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A Q&A with playwright Dylan Dawson

The following interview was conducted by New York writer Adam Szymkowicz for his blog. Playwright Dylan Dawson is a graduate of Minneapolis’ Southwest High School and New York University. In the Twin Cities he performed with The Children’s Theatre, The Great American History Theatre and The Illusion Theatre, among others.

Dylan Dawson

Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q: I just saw a reading of a play of yours with Naked Angels. Can you talk a little about that play and how it came about and the horrible discrimination tall people have to deal with?

A: Yes, thank you, Adam, it’s a serious problem. “TALL (A TALE)” stars and centers around Will Rogers — the actor soon to be seen in Lincoln Center’s “When the Rain Stops Falling,” not the vaudevillian cowboy — and what happens when he decides to have his shins removed in a questionable (and completely non-existent, I hope) medical procedure so that he can star in a major Hollywood film. Having once been a struggling actor “of height,” I thought it would be nice to write something for a bunch of similarly un-stunted actors, and finally reveal some hard truths about what it’s like to get hit in the face by umbrellas all the time. People just don’t know.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: I just wrote a short little something for the 52nd Street Project, which is where all the cool 9- to 18-year-old kids in Hell’s Kitchen hang out, apparently. I started mentoring there a few months ago, and fell completely in love with the work they do. It’s great to see kids learn about conflict resolution through the creative process of making a play. And selfishly, it’s good for me to be reminded of the freedom theater allows, like, oh I can write a play about a pair of dice, and the problems they face while randomly doling out the fate of others! …

I also have a short play coming that’s a part of the goddamn incredible Ars Nova’s Play Group show, “Missed Connections NYC.” The evening is based on those guilty pleasure craigslist posts of the same name. Mine is titled “Chuck E. Cheese” and explores a meeting that takes place in the seventh circle of Hell that is that loud and grimy institution. There might be a full length in there, who knows?

Other than that, I’m trying to choose what next to write. I tend to go off of titles, and so far I have “Models In Space!” “… I’m Going To Find Out!” and “These HANDS!” — something with an exclamation point at the end of it. We’ll see. I’m also working on a play about a pair of dice and the problems they face while randomly doling out the … No I’m not, just kidding. Maybe.

Q: Are you still driving a truck or do you have a different day job?

A: I am no longer driving trucks at the Public Theater, no. You know someone just reminded me that it was about three years ago this week when I knocked down pretty much the entire scaffolding structure they have out front there, endangering the lives of dozens of hip and innocent Under the Radar patrons in the process.

No, these days I’ve been doing work as a documentary researcher, or rather rockumentary researcher as the subjects I’ve been dealing with thus far have been the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, exclusively. It’s a sweet job, ideal for me as a writer really. And I work from home, so the only life in jeopardy is my own.

Q: Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A: I don’t know what it is with kids and potions, but when I was in kindergarten, my friend and I agreed to make these secret magic potion thingies that we thought, or rather decided, would turn us into werewolves. And by potion I mean just every awful thing I could find around the house. Pickle juice, chocolate sauce, rubber cement — I think my mom* stopped me just in time from adding Clorox or something. And then I drank like two unfortunate sips and waited, and at dinner when nothing happened, I broke down crying because I wasn’t the Wolf Man. So my mom did the logical thing and took me to the store to get werewolf makeup, which I immediately applied and ran outside, howling at the moon for the rest of the evening. I proceeded to tell my friend the next day that my potion had worked brilliantly and that I couldn’t understand why his hadn’t.

I don’t know if that explains my writing, but as a person I’ve matured very little since then.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: Boy, you know, I’d like to say something important here, but really just anything that entertains me or keeps me riveted in the theater excites me. Anything that doesn’t make me wish I was at the movies instead. Maybe that makes me part of the problem, I dunno. I just saw “L’effet de Serge” at Under the Radar, and that was about the most entertaining thing I’ve seen all year, but entertaining in a way that could only happen in a live, shared space. “L’effet de Serge” and “Avatar.” That’s entertainment.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: I still consider myself very much starting out, and therefore feel weird giving out advice. … All I’d say is share your work. When you finish a draft of something, buy three bottles of wine, invite your friends over, get them as drunk as you can while making sure they’re still cognizant enough to be critical, and just have them read the damn thing. My other motto is: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” So be sure to get people who challenge and even intimidate you to take a look at what you’re doing. Also, apply for everything, and don’t worry about getting rejected. I love collecting things, and am garnering a fine collection of rejection letters, I must say. All I can hope is that someday they’ll be worth something.

Q: Any plugs?

A: The aforementioned:

“YOU ARE HERE: New Plays in New Places,” at the 52nd St Project. The other writers include: Carly Mensch, Don Nguyen, Lloyd Suh, Karen Trott, and Emily Chadwick Weiss. Friday, Jan. 29, and Saturday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. Free, but reservations required; call 212-642-5052 to book seats.

“Missed Connections NYC,” at Ars Nova. The other writers include Annie Baker, Bekah Brunstetter, Kristoffer Diaz, Zayd Dohrn, Tasha Gordon-Solmon, Amy Herzog, Sam Hunter, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Steven Levenson, Matthew Lopez, Janine Nabers, and Samuel Brett Williams. Jan. 27-30 at 8 p.m. Tickets here.

Reprinted with permission of Adam Szymkowicz.

*The mom Dawson refers to in the Q&A is Susan Perry, the writer of MinnPost’s consumer health blog, Second Opinion.

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