Eric: Hi Lydia!
Lydia: Hi Eric! Well, to begin with the obvious: Where did you grow up? And when did you start to think seriously about being a playwright and why?
Eric: I grew up in Pepperell, MA, a little town on the border of New Hampshire. Very small: horses, foxes, turkeys.
I never had this perfect Road to Damascus "I'm going to become a playwright!" moment. I wanted to be a writer when I was young and impressionable. Somewhere in high school I made the responsible decision to move away from prose writing; I could easily see myself becoming some hunchbacked hermit all alone in the MA hills.
I began writing plays, and that migrated into college, and here I am now. Beyond the collaborative aspect, I like the possibilities and limitations of theatre. For me, it forces a "story-first" mentality. Also, I think you can do weird stuff well and get away with it.
Right back at you: You grew up in CT, right? Did you always live there? Do you feel like it influenced your writing in any way?
Lydia: I grew up in Ridgefield, CT, but I was born in northern California. I rode across the country at about one and half sitting on my grandma’s lap. Ridgefield is about an hour from the NYC and a ten minute drive from there to the town they based the The Stepford Wives on. The town has a Main Street complete with a local pizza place, and a candy store full of middle school kids.
I think it factors in some of my work, but it’s hard to explain how. The isolation affected me, and certainly the lesson that wealth conceals but does not solve unhappiness.
I did not want to be a playwright until a few years ago. My first year at Columbia, I was dragged along by a friend to a reading of a play written by his teacher. We wound up at the bar with the cast, playwright and her husband. Someone bought me a beer, and the playwright asked me why I hadn’t signed up for her class. In the dark, I couldn’t think of a reason not to.
Alright, back to you. What's the weirdest thing you've written into a play? What's the best moment of theater you've ever experienced? And what writers do you admire? Would you say that your work has a particular style?
Eric: I'm going to swap up the order that I answer these questions, if just to make things difficult.
We talked about how difficult and unpleasant it is to describe your own work, so I'm going to tread carefully with these answers.
I'm sure I have a style, though I don't quite know what it is. It's dangerous to try to identify and stick to a single style anyway, right? You just become a parody of yourself. That being said, there are common trends in my writing, and writers who have clearly influenced me.
Though I'm sure they're real common influences all over the playwriting world, the two playwrights who impacted my writing the most are probably Sam Shepard and Sarah Ruhl. I think they do really similar things, one in that gruff cowboy way, and the other in that wistful poetic way. Their best plays both make their own universes with their own rules, but allow them to be really accessible. They're also real funny! Lately I've been really into Mickey Birnbaum and Stephen Adly Guirgus.
Some of my early college-era plays were pretty weird. I grew up reading lots of comic books, and I think the hyper-compressed comic book writing of the sixties fed into the way I thought (think) about stories. I would try to pack as much as possible onstage; there'd be lots of historical figures and talking animals. One play had Vincent Van Gogh, Harry Houdini, Pinocchio, and a pair talking bugs. I think I've become more restrained since then. But talking animals do come up a lot.
Best theater moment as an audience member: I saw some Boston production of the Tempest when I was a kid (it's my favorite Shakespeare); I don't even know how much I understood or enjoyed it, but that motherfucker is burned into my brain. So much magic!
These are good and difficult questions, Lydia, so I'm totally going to boomerang them back to you. How would you describe your writing? Who're your writing crushes/influences? What was the first play you ever wrote? Do you have a "magical moment of theater" story?
Lydia: I too, have trouble describing my writing style. I’d agree that it depends which play is being written and that style tends to follow the content. But I guess I like violence, sex and humor. I’m more interested in families than romance. Most of my characters don’t finish their sentences.
I really like quite a few playwrights. For the more contemporary sort: David Lindsay-Abaires, Sam Hunter, Adam Bock, Julia Jordan, Joe Fisher, Craig Wright, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Martin McDonagh jump to mind.
My first play was a pretty awful treatise on a doomed romance, full of half poetic language without much plot. But I quickly moved on from that type of work.
I really like theater that frightens you. I’d say the moment in SoHo Rep’s recent production of Blasted when the whole space goes black was probably the most memorable experience at a play. You hear something like a bomb, and then the sound of heavy objects being thrown. You sit in the dark for what feels like an eternity while these sounds get louder and louder. I clutched a stranger’s arm for dear life. Then the lights came up and the entire set has been dismantled and blown apart.
Eric: Wow, Lydia, I feel as if I know you so much more both as a person and playwright! And I’m sure you could say the same for me! Sure am excited to see what we come up with!