You know those super-prolific writers whose plays always seem to be opening somewhere, or who are certainly always working on something (or several somethings)? Well, playwright Adam Szymkowicz is one of those scribes. In the past couple of years, the author of Nerve, Food For Fish, and Susan Gets Some Play, has invaded the New York Indie Theater scene with quirky, offbeat plays featuring melancholy characters who yearn to connect with each other. His latest work, Pretty Theft, is no different: it follows two bad girls on a cross-country trip that includes an autistic savant and a mysterious thief who claims he cannot be caught.
With Pretty Theft opening this week, under the auspices of Flux Theatre Ensemble (one of nytheatre.com’s 2008 People of the Year), Adam stopped by the ol’ blog to talk about the play, how he manages his career, and the common threads that bind his works together. Check it out…
You’re a pretty prolific writer, it seems, who writes about a wide range of topics and has a wide range of interests. Where do you find ideas and inspiration for your plays?
Sometimes something will just come to me. I don’t remember where Incendiary came from. I think I woke up one day and decided I wanted to write a film noir-inspired play about a female fire chief/firesetter who falls in love with the detective investigating her fires.
Sometimes I just think to myself, I like to write a play about pirates, for example, and then I figure out what is already out there about pirates and what I want to say with my pirate play. Pretty Theft was about examining theft in various forms. Open Minds was an Orwellian tragicomedy about the Patriot Act. Sometimes I’m interested in certain types of people or flaws or maybe I want to write about war or the economy and if I actually do it, I have to find my way in. What is it that I have to say about this thing that needs to be said? I also write about love a lot.
You’re currently living in Minnesota. Taking that into consideration, how hands-on can you be with the Pretty Theft rehearsals here in New York?
I’m actually in the city for two weeks or so and slowly day by day getting a little broker each day I’m here. But it has to be done. My presence is, I like to think, very helpful in rehearsals. So I’m here for a couple weeks of rehearsals and then I’ll see the opening and fly back. I’m catsitting on Staten Island right now and will be crashing on a sofa in Astoria next week. My parents live in a small town in Connecticut and so I’ll also get to see them while I’m here.
From reading your blog, I get the impression that you are very diligent about promoting your work and your career. What strategies do you use for this purpose? And what’s left over for your agent to do?
I think many people who would have otherwise never heard of me know me because of my blog. I also went to two grad schools and was a member of many writing groups in New York. I have met lots of people in theater and it always helps to talk to lots of people and see lots of theater, both for people to get to know you and for you to get to know them. I think being known is helpful, or at least it doesn’t hurt. Another good thing to do is to submit lots and lots of plays. I have spent the first ten years of my playwriting career sending out bazillions of submissions. Like at least to 100 places per play. I have slowed down some at this point, partially because my agent does more of the heavy lifting and partially because I just got too tired to continue at that pace. I probably sent Pretty Theft to well over 150 theatres. It was done at a couple of small theatres in limited runs and was workshopped at Juilliard, but this is going to be the big deal production and I’m really looking forward to it.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I was an actor since kindergarten, was in over 30 plays before I was 20. But I wasn’t getting what I wanted from it and I decided to be a writer instead. Because I knew plays so well from memorizing them and reading them, when I started to write on my own, I wrote plays first.
In your opinion, what are some of the common characteristics that bind all your works together? What makes each of them an “Adam Szymkowicz play”?
That’s a hard question. Because I see threads in common from play to play but they’re subconsciously there. Plays written close together often have more in common than those written years apart. There is often a romantic relationship. But not always. My plays are usually funny and often sad. I think it’s funny when people are bad at their jobs or when they have trouble relating to others. I like writing about people trying to connect. My plays are sometimes called quirky. I don’t think that’s inaccurate. I like characters who are a little off or in some way outside of mainstream society. I like to write plays that I think are fun to watch too. Pretty Theft and Nerve have dance. Herbie, Poet of the Wild West and Incendiary have shootouts. Hearts Like Fists has hand-to-hand combat. Deflowering Waldo has a monster. I write the kind of plays I would want to see.
For some reason, a lot of my plays have funerals or burials in them. In my newest play, Elsewhere, someone is buried alive. Pretty Theft has an avoided funeral. Fat Cat Killers and Herbie both have a scene where people are digging graves. Food For Fish has a coffin in the center of the living room because the characters aren’t ready to bury their father yet. He’s been there a year. That’s also a play that takes a lot from Chekhov. Herbie is a wild west retelling of Hamlet. Sometimes a line from one play shows up in another play in a different context. Open Minds and Herbie both have characters named Herbie in them. There are three different Bobby’s in three of my plays. Sometimes I don’t see the most obvious connections until years later. I better just keep writing.
What’s up next for you after this?
Well, production-wise, this summer, Herbie is going up in DC, and Food For Fish is getting produced in Atlanta (its 8th production). I have at least one but possibly four development places to go this summer. Four is probably too many, and I couldn’t afford that, but they wouldn’t all be the same play or anything.
Writing-wise, I am writing a novel in spurts and have been for a couple years. I’m also trying to get into TV and film. I have a pilot that is being passed around and I have a film I want to write next. There is also always a new play on the horizon.
I’m in Minneapolis because my wife got a Jerome fellowship there and she was required to be there for it. But the year is almost up. We’re not really sure what happens next. We are trying to think of how to get to where we need to get to next. When I think of the future, it is both fun and scary.
But I’m hoping what happens next is that I will somehow find a way to make a living at this thing. I am still looking for an anonymous patron to write me a large check. Or, you know, whatever really happens.