Answers by: D. M. Larson
1. Some of your plays (Somebody Famous) feature “famous” characters. Is there a particular message you try to send to your audience with how you portray these famous characters, such as the snobbish character of Melinda?
I have had to deal with Hollywood types and I was venting a bit about this type of people. They are very challenging to work with.
2. Your play takes place in a New Mexico State Penitentiary for women, and was written at a time when you yourself resided in New Mexico. During this period of writing, was there a particular event that perhaps sparked your interest for the setting selection?
I lived in a town with three prisons when I wrote this so I am sure I was influenced by this.
3. Were any of your characters inspired by actual individuals that you may have known or read about? If so, who (no specific name required, general relation) and what characteristic stood out about them that you may have incorporated in your characters?
I base characters on people I know. I believe these ones were based on actors I've worked with.
4. As a playwright, was part of writing the play a means of creating a satirical comedy commenting on the State Penitentiary system of operation?
I wasn't trying to make a statement. I am not fond of the system though so that probably was subconsciously being critical.
5. I have read that New Mexico has a high population of women in prison, about one third of which often return to prison after the completion of their first sentence. Was this type of information a part of your initial writing process and inspiration to creating a prominent female ensemble?
I had made a visit to a woman's prison to try and coordinate classes for the women and find them instructors (I worked at a college at the time). The visit did have an impact on me and it was something I wanted to write about. I originally wanted to do something more serious but a comedy resulted instead. I don't try to control what I write. I just let it flow. And this time ended up with a comedy.
6. Are there any theatres in particular in New Mexico that you perhaps had imagined to host this type of performance or be the set for inspiring the play setting?
I actually based it on a theatre I ran for a few years in Idaho. They actually had prisoners come and volunteer to do a clean up which is probably where part of this idea came from now that I think about it.
7. As a playwright, are you very involved with the performances of your plays? Do you have certain guidelines that you wish be met in the performance of your plays, or are you open to the director taking personal liberty with the interpretation of the play?
Early on, I was involved in productions of my plays but I am happy to sit back and just be the writer now. I am totally okay with directors being creative. There have been some interesting ways people have used my plays including making them into operas and films. It's fun to see what directors do.
8. Do you associate yourself with a particular theory or theorist in the world of theatre? If so, to what extent do they instruct your writing process or thematic choices in plays?
No, I am a loan wolf. I do not have formal theatre training. I learned everything from being involved in theatre as an actor and director, but I have not formally studied any theory.
9. Have any personal life experiences been the main inspiration for the events in the play, characters, major themes, etc.?
It comes from working with people in Hollywood and being around prisons in a small community.
10. You demonstrate a strong appreciation to the world of theatre, and for creating opportunities for all individuals to be able to experience theatre (such as the creation of freedrama.net website). What has inspired you to take such an initiative?
I felt like it was important for people to enjoy my writing and learn from it than make money so I offered my writing for free on Freedrama.net in 2001. I love communicating with people directly about my plays rather than working with a publisher. I also had many people ask about becoming actors so started the free online acting school as well which I hope to keep expanding.
11. Is there a particular genre or practice you like, or tend to focus on?
I enjoy comedy and satire but I always like writing challenges which my wife has fun giving me. My wife is definitely my muse. Many of my recent works are inspired by her.
12. Is there a particular style or form that you prefer to employ in your writing?
I always focus on trying to achieve real speech that sounds natural.
13. Do you associate yourself as heavily influenced by American culture, or do you have experience with other cultures, or more specific forms of American culture (geographically determined perhaps)? Do you like to portray any major aspects of these cultures in your plays (e.g. Macy’s obsession with Melinda perhaps demonstrates the American obsession with pop-culture)?
I am influenced by American pop culture.
14. What were some of the major themes or motifs that you may have hoped would resonated with your audience (e.g. appearance versus reality-prejudice for inmates)?
In this play, I wanted to turn the tables and make the prisoners likable and the Hollywood actress unlikable which is opposite of what most people expect. I always enjoy a twist on expectations.
15. Your plays include very minimal stage direction. Is this an intentional choice on your part to focus more on character and plot development and not staging and technicalities, or to allow for more freedom for those directors who envision a production of the paly?
It allows freedom for directors. When I got feedback from directors on scripts, they didn't seem to like the stage directions or they were nervous about changing them. And I don't prefer to write them. I have never had anyone ask for them to be added.
15. Please feel free to include any additional information that you believe was key to your process/methodology of writing Somebody Famous or your experience in becoming a playwright in America?
I had some early success as a teenager by winning some contests and getting published, but I decided to avoid the traditional route for being a playwright. I decided not to go somewhere like New York City or go to a college that had a strong playwriting program. I wanted to write because I loved it and I wanted to have fun with it. I didn't enjoy working with professionals or scholars. I prefer community theatre and school plays. Professionals see it as a job and take it very seriously. Scholars dive too deeply into it and forget about the joy of performing and entertaining. I prefer the simple joy and energy of amateurs who do it for the love of acting. So I would say I am a community playwright and not a professional one.
Read the play "Somebody Famous" at http://freedrama.net/prison.html
Find more free stage play scripts by D. M. Larson at http://freedrama.net