By Christian Viveros-Fauné
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
Soloski: And the most recent thrilling experience?
Bradshaw: Can we name our own plays?
Herzog: [Turning to Bradshaw] It will sound sycophantic, but I really was knocked out by [Bradshaw’s] Burning last year. At intermission I saw John Guare, and we were both kind of in a daze, and he said, “I’m in freefall. This is fantastic.” And that’s my association with your play, this feeling of freefall. You’re just so disorienting, that play in particular.
Hwang: The white supremacist part--
Herzog: I found a way into the Nazis in that play.
Bradshaw: The whole game was I wanted to make the guy you think you should sympathize with, the black guy, the unsympathetic character, and then to make the neo-Nazis super-sympathetic. As far as you can make neo-Nazis who are actually killing people sympathetic.
Soloski: You love that game. Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist plays that game.
Bradshaw: I guess it’s not really a game.
Soloski: Oh, it’s a game.
Bradshaw: A game and a serious artistic endeavor.
Hwang: I feel like I see a lot of things lately that I really like. Kris Diaz’s play [The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity], Jonas Khemiri’s play Invasion. But both of you guys, when I see your work it teaches me new things about what theater can do.
Bradshaw: I just read your play [Golden Child] and I was laughing out loud. I loved the English guy speaking broken Chinese. What does he say, “Now we will drink Jesus’s bodily fluids”?
Hwang: That’s a very Thomas Bradshaw line.
Soloski: It really is. David, you’ve mentioned FOB being picked up by the Public when you were just out of college, but for Thomas and Amy, when and where were your first play produced?
Herzog: Well, that play I wrote on the floor of the Laundromat was produced in a decrepit old firehouse with some college friends. That was the first time I saw people saying the words in front of an audience.
Bradshaw: My first plays were produced in college.
Soloski: And professionally?
Bradshaw: Well, early on there were plays that no one saw. This play All But Forgotten, and then a play called Songs of Love. Then Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist—I rehearsed it myself for four weeks and spent $500 and I produced that. But my first professional plays were at P.S.122, three plays pretty much in a row: Prophet, Purity, and Southern Promises.
Soloski: That was your artistic home. And Amy, David—Playwrights Horizons and Lincoln Center seem to be yours.
Herzog: Yes, though I have something at New York Theatre Workshop this year.
Bradshaw: These are much more illustrious homes, the Public, Playwrights Horizons.
Soloski: You are all making a living from playwriting. I’d like to know how it works. How do you put it together—grants, commissions, teaching? David, you’re having an extraordinary year.
Hwang: I feel like all the playwrights I know, including myself, make our living doing something else. It can be related to what we do, it can be teaching or it can be writing commercially. I’ve always written commercially, and that’s how I’ve supported myself, although I’ve got this wonderful grant, so I won’t have to do as much of that.
Bradshaw: What grant did you just get?
Hwang: It’s called the Steinberg. It’s the largest cash prize in the American theater.
Bradshaw: Holy crap. How much is it?
Soloski: In terms of royalties, do theaters still take a big chunk when they premiere your work?
Hwang: Most do.
Herzog: Some have opted out. Lincoln Center.
Hwang: The Public doesn’t.
Herzog: I think the Roundabout doesn’t.
Bradshaw: And lately it hasn’t been as egregious. It’s been more like 10% or 20% than 40%, which is more palatable.
Soloski: So it’s changing.
Hwang: I feel like best practice now is against taking it. So yes, it’s slowly changing.
Soloski: Tom, you supplement grants and commissions with teaching. Amy?
Herzog: I did for a long time. This is the first time I haven’t taught in five years.
Hwang: So it’s royalties and commissions right now?
Herzog: Yes, and a screenplay.
Bradshaw: I’m working on a TV thing. I can’t talk about it. And I’m writing the screenplay for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Bradshaw: Yeah. And I’ve gotten major awards in the last four years, but you can’t plan for them. Every time it happens it’s always a complete surprise.
Soloski: David, you’ve been in the business the longest. In terms of both financial factors and aesthetic factors, do you think it’s harder now or it was harder then?
Hwang: I think it’s harder to break in now. The field has become more professionalized, and there are so many training programs and people coming out of the training programs. And when I was coming into the field it was still an expanding field. Everything was still growing, and then the culture wars happened in the '90s, the NEA started getting shrunk and there was less money. And we Baby Boomers, we’re still around, we’re still taking up slots, so it’s harder for playwrights to get started.