An Interview between BOA X Dramaturg Ignacio Zulueta and playwright Stuart Bousel (Speak Roughly, Program 1).
Being a dramaturg is somewhat like being an editor: one gets to focus on the writing and the writer, rather than the audience or on the methods of production. I got a chance to chat with each of the writers at Bay One Acts about their work, how they get it done, and what they’re looking forward to from BOA and beyond.
Zulueta: I’m here with Stuart Bousel, author of SPEAK ROUGHLY. Stuart, what’s your working relationship with director Kate Jopson of Woman’s Will? How does your collaboration for BOA X compare to your normal playwriting and production process?
Bousel: I only met Kate Jopson, at a completely unconnected event at Theater Pub, about a week before I found out she was directing my show for BOA. I had seen her in a Threshold show, but didn’t even know she was a director. Woman’s Will was started by an alum from my college, Reed, but that’s really my only connection to them and I confess I’ve only seen two of their productions. As far as how this process is different… for me, it’s not really. Kate and I met for coffee and she gave me some feedback and asked some questions about why I had made some of the choices I made when building my story and characters. I made two small cuts at her suggestion and put a couple of ideas in her head to mull over after getting a sense of what drew her to the piece and what her take on it would be. As a writer who is also a director, I know how important it is for a director to be given space and freedom to make their own artistic voice heard in a production. You want them to get the piece and you want it respected and well-interpreted, but I believe that if you’re going to collaborate you really collaborate and that means, at some point, letting go of the piece as a writer so it can live as a play. Kate and I have communicated a few times over e-mail as she’s made her choices about casting and I suspect we’ll keep communicating throughout the process but I’m really letting this be her show. I did the same with Claire last year- I only came to two rehearsals- and it worked out brilliantly. It’s an exciting moment on opening night to be re-introduced to your own piece.
Zulueta: Short plays are the rage nationally – what opportunities will become available to you as a result of producing SPEAK ROUGHLY at BOA?
Bousel: it’s pretty much going to depend on whether I feel SPEAK ROUGHLY works or not. If it does, I have some ideas of where I’d like to take it next, including making it part of an evening of similarly themed shows, but like all plays I hope it has a life of its own and that other people/companies want to do it. We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?
Zulueta: I recall seeing your play about the disobedient piano last year. How many Bay One Acts have you participated in previously, who was involved, and what’s become of those scripts?
Bousel: HOUSEBROKEN was my first time having work performed at BOA. It was directed by Claire Rice, who I designated as No Nude Men’s representative at BOA when we decided to be a producing partner last year. Claire was actually offered a number of scripts but she ended up choosing mine because she really liked it and it called to her the strongest out of what she was given. I was actually mildly embarrassed at the time because I felt like it would look like we’d “arranged” the whole thing but when I saw what she did with it and my excellent cast I was so happy it had happened. Since then I have shown the script to a couple of people. There is always talking of turning it into a short film, but it never seems to happen, partly because I’m so busy with other projects that it’s hard find time to really push that one. But I’d like to see something done with it. Other than HOUSEBROKEN I was actually in BOA as an actor in 2005. I was in FUTURE OF THE FEMALE, which was directed by Scott McMorrow. That was actually one of the best acting experiences I’ve ever had in San Francisco. Scott’s a good director.
Zulueta: Is BOA X the premiere of this production? What does that mean for SPEAK ROUGHLY in particular and your corpus of work as a writer?
Bousel: BOA X will be the first time SPEAK ROUGHLY is performed, outside of a reading context. To me, that means this is the test drive to see if it actually works, or needs more work. As a writer, this marks my 35th time being fully produced. Or 33rd if we don’t count the films.
Zulueta: Fans of Lewis Carroll, and viewers of the Tim Burton film, will find your cast of characters quite familiar. What’s it like re-imagining canonical characters from Victorian children’s literature into a contemporary meditation on intimacy and abandonment?
Bousel: Actually, Carroll fans will probably be displeased with my take on his characters- but since I’m not really a Carroll fan, I kind of shrug and say “oh well” to that. I tried to capture the mood and style of Carroll’s Wonderland with the patterns of the dialogue and the way the story reveals itself, but the characters probably have more in line with the Burton film, which is I see as a fantasy film- and a fairly good one- while Carroll’s book is really more absurdism/da-da.
The play is largely inspired by having played the frog footman all summer in a production of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, watching Geoff Nolan and Karen Offereins as the Duchess and Cook, respectively, and becoming so familiar with the Duchess scene that I couldn’t resist the temptation to explore it, especially after Geoff said to me one day,
“You know, I don’t think this is her first pig baby.”
I’ve done a lot of adaptation work over the years and I’ve really come to understand that you have to make every adaptation your own. One way to do that is to follow those elements of the material that most appeal to you, down a rabbit hole (if you will) to some new place the previous author hadn’t gone. For me, the gothic elements of the duchess scene- its frightening pig babies, the violence of the cook, the frog-headed servants, the house in the woods, the dangerous and omniscient cat- were the most intriguing and I built the world of the play out of that. I sort of revamped things so that the Duchess is the new Alice- the part that doesn’t fit in to the askew logic of the whole- and thus she really isn’t at all the way Carroll envisioned her. Or the way Geoff played her, though I couldn’t have written this play without his performance.
Interestingly enough, I wrote this play as a birthday present for Karen, who is a big Carroll fan.
Zulueta: In three words, not including Lewis Carroll: who or what influenced you during the creation of this play, or inspired you to write it in the first place?
Bousel: Geoff. Karen. Despair.
Zulueta: In two words: what unforeseen change or collaboration is taking place in your show?
Bousel: Sexual Tectonics.
Zulueta: Why is a raven like a writing desk, anyway?
Bousel: Because Poe wrote on both.