Adam Szymkowicz Interview, with Joshua Fardon
In Incendiary, the character Elise has an addictive relationship with fire. What inspired you to tackle the subjects of addiction and arson?
It's always so hard to say why I write something a certain way or where some aspect of a play comes from because so much of it is initially arrived at subconsciously but I'll explain it the best I can remember.
I started, I think, with the idea of a firefighter who started fires. It's actually pretty common--many arsonists are firefighters or were firefighters. They (firefighter/arsonists) have a complicated relationship to fire. And I thought that was interesting. And then I thought it would be dramatic to have her fall in love with the detective investigating her fires. It was another way for her to play with fire and a way for me to write about love, one of the things I can't stop writing about.
For me the play is about the ability or inability of people to change. And things like addiction or strong internalized beliefs get in the way of my characters trying to become different people.
Elise and Jake struggle with change - but fire is the ultimate changer - carrying things from one physical state to another. Elise talks about wanting to see a Van Gough or a Rembrandt burn. Is that an externalization of something she wants for herself - to see something beautiful about herself altered permanently?
Sure. I think it's about destruction and self destruction. The idea that she has to keep burning down buildings even though it could mean jail and losing the man she loves. She wrestles with what is more important, the beauty of the fire and her addiction to it, or the beauty of the love she could have.
It's also a joke. That line always gets a laugh.
The statement "the beauty of the love she could have" makes me think of the character Carrie, who seems to have a desire for her husband to be in a dangerous job because that would make somehow make him more exciting to her. Yet, she's a therapist - which is simultaneously funny and sad. Then, at the end of the play, her dreams are realized and, because they're realized, they're also destroyed. Do you see this play as a comedy or a tragedy or both?
Many of my plays have elements of both comedy and tragedy in them. They are usually funny but end badly. In this play I was trying to write my version of a film noir. Incendiary is all about film--Gary's obsession with being an action hero and Jake's hard boiled adherence to rules and regulations. And lots of the scenes between Jake and Elise are like comedic versions of film noir scenes. The last scene reveals the femme fatale is actually Carrie and then it has tones of Casablanca in the final farewell. I watched a lot of film noir and old films before writing this play. Before the LAByrinth reading, Damon Arrington showed the cast the opening scene of His Girl Friday to explain the speed at which the people in my play interact. "They don't speak fast. They think fast." I think he said.
Has the play been staged elsewhere? How did they handle portraying fire?
We did a barebones production at Juilliard with second year students in '07. Kip Fagan directed and he had these work lights with orange gels on them that actors moved around and made fire noises while Elise (Jessica Love) and Jake (Adam Driver) were looking at the fire. It's hard to explain but it looked very cool. When Elise lit the rug on fire she just made a noise and kind of put up her hands to show it was on fire. It was very low tech and very funny.
I also recently had a radio play version at Southern Rep in New Orleans. (Damon Arrington directed and it starred Aimee Hayes and Michael Cerveris). There was a foley artist making fire noises and actors crinkling paper into mics and they had fans with yellow, orange and red pieces of wax paper that flitted in the air during the fire scenes. Again, it was low tech and very funny.
A lot of your plays have been produced recently. Can you tell us about some of the productions, how involved you are as a playwright in the rehearsal process and what's coming up?
There is a really great production of Nerve right now at Chance Theater in Anaheim. I was there for the first and last week of rehearsals so I got to help out a bit while I was there and put in my two cents artistically. It's getting stellar reviews thus far.
In theory, there are 16 upcoming productions of various plays of mine this year and next-- that is if everyone who says they are going to put up one of my shows is able to do so.
Most of the time I either don't get to see out of town shows or I do get to see them but are unable to take part in rehearsals. Sadly, I don't have the time or money to go everywhere I want. Luckily, many of my upcoming shows will be in NYC and I will be able to be around to work on them.
Besides being produced a lot, you also have a blog. On the blog, you've interviewed over 300 playwrights. How did that idea start?
Before the interviews, I had a blog but I had kind of run out of steam in terms of theater talk. I also was living in Minneapolis at the time (My wife had a Jerome fellowship) and was away from the NY theater world so I couldn't write about that anymore. I went back to NYC to rehearse a show and while there I was interviewed by all these websites that hadn't existed a couple years earlier. And I liked being interviewed. I thought it was fun. And I thought maybe other people might like to be interviewed too. So I decided I would interview a few of my playwright friends on my blog…and then a few more, and then it kind of took off and now I can't stop.
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