New York City Conference
General Information * Registration * Hotel * Schedule of Events * Traveling Companion Package
   Affinia Manhattan Hotel, New York City, NY

Open A New Window

THERESA REBECK INTERVIEW

1. How did a nice girl from Cincinnati end up on Broadway via Hollywood?

Well that question would take me a year to answer properly.  The short answer is, I was always a playwright who occasionally took jobs in Hollywood, mostly so I could support myself and later my family. I've been working in the theater professionally since 1989, but in the year 2000 things really started to move more fluidly for me and my work as a playwright.  So there was no "via Hollywood" really—it was more of a straight path as a playwright, that just took a lot of time and a lot of work.

2.  Have you always wanted to write?

My aunt actually saved the first story I wrote, when I was six.  And I remember telling people I wanted to be a writer when I was maybe eight or nine.   No one believed me, and I am quite sure I did not even believe myself.

3.  What led you into visual mediums immediately instead of trying the novel world?

It's not the visual nature of the different dramatic mediums which appealed to me, so much as the fact that language and story really make no sense to me when they are not seen through character. Character is like a prism to me.  I can't really write unless I know who's talking, unless I'm talking THROUGH someone.  Does that make sense?  I can't seem to write in the third person omniscient voice.  I don't know who's talking.

4.  When you get an idea, how do you decide what medium it best belongs?

Honestly, I usually just assume everything is a play.  And then there are other things that clearly aren't plays, and then when I know that much it takes a while to figure out the rest.  Sometimes I think about something for a long time in one medium and then realize that its the wrong one, and switch.  Usually a clue, if I've misconceived something, is that I literally cannot get myself to sit down and write it.

5.  You've written your first novel, please tell us the name, publish date and a storyline blurb.  Publisher, editor, etc.

The novel is titled THREE GIRLS AND THEIR BROTHER, and it's being published in March 2008 with Random House (Shaye Areheart, publisher) in the US, and with HarperCollins in the UK.  It's about three teenage girls in Brooklyn who have a famous literary grandfather and so the New Yorker publishes a photo of them, declaring them the new "It" girls, and then they get sucked almost instantaneously into the maelstrom of the celebrity fast lane.  The first part of it is narrated by their brother, who basically watches his sisters get abducted by the media.  So it's sort of satiric, and sad at the same time.

6.  Can you share some of your writing process?  Are you a detailed outline writer, a seat of pants sit down with the fingers on the keys and let it come, etc.

I don't like the outline anymore, I really don't.  You have to do much too much of that in film and television and I think it finally saps the creativity out of some people—me, certainly.  Usually I think about something for a while, and then I sit down to write it. Sometimes I have to think much longer about certain stories than others. Sometimes I have to start writing before I really know what I'm writing about; the writing itself reveals a tremendous amount to me.  I think that when you force yourself to write without fully knowing where you're going, the deeper subject truly reveals itself to you.  Now, I would not recommend this for everybody.  When I was really much more of a novice I wrote a few things without having a sense of where they were going and got myself into real messes.  So I feel fortunate that I have a degree of technique right now that I can lean on.

Having said that, I also have to admit that I am often terrified at the thought of rewriting something because I have no confidence whatsoever that I will be able to actually do it.  Sometimes I think, "I hope that person inside me who actually knows how to do this, decides to show up today."  I sometimes feel like I'm channeling.

7.  Please share your recent Broadway experience?  You had a fantastic cast, director, etc. and a fun storyline, or so it seemed to.  What was the good and the bad of the experience?

It was really a great thrill to work a larger theater and have the history and traditions of Broadway itself kind of supporting the work.  The house my play was produced in was the Biltmore; No Exit premiered there, and Mae West was arrested there.  You really feel yourself to be fully embraced by the American theatrical tradition.  Also, there really is more money, and more visibility and just more excitement on Broadway, so the production attracts a degree of talent that is definitely kicked up.   And it was truly thrilling to see the audiences connect so completely with a straight play, a new American play, on Broadway, where they say the new play is very much an endangered species.  The entire community of theater artists was also pretty excited by the play, and I felt really embraced; it was exceptionally rewarding.  The downside honestly came in at the last minute, when some of the critics wrote truly nutty reviews, which put a damper on people's spirits for quite a while.  No one involved in the show, or the audiences, quite understood what their issues were.  And then for a while people kept saying to me, "Well—you should be really proud, your play is really connecting to audiences!" Like that was supposed to be some sort of consolation prize, that the audiences loved the show so much.  And I thought, but isn't that actually who we're doing it for?  If you had to choose who you would write a play for, the critics or the audiences, who would you choose? And why is there a choice involved?  I think the critics are often out to lunch and that if you worry too much about pleasing them you're worrying about the wrong thing.

8.  Do you prefer writing for regional theatres?  Why?

I think I do prefer writing for the regional theaters.  All that worrying about the critics in New York tends to poison the atmosphere a bit.  And honestly, there's nothing anyone can do about it, they're extremely idiosyncratic, almost perversely so, so you can really produce a simply perfect show, and then have it dismissed for the most bizarre of reasons, and then everyone gets so sad.  In the regional theater, I think that there is less pressure and insanity and so the work feels very safe and strong.  Sometimes you can't get the actors you want—it’s hard for actors who are married, or have children, to be away from their families for a full three month commitment.  But often you can get terrific people to go—we have an amazing cast going to Denver for my next play—and then it's like being on vacation, and getting to do what you love, with really fun people, and without having the sword of Damocles hanging over your head.

9.  You have a book of essays on the writing life, can you give us the name and perhaps tell us something about the collection.  Share a story, or why you wrote it, etc.

Well, the title of the book is FREE FIRE ZONE, and it's about being a writer in theater, television and film.  I've done all three—which more and more people are doing—but  I think I was one of the first to hop back and forth quite so regularly.   Actually, that's not true, Paddy Chayevsky did it.  In any case, over the years I've begun to see, when I go to speak at university writing programs, how little information novice writers have about how the business really works—things like, how to get a play produced, what a producer does, how to spot a bit fat lie, what megalomaniacs are like to work for, things like that.  And I thought, you know, these passionate and talented young writers start to look more and more like lambs being led to the slaughter; somebody better tell them a few things about what it's really like to work in this dirty business.  I mean, it is really great work, to be a storyteller, but there's a lot of really nasty politics attached to it, and you have to know what you're getting yourself into.  So that's why I wrote it—to give people a shred of a clue, about what to expect. So the book has lots of stories in it.