Monday, February 11, 2013

Meet the Playwright: Dan Kitrosser

Dan Kitrosser has been teaching year-round at Writopia since 2007. He is the founding artistic director of Writopia's Worldwide Plays Festival and teaches musical theater, playwriting, language play, and fiction workshops. Dan is currently an MFA student (dramatic writing) at the New School and is also the resident storyteller at Central Park and an award-winning playwright. His plays and musicals have appeared at Urban Stages, 45 Bleecker Theatre, The Ohio Theatre, The Brooklyn Lyceum and American Place Theatre. His children's musical, NIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLY, has been declared "a winning original musical!" by TimeOut Kids, and had an extended Off-Broadway run. He was the recipient of the 2010 Brooklyn Arts Council Grant for his one-man musical THE LEGEND OF ICHABOD CRANE (Halloween Pick - Village Voice) which he continues to tour around the city. At Writopia, six of Dan's students have won "Best Play" in Stephen Sondheim's 2008, 2009, and 2010 Write a Play! contests, and many others were named finalists or won honorable mentions. A graduate of NYU, Dan's screenplays include Old Days, directed by Matt Shapiro and starring Brad Oscar (Tony Nomination, The Producers) and Mary Beth Piel (Dawson's Creek) and Bodybuilder Island, directed by Matthew Kliegman. Dan has been a final committee judge for the Philadelphia Young Playwrights Festival for four years (this coming summer will be his fifth). Dan's play Be Here Now won this festival and was a finalist in Stephen Sondheim's National Playwriting Competition.
  • We are so very excited to be doing a staged reading of your new play Dead Special Crabs as part of our “Winks” season. Can you give us a bit of a synopsis of the play and provide some insight in terms of what inspired it?
DEAD SPECIAL CRABS is a road trip play--my favorite genre--that follows Loomer as he and his best friend June drive from Maine to Florida in order to deliver their vehicle, a brand new tan corolla, to his sister Amy for her wedding. Meanwhile, Loomer’s Aunt Missy, a-feared that Loomer will get all the credit for the gift, hires Detective Barney Horntub to track Loomer down. All of this with a serial killer on the loose, the play is a lot of fun. 

The previous play I had written was about cancer, transgenderism, and how God factors into all of that and I think I wanted to write something fun. I had just read David Lindsay-Abaire’s RABBIT HOLE, which I loved, and was told that he also wrote some wacky stuff, so I literally read the first page of his play A DEVIL INSIDE and put the book down and said out loud (and on the toilet, that’s where I do my reading) “I want to write like this.” And so, while I was in Julian Sheppard’s playwriting class in 2010, I started bringing in pages that were simply nuts and the joy of making the same group of people laugh and gasp each week pushed me to keep making it crazier and crazier.
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What made you start writing plays?
My mother had these 2nd edition Wizard of Oz books with wonderful illustrations inside and when I was three I used to climb to the top of the bookshelf and tear out the pictures to make my own books. So from an early age I was already plagiarizing. 

Theatre was big in my family. My father was a part time clown and we used to listen to old radio programs of vaudeville acts and I remember the first play I ever wrote was at my camp, which was a very sportsy camp, but every year the oldest bunk did a little skit. I turned that into an hour long musical--and because I stole from pretty much every vaudeville act that I could find--it was hilarious and so at 13 or 14, the camp hired me to write plays for them each year, for the next few years.

Looking now at what I’ve said, I’m suddenly self-conscious of how much my work has been derived from others. But I think, with comedy in particular, you are coming out of a tradition, and so stealing is the way you learn. Hopefully people will steal from me one day. 
  • Who or what has been your biggest influence as a writer? What inspires you to get to the page?
I love theatre that gets us out of our seats. My first plays that were produced in New York were for children where that has to be part of the aesthetic because kids literally will stand up and walk on the stage. But as I am able to write for older audiences, I think the reason we come to the theatre is to play--it’s called a PLAY for godsakes. So people who instill that wonder in us--David Lindsay Abaire, Sarah Ruhl, Tony Kushner, Lisa Kron, Anna Deveare Smith--people who welcome us into the theatre and play with us and make us think and feel and love and hate and be alive, that’s what I look forward to.

Is Dead Special Crabs an important play? Does it tackle any big issues? Probably not, but it’s a helluva lot of fun and makes us feel like kids again and I truly believe that comedy has that power to make us happy like happy kids. And if we could all be like that for two hours, plus the drink after the show, I don’t know, maybe we could end homelessness, or something.
  • 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 think my ritual is procrastination. I need about four hours to really write because I need about two hours to not write. I’m trying to get better, but what can you do with all this internet and television.

I do yoga before I write, and I really only write in the mornings. The writing I do in the late afternoons and evenings is--as my high school English teacher said of my final paper on Jane Austen in 12th grade--”Less than good. And in many places, not good, or, bad.”
  • You’ve been working for some time now with Writopia Lab. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Rebecca Wallace-Segall, who is my sister-from-another-mister, founded Writopia Lab, a creative writing workshop for kids, in 2007. When it started, it was in her studio apartment on the upper west side, and I was her one employee. It’s grown to a national organization serving thousands of kids each year (this year, we’ve partnered with the New York Public Library, serving even more kids!). When it began, most of the kids were writing memoirs and short stories, and I, as a playwright, wanted them to write plays. So little by little, I got a few plays out of the kids and soon we had about twenty plays, so in 2009, I put together a two night festival of the plays, directed them all and it was a lot of fun. Four years later, with the aid of David Letterman’s production house Worldwide Pants, the Mellam Foundation and now Playscripts as sponsors, the Worldwide Plays Festival produces about a 100 plays each year written by kids as young as 5 and as old as 18. It’s really exciting how much its grown, and though I have stepped down as Artistic Director while in grad school, I am still very much involved, dramaturging the plays and working with the kids. Teaching is a very sacred profession and an opportunity for artists to really do good in the world and I’m so thankful for Writopia Lab for both the kids its serves, as well as what its done for me as an artist and and as a human being.
  • Can you tell us about any additional projects you are working on right now? 
Well, I had my first Off-Bway show, TAR BABY, open this past January, which I wrote with Desiree Burch. Reviews and audience responses were great so I know there’s talk of a future life for that show. I’m also currently adapting the gorgeous best-selling novel “We The Animals” by Justin Torres with Jeremiah Zagar for the screen. And like I mentioned before, as I am in grad school, I am working on a musical called HOMOS! AS THE WORLD IS ENDING! : A disaster musical, bitch. The most recent part, of which, Wide Eyed’s own Kristin Skye Hoffmann is directing. She’s the bomb, ain’t she?

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