At the PWC this week: Gabriel Jason Dean
Core Writer Gabriel Jason Dean is at the Playwrights’ Center this week, workshopping his play Something Quiet with director Rudy Ramirez and actors Ricardo Vazquez, Emily Grodzik, and Emily Gunyou Halaas. The public is invited to a reading of the play at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. No RSVP is necessary. We asked Gabriel a few questions:
What are you working on?
I’m a new dad, which has re-galvanized my dedication to playwriting. I grew up watching my parents work exhausting mill jobs, doing things they loved on the side. We were dominated by the fear of financial failure. That same fear is very real to me now. But rather than play it safe, get a 9-5, all that, fatherhood has inspired me to write more. I could easily fail doing something I don’t want to do, so why not put all my effort toward doing the thing I love?
Why do you write plays?
So far, all my plays are intensely personal, so I guess it’s fair to say I write in order to know myself more. I think the stage is a container for the poetry of our experiences. I write plays because I believe in the unifying power of liveness. Because it is now. Because it is right in the room with everybody, above other mediums, theater, when it embraces contradiction, when it challenges an audience, it increases our capacity for vulnerability. It makes us question who we are in relation to what’s happening onstage. After 4000 years, mimesis is still mind-blowing.
What playwriting advice do you have for others?
Many of my mentors said it, so I’ll pay it forward: Don’t wait on people to say yes. There’s nothing more exhilarating than getting a call from someone out of the blue saying, “We want to produce your play.” But until that day comes, continue to make theater with your best collaborators. Make theater in your living room. In elevators. In cars. Wherever. Just do it and get people to come see it. You learn more through production and watching an audience than anything else. Also, don’t complain too much and leave your ego at the door.
Who or what inspires you?
I find the collaborators in the room making the play the biggest source of my inspiration. When a bunch of people get together and all say, “YES! Let’s tell this story in the very best way we can.” I’m pretty much addicted to that. I’m also am really inspired by visual art. I often write toward evoking an image I’ve seen…abstract or realistic. Fellow writers, both living and passed, fellow schemers and dreamers, my family, my partner, my dogs, neighbors, friends, children saying stuff on the subway, stand-up comics, older people who’ve seen more of the world than me.
What is your writing process like?
I love the quote by Flannery O’Connor, “I write to discover what I know.” When the play is still a dialectic in search of story, I look for stuff that’ll help me see the idea kinda sideways. If I wanted to write a play about, for instance, assisted suicide, I might look for poems or essays about civil rights and liberty; or renderings from the Hubble telescope to remind myself of smallness. I try to get out of the way and listen to the characters. Sometimes they’re reticent though and I have to create a flood to get them talking.