About the Play:
A high school football star and son of a North Carolina preacher has a secret that won’t make daddy proud–and he’s aching to tell.
About the Author:
Gabriel Jason Dean is a multi-disciplinary theatre artist whose original plays and adaptations have been produced or read at Aurora Theatre (Iron Moon & Buy My House…Please!), Dad’s Garage Theatre (Blue Fingernails), Actor’s Express (Beowulf & Riffed), Horizon Theatre (Piece), Relativity Theatre Concern, Stage Door Players, The Process Theatre, Emory University and Oglethorpe University and the University of Texas–Austin. His adaptation of Beowulf is published by PlayScripts and has been produced in Canada, Georgia, New Jersey, Wisconsin and New York. Upcoming productions include Br’er Wood at UT-Austin (a play for children co-created with David Justin) and Qualities of Starlight at the Essential Theatre (winner of 2009 Essential Theatre Playwriting Prize). His recent play for children, The Transition of Doodle Pequeno is currently a finalist for the Kennedy Center Summer MFA Workshop. Gabriel’s poetry, fiction and journalism has been published in Snake Nation Review, The Tower, Eclectica Magazine, The Melic Review, South E-Zine, and Creative Loafing. Gabriel is the recipient of several distinctions for his writing including “Favorite Local Playwright 2009” in Creative Loafing–Atlanta, the James A. Michener Playwriting Fellowship, the City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs Playwriting Award, the Porter Fleming Prize for Fiction, the Sidney Lanier Prize for Poetry, and a winner of the Horizon Theatre Young Playwright’s Festival. He studied the interdisciplinary art of Musical Theatre at CAP21 at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and earned his B.A. in Literary Writing with honors in Playwriting from Oglethorpe University where he also studied theatre criticism abroad at the University of Manchester in England. Gabriel founded and facilitated the Odyssey Program, a drama/creative writing workshop for Morry’s Camp, a non-profit camp for underprivileged inner city kids in New York. He is a co-founder of Relativity Theatre Concern in Atlanta, a member of the Dramatist’s Guild of America, Theatre Communications Group, Austin ScriptWorks, the Playwright’s Center in Minneapolis, and currently lives in Austin, Texas where— aside from pursuing his M.F.A. in Playwriting at the James A. Michener Center for Writers— he enjoys playing guitar to anyone who’ll listen and wrestling with his two VERY large, but loveable mutt dogs, Buster and Argo. His greatest accomplishment to date: convincing his beautiful wife (and director/actress), Jessie Dean, to marry him. Other jobs have included: Director of Marketing at Actor’s Express, real estate broker, babysitter, waiter, barista, dog walker, house painter and armchair translator. www.GabrielJasonDean.com
Gabriel’s Forty Days to Forty Plays Interview:
OOB Festival (OOB): Tell us a little about your playwriting career. When did you start writing plays? What are some of your proudest accomplishments as a playwright?
Gabriel Jason Dean (GJD): I started young. When I was in fourth grade, I wrote a radio play called, A Child’s Last Christmas. As the title suggests, it was a real downer…about a boy who died of leukemia on Christmas. Yeah, I was really trying to manipulate the heart strings of my audience. This was before I understood the concept of giving the audience space to receive your work. But, in my defense, in my conscientious young mind I rationalized that it should be a radio play because “hearing” about a kid dying at Christmas was more palatable than “seeing” a kid die at Christmas. I’m pretty sure all my teachers thought I was a bit morbid after that play, so I attempted to redeem myself by adapting some stories from Ranger Rick. Those went over a lot better. Funnily enough, A Child’s Last Christmas and The Ranger Rick adaptations were also the first time I ever self-produced. God, I really wish I could find those scripts now. I figured out pretty early in life that I was an actor as well. I mean, every kid’s an actor to some degree, but I had the bug bad. In that same year (fourth grade) I was cast as one of the No-Neck Monsters in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at a local community theatre. I’ve never been the same since that production.
Really, my proudest accomplishment as a playwright thus far has been longevity. I’m 30 and I’ve been doing this since I was ten years old in some form or another. I’ve stayed with the theatre through thick and thin (way more thin than thick) and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. I’ve tried to break away and do other things professionally. Mostly, they crush my soul. Year before last, I said to myself, well…if you’ve been doing it this long, there’s gotta be something in it that’s worth doing. So, I dedicated my full time pursuits to all things theatrical. So far, so good.
OOB: I think you might be our first playwright from the Mischener Center—congrats! Can you talk a little bit about the program there—how Texas life is, what the program is like, how being a member of the program as affected your work as a playwright?
GJD: The Michener Center is incredible! Three years to write, fully funded with professional development funds as well. I’m a very lucky writer to be in this program. MCW is unique in that it requires its writers to diversify. We essentially have two theses…in my case my primary area is playwriting and secondary is poetry. The program caters to four genres total, the other two being fiction and screenwriting. I’m surrounded by immense talent in the students and instructors. MCW brings in the top writers in all genres to teach. On full time staff are Steven Dietz, Kirk Lynn and Suzan Zeder. They are a powerhouse combo. Enough gushing.
Austin, Texas is the hipster capital of the world. Aside from that, it’s amazing. Austin is a very experimental and liberal city in the middle of Texas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still Texas– meaning you might run into a secessionist at any moment. It’s hot as hell and I think I’m one of the few people who loves the heat. It’s tricky living and being a student here because the city is a big distraction. There is an immense live music scene here, great food and festivals– the Austin Film Festival, South by Southwest– and genuinely interesting people everywhere. Professional theatre in Austin tends to follow the experimental trend, although as you would expect, the LORTs are fairly conservative in their faire. It’s a city that holds the arts in high esteem and dedicates a lot of money and media space toward them.
I just finished my first year in the program and it’s certainly affected my writing. I’ve been encouraged to embrace the essential and illuminate the story. I think of this first year as boot camp, getting my writer muscles in shape and working a lot on things I’ll never show to the public, just as craft exercises. It was challenging. Coming from the Atlanta scene, where nearly everything I wrote was produced, it’s hard for me to think of process over product. Suzan and Steven are great at massaging your writerly habits. Not necessarily taking them away, per se. But making you aware of habit versus choice.
OOB: Talk about your entry to this year’s festival. How did you come to write this play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation? What do you hope festival audience will take from your play?
GJD: I wrote PigSkin in the fall of 2009, during my first semester of grad school at UT-Austin. I was actually working on another play at the time, a play for young audiences called The Transition of Doodle Pequeno. Doodle is about a third grader figuring out his sexuality and gender preference. I started writing in a voice distinctly different from Doodle’s, much more sophisticated and self-aware. I knew I wanted to write something about bullying and then as I was writing became fascinated by the idea of bullying as ritualistic obligation and with the thought that perhaps the “victim” of bullying might be the instigator. I sat down to write and wrote PigSkin in one sitting. It’s the only play I’ve ever written in one sitting. And admittedly, I revised it very little after I’d finished it. That was strange for me because I am a huge revisionist. It was one of those moments when everything about it instinctively felt right.
PigSkin is sexy, and that’s what gets you in the door to see it. It’s not a bait and switch, however. The world that William lives in is one of firsts and discoveries and that is always erotically provocative. Underneath the sexiness though, it dares you to think about the eroticism of violence, the primal allure of secrets and the realities of being a sexually liberated person in the American South.
OOB: What is the history of your festival entry? Do you plan to hone and further develop the play in upcoming rehearsals? Has it already been produced?
GJD: This will be the world premiere of PigSkin. I hope it has a nice life after this. As nice a life as short plays can expect. During rehearsals I know we’ll focus on finding the right physicality of the beats while letting the language do its job. It’s not a play that can stand over-direction, so I expect it will be fairly simple. Finding complexity within simplicity.
OOB: Tell us a little about your producer? How did you come to form your relationship together? If you are self-producing, please talk a little about that process—have you ever mounted your own work before?
GJD: The Michener Center for Writers is the producer, meaning they are funding it. I am currently a playwriting fellow there working toward my MFA. The program is exceptional and very generous. It’s also very interdisciplinary and self guided. You are paid to write for three years while you earn a terminal degree. That’s incredible!
Artistically speaking, all the production decisions will be made by the team. So it feels a lot like self-producing without the fundraising. I’ve produced the work of other writers at Relativity Theatre Concern in Atlanta, where I’m a co-founder. And in 2007, RTC and Aurora Theatre did a co production of my play Iron Moon. Self-production is the best way to learn to be better at your craft. I saw firsthand how a badly crafted phrase can halt the progress of a project.
OOB: Can you talk a little bit about the production of this play and how you’ve been coping with some of the challenges of bringing it to New York? Have you found your actor and director yet? How are you raising money? What has the rehearsal process been like?
GJD: PigSkin was made to tour. It requires an actor and a football. That’s it. It’s almost as though I wrote the piece specifically for the Sam French OOB Fest, but that’s not the case. We have a director in place (my wife), Jessie Dean. Casting was a challenge because Jessie was in London doing a program at the Globe Theatre, so I had to conduct auditions and tape them and bring them to her when we met up in London at the end of her program. After looking in several cities, we’ve finally cast it. An undergraduate student named Will Brittain from UT will be doing the role. Will is an incredibly talented and instinctive performer. He was a football player in high school, so he understands the movement and language of the piece. We will start rehearsals in July in Atlanta, so Will will fly out to meet us there. The main challenge was finding housing for Will in Atlanta and NYC. A family friend is putting him up in Atlanta and luckily, he has a buddy in New York to house him. Jessie and I were lucky enough to have a condo in midtown donated to us for use during the festival by the board chair of the Essential Theatre in Atlanta. The Essential’s doing my play Qualities of Starlight this summer.
We’ll see what challenges come our way in rehearsal. It’s one actor onstage, telling a story, so that poses a challenge on its own. It’s also really provocative and finding a way to craft the provocation will be a challenge as well. Jessie has directed one of my plays before and admittedly, it was a challenge to us. The play was a success. We’ve worked together on many levels in the theatre, so I know we’ll be fine. The problem and the virtue of being married and working together in theatre is that we can say anything to each other without sugarcoating it. Sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally. We’ve made a rule: what happens in the theatre stays in the theatre. We don’t want to bring the work home. This is very difficult for me.
OOB: Looking back over your personal history in the theatre, what emerges as your favorite memory? Is there a particular story you’d like to share?
GJD: My favorite memories in theatre usually don’t have anything to do with my own work. The work of others in this field constantly inspires me. Seeing plays or acting in plays that leave me breathless, that change me in some way–those are seared into my memory. A few things that have done this recently:
–Seeing The Long Red Road at the Goodman.
–Seeing my wife, Jessie Dean, live in the role of Blanche Dubois in Streetcar.
–Reading Naomi Wallace’s The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.
Maybe that’s what it is that makes this profession so addictive. You can always depend on your colleagues to inspire you to keep exploring.
Watch a video preview of PIGSKIN, produced by the author: