Angela Hanks: So, you've lived in all 50 states. How was that?
Ryan Dowler: That’s an exaggeration of course, but I have lived in many places. It started when a friend and I dropped out of school in 2002. We were in love with learning and pretty full of ourselves, so we thought we would just do it all ourselves. That is to say, we would pick a city, move there and, with the help of great books and field trips, learn everything we needed to know about the world. The job market was good then so we could really choose any place in the country to move – ANY place – and we chose Iowa. There wasn’t any real reason other than the fact that it was “centrally located.” We knew no one there. Every day, when we weren’t working, we would get up early and spend all day completing assignments of our own design. The first textbook we picked for history (primarily because the Iowa City Public Library carried two copies) began by kind of saying, “Native American Genocide? Genocide Schmenocide! The numbers are greatly exaggerated!” We kind of looked at each other and thought, “What have we done?” But to answer your question, yes, then I moved around to a bunch more places, got degrees, etc.
AH: If you could perform one character from a play, who would it be?
RD: George Deever in All My Sons. Best walk-on ever. Or twenty years from now, Ray in Blackbird. Preferably anyone who’s an asshole and then isn’t an asshole and then still just might be an asshole.
AH: How does music inform your work? Does it? Or do you just like to rock out to awesome awesome jams?
RD: I’m one of those people who listens to one album over and over and over again while I work. It kind of acts as white noise to distract that part of my brain that wants to look all over or daydream or what have you. In high school, it was Weezer’s Blue Album and then a Ben Folds Five album over and over and over, and now lately it’s been Raphael Saadiq. When the album ends and iTunes switches to a new song, my brain goes, “B’wha?” and I have to start the album over.
In general, I always prefer music to no music. My girlfriend Molly and I just moved to NY and we live in this building with all these older quieter people and Molly keeps telling me to turn the music down. I keep trying to explain to her that in the building we’re the Randle P. McMurphy contingent and the Randle P. McMurphy contingent isn’t supposed to turn the music down. If anything, we owe it to them to turn it up. To be fair, it’s all like Ray Charles and Loretta Lynn and its not even that loud.
AH: Where do you like to write?
RD: I just came here from Athens, Ohio where I had the perfect place to write, a place called Donkey Coffee. There are so many places to sit, different rooms and kinds of tables to choose from and every table has it’s own little lamp. What it is, it’s cozy. In New York cozy means small, but in Ohio cozy means smartly lit and warm, with a place to hang your coat. There was a table on the second floor with a big window where you could watch the snow fall and the people walking on the street. There was a couch in a great big room with paintings better than windows, where you could sit and write for hours next to sleeping teenage couples wrapped up in limbs and sweaters and scarves. Not a bad thing to see if you’re trying to write about the better parts of being a human being.
I almost missed out on a year and a half of very productive writing time at Donkey. Athens itself is a place of contradictions as an environment for writing. A lot of great writers – Laura Jacqmin, Dana Formby, David Mitchell Robinson , to name too few -- have come out of Charles Smith’s program at OU lately, but the workload in terms of writing is intense (3 full-lengths and 60 short plays written and staged in 3 years + all the classes on structure and theory + teaching). You’re really getting your Malcolm-Gladwell-10,000 hours- thing, but the location can be very isolating, for good or ill. Winter in rural Ohio can get pretty depressing and I remember I had one of those graduate student therapists because I was having trouble leaving my house.
She said there must be somewhere else you want to go to do your work. And I said there is one coffee shop I like, but I can’t work there anymore because everything I’ve ever worked on there – every essay, every lecture, whatever -- is a piece of shit. It was a pretty pathetic show, but I completely believed it, and walking through the door just brought all that back and it was all very distracting and sad. Finally the thing that happened – Winter ended and I stopped being foolish and in a kind of Saved-by-the-Bell Scheme, I started writing there to get close to another more talented playwright that I had a crush on, who’s now my girlfriend.
I haven’t really found a place in NY yet. A lot of them are lit like a Wal-Mart. I like that Café Grumpy location in Greenpoint, but it’s very far away. Ditto Flying Saucer, but they won’t take any cards. Did you see that Joan Rivers documentary? I want to work in a coffee shop that looks like Joan River’s apartment. That’s what I want. Where you can transition from coffee to beer when the time is right. Also it takes credit cards. And has a little lamp on every table.
AH: You do know that your last name rhymes with another Youngblood's last name, right? How do you feel about that?
RD: Darcy Fowler is actually the first Youngblood/er/y that I met. There shouldn’t be much confusion. She’s much more socially adept and bright than I am. She’s the one I’d choose first to be on my softball team, based on what I imagine leading/being on a softball team might be like.
There’s actually an actress in L.A. with my full name. She’s much more googleable than me. Old friends sometimes contact me to congratulate me on my plays and on playing “Pregnant Girl #2” on The O.C.