It's Mike Lew. I sat down with playwright Kevin Snipes at his home in Sag Harbor for what I thought would be a fruitful interview. What followed was six straight hours of incoherent ranting as I drank Odwalla from an eco-friendly recycled bottle and he drank straight ethanol from a sippy cup. Here are the answers he slurred out when he was conscious, or at least what I could transcribe from the tape after listening seven times straight and then throwing up my hands in utter frustration.
1. Your full-length plays feature all male characters, yet you've used actress Julie Leedes as your muse for several short works. How do gender considerations affect your writing, and what is your source of inspiration for characters male or female?
There are certain ways men are expected to act with each other. There are behaviors and feelings that are considered appropriate and inappropriate. When a man steps out of line with those expectations, the conflicts and tensions that arise are usually quite dramatic. Or at least they become a starting point for something I can make dramatic. The men in my plays are always aware that there is an expected norm that they are defying and by doing so they are setting themselves up for a terrible fall (my plays rarely end happily). What interests me is what makes men willing to risk this defiance. Usually it's an emptiness they're trying to fill. Emptiness will drive people to some pretty interesting extremes. It's good fodder for a playwright.
As for Julie Leedes. She's an amazing, amazing actress. And if you have the opportunity to work with her then you do what any smart writer would do and you build plays around her.
2. Your play "A Bitter Taste" was produced last year at Ensemble Studio Theatre as Youngblood's mainstage production. Can you comment on the transition between imagining your play on paper and seeing it realized as a specific production?
The transition from page to stage was a very smooth one. I had a clear image of the play in my head, which the director shared, so together we attempted to create a production that was faithful to what I had envisioned two years earlier when I sat down to write the play. I'm afraid I don't have any horror stories about that. "A Bitter Taste" was (and is) a very dark play. I think one of the challenges was getting everyone involved to realize how dark it is. There's a lot of humor in the play and that often masks some of the atrocious behavior that the characters commit. It was only a few days before we opened that everyone started realizing just how fucked-up their characters were. Perhaps in future productions I will make a disclaimer speech at the beginning of the rehearsal process, "Yes, this is a fucked-up play. Your character is as dark and twisted and messed-up as you can imagine. Now, have fun." It's a play that asks a lot of its actors. To use a boxing analogy, the actors have to come out swinging, and they don't get to stop until the play is over two hours later. It's very demanding.
3. What drew you to theater initially, and what sustains your interest?
I've always written plays. Even as a child. I think I wrote plays before I'd ever read or seen one. Before I knew what plays were. I would write out scenarios and make my friends act them out. Perhaps that was just an early manifestation of my need to be a control freak. I liked things scripted in advance. So I don't know what prompted me to want to write for the theater. I have a bit of a God-complex. Or maybe a Creator-complex. So the idea of inventing entire worlds that I get to populate and control in order to advance my own ideas has always been appealing to me.
What sustains my interest is the electric rush I get when I see that the worlds I've created are affecting people in the audience. I think all writers write because we think we having something important to say that no one else is saying. When I write a play about something that I feel needs to be discussed - something that needs to be in the spotlight - and other people respond to it, it's very gratifying. It's a validation that what I'm trying to communicate about the world - about who we are - is important. The theater is one of the few mediums where artists can portray humans as complex individuals and not just black & white stereotypes. I find most film and television to be dehumanizing. Theater is the only performance medium where people are allowed their full humanity. That's important. That's so important.
4. Write your own eulogy.
Shakespeare. Shaw. Snipes. They were, are, and will be all that theater ever needed.
5. One time you said you were looking for a new job and as luck would have it a temp agency had just contacted me saying that they were looking for a copywriter so when I told you about the job you sounded tentatively interested but after I stuck my neck out for you asking the temp agency if they would hire you, you declined to interview for the job even though you'd initially expressed interest. Why are you such a total fucking ingrate?
Wow. You are never going to forgive me for turning down your advances, are you? How many times do I have to tell you, you are not my type? Nothing can ever happen between us. Please move on. There are so many people out there capable of loving you. I am not one of them.