Monday, April 21, 2014

PPF Playwright Rajiv Joseph: Four Questions

Playwright Rajiv Joseph.  Photo by Mark Kitaoka
Earlier this season, South Coast Repertory’s NewSCRipts series presented a new work by Rajiv Joseph, Mr. Wolf. In the story, the only world that 17-year-old Theresa has ever know revolves around Mr. Wolf, who taught her the universe. When she is taken from him, she has to grapple with who she is and where she belongs in the world. That work has a second SCR reading on Saturday, April 26, at 10:30 a.m., as part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival.

Joseph’s works include Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Animals Out of Paper, The North Pool and The Lake Effect. He is the book-writer and co-lyricist for the new Peter Pan musical, Fly, and the co-screenwriter of the just-released film, Draft Day.

SCR checked in with Rajiv Joseph recently, ahead of PFF, with four questions.

What drew you to writing?
I was 10 years old and my dad, who is from India, took us back to India to see his family. I was in the fifth grade at the time and I was going to miss three weeks of school. This was a huge experience for me and my biggest fear was having to make up all that schoolwork to cover the three weeks. My teachers agreed with my parents that the trip would be educational. One teacher said that instead of doing homework, I should keep a journal of my time in India. I did that and it set me off on the road to writing. I reconnected with that teacher a few years ago through Facebook, so we stay in touch now.

It wasn’t until college that I pursued writing as a “craft.” I was interested in being a novelist, then a film writer and finally a playwright and I had teachers along the who all influenced me.

Maria Thayer, Kira Sternbach, John de Lancie, Jason Butler Harner and Sue Cremin in the NewSCRipts reading of Mr. Wolf.
What goes through your mind during a play reading, like Mr. Wolf earlier this season at NewSCRipts?
I know [with a reading] that I’m not done with the play. Usually, I pay close attention to the audience. I try to “read” the audience as much as I can. I can sense when they’re engaged and not engaged; what they find funny or not funny; or what they find boring or not boring. Those are all useful to help me continue working on the script. I didn’t have a particular inspiration point for this play, except that I started thinking about how different people share a loss like this and how they might react to it. I also love working with great actors because they can help the piece grow.

Why is a South Coast Repertory important to you?
SCR is an incredible theatre for a number of reasons. One thing that jumps out at me is how SCR fosters community among artists. Especially with the Pacific Playwrights Festival! That is such a celebration each year—I’ve met so many actors, playwrights and directors each year through PPF. Also, SCR is special because of how it commissions playwrights and in that way, SCR is creating a wonderful community of writers.

Here’s your “Desert Island” question: If you were stranded on a desert island, what script would you want to have with you?

Wow, that’s a tough one! Most likely, the play I’d want with me is what inspired me to be a playwright in the first place—it’s what I saw in graduate school: Our Lady of 121st Street by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

Find out more about the Pacific Playwrights Festival and buy tickets. 

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