead of a line, and illuminates the movements a character never makes. This method locates the experience in a different part of the viewer’s mind: less in the gray matter, more in the gut. This season marks Joe’s second Jerome Fellowship with us. After pushing himself to write three plays during his first fellowship, this year is now allowing Joe to deepen his connections with theaters and collaborators in addition to continue researching and writing. I invite you to join us March 4 for a performance of PROFILES, and to share in the excellence of this powerful and deeply insightful writer.
JEREMY B. COHEN
PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
IN THE LAB Highlights from our renowned development center MAR 4
BY JOE WAECHTER It’s just another night of popcorn and Jeopardy, when Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins receive a phone call that changes their lives forever. Through turns both harrowing and humorous, PROFILES explores how an unthinkable act of violence echoes through the lives of the perpetrator’s family, as they struggle to find relief and forgiveness in a rapidly disintegrating world. STAGED READING • 7 PM • FREE • AT THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER RESERVE SEATS: INFO@PWCENTER.ORG • (612) 332-7481
Core Writer Mat Smart workshops The Royal Societies of Antarctica. After two Jerome Fellowships and a McKnight Fellowship, Mat Smart took off for an exciting personal adventure in Antarctica. Although this new play is not based on his experience, he set it in the icy terrain of Antarctica and used its landscape as an inspiration.
Core Writer Barbara Field workshops The Crackatook, a bold and irreverent new work loosely inspired by The Nutcracker.
MAR Core Writer Gregory Moss. We are thrilled to welcome Greg back 14–15 to the Playwrights’ Center for his first workshop as a Core Writer. Greg has previously been in residence with us as a Jerome and McKnight Fellow.
PART OF THE
2012-13 RUTH EASTON NEW PLAY SERIES
AN INTERVIEW WITH
JOE WAECHTER WHAT ATTRACTS YOU TO WRITING PLAYS? I wrote my first play on a dare. Like many playwrights I started as an actor. I wasn’t very good. I didn’t like performing. I loved rehearsal and I loved exploring and experimenting and generating, but I found that I hated performance. I hated getting up in front of people. And so I started to direct, but then found I was asked to direct plays that weren’t really stories I was interested in telling. So I started to write pieces that I wanted to direct. For a long time, I always directed my own work, and then I realized that that was limiting my writing, and I wanted see what it was like to collaborate with other directors and be inspired and challenged by their interpretations of the writing. I grew up in a rural, conservative town in the mountains of North Carolina. We were the only Catholic family where I grew up, so we were already alienated in our community. And growing up is already so confusing, and then growing up in a conservative Catholic family, and being gay, and not being able to articulate a lot of those things, I found that I was naturally drawn to writing. At first, like a lot of young people, I wrote poetry and short stories, and then plays just seemed like a natural progression. But it seemed to take longer for me to be able to write those much more personal stories in plays—particularly around my sexuality—than it did in poetry, because with theater, you can’t hide behind metaphor as much. You have characters, and you’re embodying those feelings and thoughts. And I think I’m drawn to it for that reason: giving voice to some of those things that were kept quiet when I was growing up. What I also like about writing for theater—especially this play—is what a collective experience it is for an audience to sit and watch something that’s live together. To have a similar experience where there’s an innumerable amount of interpretations possible, and people get to choose what they watch and how they participate in the action and analyze and think about it—that’s really exciting to me. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE PROFILES? I’d always wanted to write a play based on the idea of white space. There was a popular movie called Helvetica, and in it this type designer explains
that designing a typeface isn’t about designing the letter that gets printed on the page, but it’s about designing the white space around a letter, almost as if the letter is emerging out of the white space because the white space creates such pressure that the letter, the positive space, is formed. And I thought that was a really incredible way of thinking about how you approach theater. If theater is actually happening in the minds of the audience, and the story is actually happening in the audience, then how can I inspire that narrative to happen for them? I wanted to figure out how to write the white space on a page, and to see how minimal you could be in telling this story. Not that it’s incredibly minimalist— there’s quite a bit of language, but the characters are never really allowed to articulate themselves honestly, or they’re always struggling. And I found that that was the white space, and that language would be a moment of
“I WANTED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE WHITE SPACE ON A PAGE, AND TO SEE HOW MINIMAL YOU COULD BE IN TELLING THIS STORY.”
relief, or it would be like, “Oh, if we can pin it on to this letter or this one thing, then that would let the air out of all of this,” and the tension and energy would fade away. So that’s where the idea of PROFILES emerged from: this phenomenon where we try to capture identities in dating profiles or job applications, and we think we know someone or something, but there’s so many other things that don’t fit on empty spaces in forms. The play really surprised me as it came out. It’s a collection of a lot of stories that I accrued just living in New York for many years. It’s centered around this tragedy that’s a true story of a young man who killed a police officer in political protest. It’s also about what it’s like for a family to have to process tragedy and trauma, as individuals and as a family and in their communities.
And how actions ripple out: one selfish action has affected all these people’s lives in radically different—and some similar—ways. WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THIS UPCOMING WORKSHOP? The text is not very narrative-driven, and it really relies on actors to create the reality of the play, the play-world. I’m really excited to work with actors in that way, some actors I’ve worked with already here in the Twin Cities, and some new ones that I’ve seen in shows. And to work with a director that I’ve had conversations with before but have never worked with. So I’m excited for those collaborations.
“THE STORY ISN’T JUST HANDED OFF TO THE AUDIENCE IN THIS PLAY. THEY’RE ASKED TO MAKE A LOT OF CONNECTIONS, BECAUSE THE CHARACTERS AREN’T ABLE TO.”
But I’m most eager to actually prepare and share this with an audience and to see how an audience sits in front of this play. I think it’s incredibly sad, and it’s very funny, but it requires a very specific attention, and it activates an audience in a way that might be new for some people. Not necessarily in a radical way, but the story isn’t just handed off to the audience in this play. They’re asked to make a lot of connections, because the characters aren’t able to in their lives. I’m interested in the kind of interpretations the audience has. ONE OF THE ASPECTS OF YOUR PLAYS THAT I REALLY LOVE IS THE LONELINESS AND DISCONNECTION THAT THE CHARACTERS ARE HAVING. I’VE SEEN THIS THEME COME UP OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN YOUR WORK. WILL YOU SPEAK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT?
I guess I feel it in a very specific way, having grown up in a rural area. Then living in New York, it comes out in very different ways. How people feel separate from each other, even when they’re squished in a subway train together. I think that every day we wake up and we’re just trying to figure out what that thing is that’s connecting us to other people, to the environment around us, to the world. I think it’s that classic existentialism and that absurd distance between man and the universe. It’s what makes people sad at the end of the day, that they feel misunderstood, or they feel like they didn’t articulate themselves. And all those things come back to language. WHAT ARE YOUR OTHER INFLUENCES BESIDES THE EXISTENTIALISTS? I find inspiration in lots of things. Like a lot of writers, I create playlists for plays, and tend to listen to them obsessively while I’m writing. With some plays I listen to one song when I’m working on a certain scene, over and over and over, and that scene might take on the life of that song in some way. They’re never part of the content of the play, they’re just ways of creating the rhythm for me. I love so many different kinds of writing. I think I’m most inspired by my peers and the writers that I am working next to. I just think that there are so many playwrights working right now that are telling really incredible stories and doing incredible things with the theater medium. Some of those plays are finding their way to theater stages and a lot of them haven’t yet, but there’s a lot of stunning work out there. That’s something that you get access to by being at the Playwrights’ Center. YOU’RE ON YOUR SECOND JEROME FELLOWSHIP. HOW HAS THAT IMPACTED YOUR WRITING LIFE? It’s been really awesome. I mean, it began with me putting away my life in Providence, on the East Coast, and relocating to Minneapolis. I had lots of writing goals, but one of the incredible things about the fellowship is being able to connect with the community and meet potential collaborators and theaters in town. Those things take time, so I was thrilled to have that second year to stretch out and deepen some of those connections. The great thing about my experience here is how flexible it is. The Playwrights’ Center is as involved or laissez-faire as I need and want them to be. To have an institution that’s advocating for you and meeting you on your side—that’s been one of the most valuable things about this second year.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE? HOPES, DREAMS, ASPIRATIONS? I hope this play gets produced! I hope this play finds a really awesome home, and we get to go into a long rehearsal process. I feel like I’m working on the script to get it ready for that. Also, I want to go to Antarctica! I really do. Interview by Associate Artistic Director Hayley Finn.
PROJECT JOURNEY This will be the first public reading of PROFILES. It had a private workshop and reading at the Playwrights’ Center in April 2012. In the five days leading up to the March 4, 2013 reading here at the Playwrights’ Center, Joe will continue to hone and revise the work as he is in workshop with the actors, director Hal Brooks, dramaturg and designer. The result? Fresh, new theater being made right before your eyes!
THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER CHAMPIONS PLAYWRIGHTS AND PLAYS TO BUILD UPON A LIVING THEATER THAT DEMANDS NEW AND INNOVATIVE WORKS. The Playwrights’ Center fuels the theatrical ecosystem with new ideas, new talents and new work—the future of the American theater. One of the nation’s most generous and well-respected artistic organizations, the Playwrights’ Center focuses on both supporting playwrights and bringing new plays to production. Work developed at the Playwrights’ Center has been seen on stages nationwide. This activity is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State’s general fund and its arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008, and a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota.
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Published on Jan 29, 2013
Playwrights' Center Jerome Fellow Joe Waechter discusses his new play PROFILES, how he got started as a playwright and where he finds inspir...