Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Member Interviews: Willie Orbison

Why 'Willie' and not William, Will, Bill, or Billy?

It's always been Willie. I mean, legally, it's William, but it's always been Willie. I.E. not Y. I remember my parents were adamant about that when I was younger. Don't know why. I tried 'Will' at a summer abroad program once in high school but that made me feel like an asshole. So, I have a feeling it's going to be Willie forever. Which is kind of unfortunate because, to be completely honest, I'm not crazy about the name. I actually tend to mumble it when I say it out loud and people think my name is 'Louie.' Which I like better, but I don't think I'm earthy enough to pull it off.

How does a new play usually start for you? An image? A concept? A title?

Honestly, new plays usually start for me with a bad mood. I'll find myself feeling crappy about something in my life, I won't know what to do about it, and that's where a play will start. Or at least those are the times when I'm like 'Fuck, why aren't I writing something right now.' And then a play will start, and whatever malaisey things are trailing me around will, hopefully, get worked out in the writing. But in terms of getting a draft together, I do find myself working towards, or off of, a theatrical moment that I can see quite clearly in my head before any words are on the page. But titles, as a rule, always come last.

Have you ever written someone in your life into a character in one of your plays? If so, who?

All the time. Not like people's identities, but speech patterns, characteristics, stories, definitely. I think you have to. I went to a talk that John Guare was giving once, and he said something like 'playwrights are scavengers.' That stuck with me. Like squirrels. But yeah, if something about somebody strikes me, I'll try to make a little mental note, and hopefully it will stick long enough to find its way into my writing. I have zero qualms about that.

What is the quickest amount of time you've written a play in? The longest?

I'm slow, Tony. Painfully slow. The quickest I've written a play, other than some I've done for 24-hour festivals, is probably like a month. I have serious issues bringing myself to that blank page sometimes. I wish I could bang em out like Adam Rapp -- or you, Mr. Halloween Weekend -- but no, I am the tortoise, Tony. I am the tortoise. So, the longest it's taken me? Sheeit, I'm coming up on two years now for one of them. But, to be fair, I've never had a full-on production or had anything published, so I'm still writing every play I've ever written -- right?

When is the best time of day for your writing?

10pm to 4am, no question. I've had trouble getting to sleep all my life.

Do you have any recurring dreams?

Ironically, when I do sleep, yes. Two. And I've been having them as long as I can remember. The first is about three hamsters -- one holstein spotted, one tawny, and one without any hair -- who live on the rim of a washing machine. Without getting super Jungian about it, I have a feeling it has something to do with me and my two brothers. I don't know exactly what it means; however, I'm pretty sure I'm the one without any hair. The second dream is an anxiety dream I tend to get when the going gets tough in my awake life, and it's always this: I'm about to play my first game at second base for the Yankees, and we're about to go out on the field, but I can't find my glove. I'll be freaking out and freaking out, and then someone will lend me a glove and I'll go out on the field. Then -- and I think this has to do with a particularly scarring error I made when I was actually playing baseball -- someone on the other team will hit a high pop-up to me, and whatever I try to do, I can't catch the ball. Sometimes my legs will sink into the dirt and sometimes the ball never falls out of the sky, but I'll never catch that f'ing pop up. And I'll wake up tangled in sheets.

What movie do you find yourself quoting a lot?

I was a misguided adolescent. I thought it was 'cool' to be able to quote movies in regular conversation. In fact, for a while in middle school, this was the primary source of my sense of humor. So, there are a number of movies I have committed to memory, and, for reasons totally beyond my control, might still be heard quoting from time to time. Among them, The Sandlot, Sgt. Bilko (the Steve Martin one), and, of course (forgive me) The Big Lebowski.

What play did you read and hate in high school but love now?

I'm embarrassed about this, but Waiting For Godot. People would make fun of it for being so boring and about nothing, so I jumped on the bandwagon (again, misguided adolescence). But now, I'm happy to say, I fully appreciate its genius.

What is the most embarrassing song in your itunes?

Probably something by The String Cheese Incident. Shoot me.

What is the last stupid thing you've done?

The last stupid thing. Hmm, so much to choose from. Perhaps having that punch at the Asking for Trouble closing night party. I was, indeed, Asking for ... well, you know.

Besides New York, any other geographies calling your name at some point?

Yes. Always. I have a tendency to over-sentimentalize things, so most of my fondest memories are tied to a certain geography -- the Green Mountains in Vermont, farms and vineyards in Sonoma County, beaches up and down the Eastern Seaboard, Caribbean islands, freaking all of Paris, and those places call to me. And then there are places I haven't even been yet that I know I have to visit, like India, Japan, Spain, Vietnam, Peru, Argentina, China, the Philippines, New Zealand -- my grandmother, who's somewhat of a spirit guide for me, travelled all over the world and always stresses the importance of seeing new places and new people, so it's definitely a life goal for me to see the world. But, it's funny, having grown up in New York City, whenever I leave for an extended period of time, I start to miss the subway.

Are there any recurring ideas or themes in your work?

Someone once said any writer worth their salt is always in some way writing about love and death. I think that's true for me, too. Not that I'm worth all that much salt, but when I sit down to write something, I do feel a sense of existential urgency that nudges me toward tackling the big stuff. It's the 'if I was hit by a bus tomorrow, would I be proud of what I was working on' question. And, for me at least, I would want to be, in my way, swinging for the fences. Life is short, Tony. Shit happens, as my grandfather used to say, and I don't want to be caught with my proverbial pants around my ankles, putting the finishing
touches on some half-hearted story that doesn't really move me. That's not to say every play needs to be Hedda fucking Gabler, but I truly believe that my task as a playwright is to add my little vision of existence to the pile before time runs out. And the way I see it, the way we understand love and the way we understand death has a profound effect on every single impulse we have as people walking around from day to day. So, when I'm writing a play, when I'm thinking about characters and what they want and why they want it and the way they interact with the world around them, yeah -- for me, it all boils down to love and death. I mean, when you think about it, what else is there, really?

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