Playwright Interview: Adam Szymkowicz
Adam Szymkowicz plays cover a wide range of topics; from friendship, to online dating, to loss, to mental illness. His signature often involves new takes on familiar themes with a macabre twist. While the prolific writer has amassed a huge body of work, including Clown Bar, Pretty Theft, and his newest comedy, Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood, Szymkowicz is equally known as an advocate for playwrights and playwriting. Since 2009, the playwright has interviewed 1000 playwrights on his blog, ranging from emerging artists to more established writers like Steve Yockey, Amy Herzog, Sheila Callaghan, and Clare Barron.
In this interview, Becca Schlossberg (one of our Collegiate Licensing Reps) turns the tables on him and asks some questions from his own blog. Before they get started, though, she begins with a few questions of her own.
How did you become a playwright?
I started in kindergarten. I was in plays. I was acting in at least a play a year and acting was fun, but it wasn’t exactly my thing, and I kept trying to quit and go back to it. Then, one summer in college, I decided to write a play. And then the next summer, I wrote another play and then I didn’t ever stop writing plays. Because of that, my senior year of college I directed a play I wrote, and ever since then, I have been chasing that feeling of hearing the audience laughing at my first play. I am still kind of interested in the same stuff I was in then. I was strongly influenced by Night Mother and The Marriage of Bette and Boo – I sort of keep rewriting a version of that first college play over and over.
Tell me how your blog happened.
Well, after the internet came into being, I realized the thing to do was to have a blog. I knew about 20 or 30 people with theater blogs and we just kind of [started] talking to each other. Then my wife got a Jerome fellowship and I couldn’t write about New York theater because we weren’t in New York anymore. And so, I wondered; am I going to stop writing this blog? At the same time, Pretty Theft was going up and I was getting interviewed by a bunch of people and I was like, ‘oh, this is super fun.’ Most of the people I knew were playwrights, so I said, ‘Oh, I’ll just email some playwrights and I’ll try and get to 50. Maybe I’ll stop after 50.’ Then I hit 100, and was going to stop and then Theresa Rebeck got back to me, and I was like OK, maybe I’ll keep going. I stopped last fall, but at 1000, I really just scratched the surface.
What have been some of your favorite responses to these questions?
So many. There have been so many amazing people. Mark Schultz comes to mind. His interview is fantastic. There is a shocking number of people who have said amazing things that I’ve collected. Someday I’ll figure out how to make a book out of it.
Okay, without further ado, let’s get to your questions:
Hometown: Colchester, Connecticut
Current Town: East Haddam, CT, where Goodspeed Opera House is.
Tell me about Mercy at NJ REP.
This is the play that I wrote about six years ago in my writing group at Primary Stages. It’s about this guy whose wife is hit by a drunk driver and killed. They are able to save the baby, but not her, so he is mourning while trying to take care of the baby. Then he runs into the guy who did it and he befriends him, pretending it to be someone else, but all with the idea of taking revenge against him. It’s a drama but it’s a funny drama. The people at NJ Rep did a great job.
What else are you working on?
I have a new play about a fantastical bookstore that I like a lot. It's called The Book Store. It's a bunch of love stories. And I also have a new fairytale-ish kind of play called The Wooden Heart that's a lot about wood and finding your passion, or if not your passion a job you can stand. We did a reading of it at Julliard that just went fantastic. I have a commission from the NOLA Project in New Orleans that goes up in January. It’s fun; it’s about a TGIF Fridays type restaurant that gets taken hostage. It’s a play with a lot of music. I wrote the lyrics, but they have a band who is really great. When they did Clown Bar, these music guys (Jack Craft and Skyler Stroup) did music for it. If you can, go down and see it! I'm also it looks like, being commissioned to write Clown Bar 2. So look out for that in 2019.
If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
Money. It costs too much to see plays, and at the same time, you don’t really make too much money from writing plays or from anything else really in theater.
Who are, or were, your theatrical heroes?
Chris Durang and Marsha Norman were huge for me. I went to Julliard and there they were! Paula Vogel was big for me too, and still is. Also, Nicky Silver. After encountering his work, I was like, ‘oh, that’s what a play can be.’ There are literally hundreds of playwrights that I’m impressed by and in awe of, so many wonderful people doing this thing. I’m in total awe of these people and I really wanted to have everyone know how great they were.
What kind of theater excites you?
There’s not a specific kind of theater that excites me. I’d say whatever is interesting, lights up my brain, or like, grabs at my emotions. I don’t care if it’s naturalistic or non-naturalistic. I love to laugh and cry and I just want to be engaged. The only time theater doesn’t excite me is when I see the type that doesn’t make me think or make me feel and that’s only because of a problem with the craft.
What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
I wrote a big response to that here, but I would say to them to write, and to get your work out into the world, and if you can do those two things regularly and consistently, that’s all you have to do. Keep writing plays and keep putting them out there and do those both as much as possible.
Stockholm Syndrome: Or, Remember the Time Jimmy's All-American Beefsteak Place Was Taken Over by that Group of Radicals? a play with music at The NOLA Project in January. There are many upcoming productions of Marian this year, including productions at Theatre of NOTE in Los Angeles, Theatre Conspiracy in Fort Meyers, Florida and iDiOM Theater in Washington State, all of whom did previous plays of mine. I’m psyched for these productions of Marian that are happening. In 2018 so far, there are 12 productions of Marian which is the most productions of one play I’ve had in a single year. I’m also pretty psyched about how many are happening so quickly after it was published. It’s also great because a bunch of these theaters are doing second and third productions of my plays. I always thought that’s what playwriting would be and it took a really long time for that to actually happen.