If You Start a Fire [Be Prepare to Burn]
nytheatre.com q&a preview by Kevin Kautzman
August 18, 2012
What is your job on this show?
Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in Bismarck, North Dakota, where my family lived until I was five, at which point we forded the Missouri river (loaded with squirrel meat ala ‘Oregon Trail’) to a town called Mandan. Mandan is where George Custer should have stayed. It’s a little town approximately where Lewis and Clark met Sakakawea, who can now be found on those dollar coins. Mandan is not exactly a theatrical Mecca, although the people are hard-working, sometimes stubborn, but also very loyal. Some are also very crazy. You may already know of some folks from Bismarck, North Dakota, if you’ve seen that film Jesus Camp. Long winters will do that to you. But trust me: we’re not all like that. Phil Jackson hails from NoDak. Also Lawrence Welk. If you ever need some amazing live polka, look me up. My mother and step-father were schoolteachers. Public schoolteachers. So naturally I attended public school, although we were more or less also Catholics, which is another story entirely. I graduated from high school early and did a year at Bismarck State College, affectionately called “Harvard on the Hill” or “Bring Some Crayons.” I then transferred to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. I was eighteen and worked in a crazily dysfunctional beer and wine joint run by an alcoholic conman who lived in the basement with his dog and insisted there be live music every night, and indeed there was. It was a total sex and drugs carnival and an education of another order. Eventually I took my bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy. I wrote my senior thesis on visual motifs in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In hindsight this was an extremely weird route to take toward professional playwriting, and very little of this involved theatre, though I encountered (usually very bad) theatre in fits and spurts throughout my upbringing and do remember working backstage during high school. Flash forward a decade, and after a yearlong stint in London at the Royal Court and Soho theatres’ young writing programs and acting in a production of Camus’ CALIGULA, followed closely by a year as a Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center, I’m now in my third and final year as a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, pursuing my MFA in playwriting and screenwriting. I don’t intend to pursue a PhD, so this is probably it in terms of degree-seeking education. Really. I swear by Zeus’ foot.
Complete this sentence: My show is the only one opening in NYC this fall that...?
... is an Internet sex comedy for the Recession Generation! Actually I don’t know if that’s true. There might be another show opening in NYC this fall that uses streaming “amateur” sex as a metaphor for the social networking revolution, how BookFace and company want to turn our identities into commodities, and the degradation of interpersonal relationships that can occur when we spend as much if not more time in front of glowing boxes than with actual human beings. But I guarantee IF YOU START A FIRE [BE PREPARED TO BURN] is the only Internet sex comedy for the Recession Generation featuring a ‘One Life to Live’ alumnus. Did I mention it’s a sex comedy? There’s going to be sex. And comedy. Both of which I’m told people like.
What was the most memorable/funny/unusual thing that has happened during the development and rehearsal process for this show?
IF YOU START A FIRE [BE PREPARED TO BURN] received its first production at this exciting young theatre company called the New Theatre Project (www.thenewtheatreproject.org). They’re based in a storefront in Ypsilanti, Michigan and do a really wide variety of new work. They share the storefront with a funky little vintage clothing store. It’s a good scene down there in Ypsi. So… the day after opening IF YOU START A FIRE (a sex comedy about people who turn to amateur pornography to make ends meet), I was in the theatre space with one of the owners of the thrift store, and who should arrive but his older sister and her sister, which is to say her sister from the convent. A surprise visit! What a nightmare. It’s like a bad joke. “Two nuns walk onto the set of a new play about amateur pornography…” And proceed to ask the (profoundly lapsed Catholic) playwright what his play’s about. You can’t make this stuff up. Needless to say I told them. They didn’t seem much bothered, although there was a lot gentle huffing about how hard things are for young people these days. I couldn’t agree more.
Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
Who are your heroes?
A short list: Woody Allen, Bach, Francis Bacon, Hildegard von Bingen, Charlotte Brontë, Chekhov, Adam Curry & John C. Dvorak (ITM), Werner Herzog, Peter Shaffer, Sam Shepard, Nina Simone, Doug Stanhope, Virginia Woolf (who doesn’t scare me), and everybody who worked on 'Breaking Bad'.