Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Interview - Playwright David Lawson

By Byrne Harrison

David Lawson is a playwright living in New York City. He has been produced in New York at Theater for the New City (NYC), The Brick Theater (NYC), the Downtown Urban Theater Festival (NYC), UNDER St. Marks (NYC), Love Creek Theatre (NYC), among others. He is the winner of the Rod Parker Playwriting Fellowship (Boston), the Long Beach Grunion Gazette Playwriting Award (CA) and won Best Production at the Providence Players One-Act Festival (VA).

I spoke with David about his recent participation in the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival and his upcoming play, VCR Love, which will be performed June 23-25.

Your play Gloves for Guns, about the aftermath of a school shooting, recently played as part of the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival. How was the reaction?

The reaction was great. One highlight in particular was DUTF artistic director Reg E. Gaines (Tony nominee for Bring in da Noise Bring in da Funk) telling me after the show that he thinks the show has an important message worth spreading and hopes it keeps getting put up. That’s one of those compliments that any playwright would keep near and dear to them. I certainly will.

Were you working with different people than in your last production at the Dream Up Festival?

We were. For one thing, I was acting in it this time. I have acted in one-acts I’ve written and have done solo work (like my solo show, Floundering About (in an age of terror)), but I had never acted in a full-length play of mine. I had some nerve-wracking, hypercritical moments at the start, but eventually started treating Gloves for Guns as anyone else’s text. I was proud of how it came out.

You recently started a Kickstarter campaign to fund your next production, VCR Love. I understand you met and surpassed your goal. Congratulations! Have you used Kickstarter in the past?

Thanks Byrne. It’s my first time trying it. I don’t think it’ll be the last.

What made you decide to try it this time?

I wanted to put up a show outside of a typical “rented space” or “festival” situation. While I definitely hope to do both again in the future, the former can be too expensive and the latter can be too stressful. Thus I planned to do a show that only requires a simple light setup, an audience and me. I planned to put it up real cheap at this wonderful rehearsal space called SimpleStudios. Yet you can’t charge admission at SimpleStudios, so using many of my friend’s Kickstarter successes as inspiration I set out to cover all the financial burdens of the show via Kickstarter.

Even though you hit your goal, people can still donate, right?

Yes, they can. I am considering adding more shows with the extra money I’ve raised. If not that, I’m trying to brainstorm some huge, extemporaneous collaborative piece involving the community of friends and well-wishers who have been so good to me over the past few years in New York City. We’ll see if that goes anywhere though…

What are some of the incentives that the backers of the show will get?

The venue can only hold 30 people per night, so the lowest level of reward is simply a guaranteed seat at one of the shows (even if you don’t contribute, admission to the show is FREE, but a spot isn’t guaranteed).

I’ve been putting podcasts up in a series called “Hang on a Second” on my website ( For $50 I will record a 2 to 4 minute podcast about you. I’m humbled that a handful of people actually threw down 50 bucks to hear me tell stories about them. I’m going to make sure they aren’t disappointed.

Tell me a little about VCR Love.

VCR Love is a story about how pornography has changed over the past 25 years (aka, in my lifetime). The show’s narrative weaves in-between my pre-internet misadventures trying to track down the stuff as well as my more recent experiences with current developments in the industry.

So a play about porn. Not really something most guys talk about in mixed company. Do you see this being a show that will be attended by a lot of women?

I am really thankful you asked that. First off, like I say in the Kickstarter video: pornography is the one thing that everybody enjoys by themselves but nobody talks about in mixed company.

Also, not only am I hoping many women will attend the show but I hope they’ll have a lot to say to me afterwards. I tell stories about pornography attempting to be feminist or progressive, and I wonder within the show if pornography can be either of those things.

So you see this being a conversation starter?

I hope so. As I said before, porn is a topic so rarely discussed in mixed company… even among good friends. I think how often my closest friends and I discuss work, relationships, family, politics, pop culture… but porn… whoa whoa whoa!!! That’s taking it TOO far! It never bubbles up in conversation. Even when it does it seems to be discussed with great trepidation. It’s a taboo. But you know… it’s a taboo that, hell… let’s face it, everyone enjoys. That alone was a big inspiration to do the show. To talk about it in mixed company for eighty some odd minutes… and then see what people had to say.

VCR Love will be presented in June, what else do you have planned for the year?

I am writing quite a bit, not sure what’s going to go up next though.

One project is a full-length play called A Room Full of Ramen that I’ve been developing with two actress friends of mine (Savvy Clement and Alice Bahlke. Ramen is about three teenagers who’ve been kidnapped and find a way to take advantage of being lost kids.

Another is a solo show about the Taglit-Birthright Israel program (which I went on last year) as well as reconciling an observant Jewish upbringing with a non-practicing “cultural” or “secular” Jewish life.

Lastly, I’m working on a project where I interview three Iraq War veterans from my native Fairfax County, Virginia. They are three men who all went to war for very different reasons. Obviously, what the shape of that will be is going to depend on how the interviews go.

Yeah… I’ve got to keep busy. I’d lose my head if I didn’t have these shows to work on.

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