Friday, July 27, 2012

Meet the Playwright: Sam Byron (ANIMALS)

Sam Byron is a playwright based in New York. His plays include A Substitute for Margo (Out of the Ashes Theatre Co., Chicago, IL), The Rock and the Bird (NoBucks Theater, Ithaca, NY), Debt (Horse Trade Theater, New York City, and Dillingham Center for Performing Arts, Ithaca, NY), Brooklyn Vacancies (finalist, New Works Program at T. Schreiber Studio, New York City), Static (finalist, HotCity Theater’s Greenhouse Festival, St. Louis), and Animals (Manhattan Repertory Theatre, New York City). He has written numerous short plays, including 529 (Manhattan Theatre Source), Famous Dick (UglyRhino Productions), and How to Field Dress a Unicorn (Billy & Co.). He has worked in the literary offices of both the Atlantic Theater Company and the Public Theater, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Playwriting from The New School in New York City. He is the 2012 recipient of the New School for Drama’s Steinberg New Playwrights Fellowship.
  • We are so very excited to be staging your play Animals for the New York International Fringe Festival this year. Can you give us a bit of a synopsis of the play and provide some insight in terms of what inspired it?
A group of twenty-somethings attend an unofficial high school reunion. The house party, thrown by a former member of the “popular crowd,” becomes the backdrop for a myriad of sexual encounters both pleasurable and violent.

The inspiration for the play came from a break-up I went through about four years ago. I wanted to write about the frustrating chasm that exists between men and women when it comes to love and sex. As I explored this idea—and aged four years, loving and losing more along the way—the play found its way into more complex territory. The piece became about growing older, about realizing who your true friends are, and about the fallibility of your emotions when you are “in love.”
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What made you start writing plays?
I believe that all writers have some thing, some secret they hope to uncover, recover, understand, ignore, or some such thing. I certainly have one or two internal wounds that I think compel me to write, but the answer to the question “why?” is much simpler than some heartbreaking account of my personal life. I write because I have to. I know this because sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes writing feels like the hardest thing I could do, but I do it anyway. I write because I have to understand what goes on around me and what goes on within me.

Playwriting, more than novel-writing or poetry, is the art of communication. A play does not exist without collaboration and compromise. A novel falls in the forest and makes a noise whether someone hears it or not, but a play is a citizen of the world around us. It demands to be acknowledged because, without its fellow citizens, it is nothing. I write plays because I am most interested in participating in that citizenship.
  • Who or what has been your biggest influence as a writer? What inspires you to get to the page?
Those are two very different questions. What gets me to the page are the every day idiosyncracies of human existence. I read recently about an actress rescued from the Titanic who then went off right away and starred in a movie about her experiences. She knew immediately that her trauma was marketable. I read that and I think, “That’s the world’s first reality TV star! There’s a play in there!”

In terms of influences, it’s hard to really say. I read all the time and feel like I take something from all of it. Sam Shepard taught me that I can do whatever I want on stage. He was really the first playwright I read and thought, “Wow. I want to do that.”
  • In terms of your creative process, do you have a particular ritual when it comes to writing? If so, can you share it with us?
I can’t wear shoes and write at the same time. I will if I have to, but God help the poor soul that has to decipher the scribbles that come from that.
  • I believe you obtained your MFA in Playwrighting from The New School. Is this also where you met Kristin Skye Hoffmann, the director for this production? Can you tell us a bit about that working relationship?
Kristin and I just completed the first third of our MFA track at the New School. She directed the first piece I wrote, which was a three-page site-specific play called SVP. We had known each other for about two months, and we set out around the West Village scouting locations with Kristin feeding me ideas to keep my brain storming. My name is on that script, but I couldn’t have done it without her.

The final scene of that play took place in the courtyard of a building on the corner of Charles St.and the West Side Highway. We were rehearsing there one day when this big black SUV pulled up and Martha Stewart got out. Stunned, we watched her breeze by us and into the building. Two seconds later we were ejected from the premises and I was rewriting the scene for a stoop up the block. I thought, if Martha Stewart wants to stop us, Kristin and I must be doing something right.
  • Can you tell us about any additional projects you are working on right now?
I have a few projects in the works. The first is the next Halloween, site-specific experience for UglyRhino Productions at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Following the success of last year’s CENTRALIA, I am developing a pseudo-murder mystery involving crazy occult ritual suicide in 1970s Gowanus.

I will also be developing a play under the tutelage of Jon Robin Baitz over the coming year about a congregation of Jews in search of a Rabbi and a young woman who is forced to rediscover her faith when she’s called upon to help in place of her dying father.

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