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Interview with Dano Madden

An interview with Dano Madden about his play Bad Husband

Bad Husband by Dano Madden will be developed in the third installment of the Open Rehearsal Series 2013 on Sunday, November 17 at 3:00pm at A.R.T./NY Midtown. For more about the Open Rehearsal Series, visit the ORS page.

What inspired to write you to write this play?

I’m constantly fascinated by the complexity of humans. When I deal with people on a day to day basis, I often find myself wrestling with the reality that no one is simple. This is especially true in long relationships–both friendships and romantic relationships. The reality I continual run into is that no one is perfect and nothing is truly black and white. People make mistakes (sometimes big mistakes) and yet, they can still be someone we love. The impulse for BAD HUSBAND is my desire to explore a person who is on the surface so bad, so morally corrupt that he could easily be written off as a terrible person. What if his marriage is complicated? What if he is good in many ways? What if we find ourselves rooting for him and even relating to him? I sometimes struggle to see the world as gray and this play is a direct response to that struggle.

Why are you excited about the ORS?

I love the ORS! I can’t wait to get in the room with a great director and talented actors and dive into this play. I learn so much about my work when I am in the rehearsal room. The ORS will be a great step in helping me further develop and improve BAD HUSBAND.

If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be and why?

Cucumber. Cucumber’s have long been my favorite vegetable. If I had to be a veggie, I’d want to be my favorite one.

Do you have any specific goals for this year’s ORS?

I am in the middle a complete, page one revision of Bad Husband. This is not a brand new play, but it is one where I’ve never quite been able to crack the story open. So I’ve started over. I cut three characters in an attempt to focus the action. My goal by the first rehearsal day of the ORS is to have at least the rough shape of the story I want to tell (hopefully better than rough). I’d also love to come out of the weekend workshop with a clear sense of the next steps I need to take to make this a producible play.

bethYour cat, Beth, is featured in many of your bios. What sort of influence does she have on your playwriting?

Let me be honest: Beth has zero investment in my career as a playwright. In fact, I think she’d like me to fail in the biggest way possible. She claws at the door and meows for attention when I’m sweating over revisions. If my life as a writer falls apart, I’ll likely become depressed and move permanently to the sofa. I’ll eat entire packages of cookies and watch reality TV and baseball games. This would allow Beth to take long and regular naps on my lap. My failure is her goal. We’re working through this in therapy right now.

Who are the playwrights that you most admire or those who have influenced you the most?

So many. Eugene O’Neill, John Millington Synge, Lee Blessing, Annie Baker, Bryan Willis, Demetra Kareman, Peter Hanrahan, Ann Marie Healy, Adam Rapp, Sean Christopher Lewis, Monica Flory, Kathleen Cahill, James McClindon , Alan Ayckbourn. All the folks in my writer’s group—Jeni Mahoney, Greg Paul, Brian Quirk, Michèle Raper Rittenhouse and Bob Kerr. These writers and so many more inspire me and teach me how to write plays. When you say “those who have influenced you the most”, the first story that comes to mind is a keynote address I heard Steven Dietz give back in 1996. It was to a group of college theatre students and it was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. He gave all sorts of wonderful tips about having a career in the theatre and told anecdotes about his own failures. As a young theatre major, I often ran into professionals who felt they had an obligation to tell me how difficult a career in theatre would be, how I should really think about doing something else. Steven Dietz stood in front of us and told us we were the next generation of theatre artists and that what we were doing was hugely important. I’m still inspired by that speech.

What is the most challenging part of playwriting?

Overcoming myself. There are plenty of external obstacles and challenges for me as a playwright, but none of them compare to the way I knock myself down. I won’t go into detail about the internal monologue that tries to stop me from writing, but it is definitely a challenge to overcome. Other writer’s reading this will likely know exactly what I’m talking about.

What is the most satisfying part of playwriting for you?

It’s tricky to choose the most satisfying part. I would have to say sitting down at a table in the rehearsal room with a director and actors to read and work through a new script. Playwriting can be very lonely at times. I spend a lot of time in a room by myself writing, revising, doubting, hoping, struggling, procrastinating, writing and on and on and on. I love the work, but all of the alone time makes me so thankful to enter a room with talented collaborators.

We know that you are also a teacher of playwriting.  If there is a young playwright reading this interview, what piece of advice would you give them in their writing or in their career?

Do the work as much as you possibly can. You can’t control the talent you were born with, but you can bust your ass to become good at this art form. Write a ton, direct a ton, act a ton—wherever you can, as much as you can. Keep reminding yourself that failures and work that doesn’t clear the high bar you’ve set are getting you one step closer to something amazing. Also, seek artistic communities filled with people who will inspire, challenge and hold you accountable. Start a writer’s group, start a theatre company or simply organize readings of your work (or of great plays) in your living room. I think it is the various artistic communities (like the Artful Conspirators) that have really sustained me and helped me to keep going over the years. Go find communities. They don’t have to be big or fancy—just get together with people and share work.

You got married this past summer and now you are debuting a play called Bad Husband.  What is the relationship between these two events in your life?

Ha. Good one. I can thankfully say that there is no relationship between my life as a newlywed and Bad Husband. When I’m not writing a play about “bad husbands”, I’m really busy trying to be a good husband to the most amazing person I’ve ever known.

This is now your third play in the Open Rehearsal Series (OakwoodsFoothill Park). How has the ORS influenced your work?

The ORS has given me a safe environment to develop scripts in progress. The three plays I’ve developed in the Open Rehearsal Series are similar in that they were/ are scripts trying to find their legs. With all three plays I’ve had images, scenes, characters and plot points I’m excited about, but uncertainty of how it all adds up. The beauty of the ORS is I don’t have to have all of the answers. I’ve been fortunate to work with directors David A. Miller, Melissa Firlit and many wonderful actors. The ORS collaborations were great early steps for Foothills Park and Oakwoods and I emerged from both workshops energized about continuing work on the scripts. I can’t wait to get to work on Bad Husband.

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