Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who's who: Playwright HARRISON DAVID RIVERS

Named after Harrison Ford

From Manhattan, Kansas (the little apple) oft referred to (by me) as Manhappenin'

Oldest of four brothers

Attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio
Earned degrees in American Studies and Dance & Drama

Worked with young people in a variety of settings in San Francisco for two years before moving to New York for graduate school

Had written one full length play, PROPHET'S WIFE, which at the time of submission to Columbia, was approximately 160 pages long

My first week at Columbia, I was stabbed six times on my ass, upper thigh and shin. It was the day before my birthday, September 11th.
That experience colors everything I write.

Second semester of my first year of graduate school my Playwriting II professor refused to comment on the first act of FELL, citing its copious stage directions as impenetrable and distracting from the story (which he had apparently missed both the first and second times he read through the play). He tossed the then fifty page script onto the table and said, "Call me when it's being produced and then I'll give you feedback." I emailed him the other day: "FELL is being produced. I want my critique."

I finished writing FELL two weeks after this same professor insinuated that I was incapable of writing a play which featured African American characters.

I am black, but I have never felt comfortable reducing myself to a racial classification. I am proud of my heritage, but do not feel the need to only write so-called black plays. When I have a line of dialogue or an image or a character or a story, I write. If there is a black character in the cast, wonderful! If there's not, I don't believe that I'm shirking in my duty as an African American.

I do however believe very strongly in writing quality parts for quality actors. I happen to have some very talented black friends. This play and subsequent plays featuring black roles are for them.

My plays typically begin with an image or a sound or a color

FELL began with a little girl jumping rope
FELL began with feathers falling from the sky

I love magic (not magic magic so much) but stage magic, spectacle
I believe in impossibilities in the theater and I believe that it is the playwrights' responsibility to push the boundaries wider and wider

I am drawn to stories about families, families being broken apart, families coming back together
I love to write kids
And pregnant women
I believe that there should be a moment of intense physicality in every play
Whether it's dance or fight or play or a character standing on one leg for a ridiculous amount of time while peeling an orange
The play should challenge the actors physically as well as psychologically

I love happy endings, but I rarely write them

For the longest time I thought that ZORA was the protagonist of the play
In the original draft WEB sort of came out of nowhere in the second act to move the action forward
In the re-write I believe the narrative to be much more balanced

I am fascinated by how history is represented on stage, how the past is represented
I am fascinated by how characters in the present are affected by the past

As a writer, I sometimes find myself spending more time than I would like inside my own head
When the voices of my characters become indistinguishable from my own voice, I know that it's time to take a break

Writing can be lonely
As such, I would rather write in the company of friends, on a project in which people I love and respect as artists are passionately involved

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