My first play was about a complicated philosopher whose writings had profoundly impacted my life. The philosopher was brilliant, profound, and inspiring. My play about him was -- very bad.
For reasons that I still don't understand, a theatre in Chattanooga found something promising in the play. The theatre wrote me a prize-check and hosted a reading of my play. My then girlfriend and I attended the reading and for two hours I listened as several very fine actors fought to make sense of my play. A night that should have felt like a celebration instead made me squirm in my seat.
Walking from the theatre that night, I felt sad. I was pleased that a theatre liked my play. But I felt embarrassed that my play was so hard to perform. Why was my play so difficult? Because I had written a novel, not a play. My play fell flat because I didn't know how to write text for actors to perform.
To learn to write for actors, I decided to become an actor. I had never really acted before -- only a small role in a friend's homemade movie and a bit-part in a college melodrama.
But shortly after moving to Oregon in 2008, I was determined to begin acting. I auditioned at a city theatre for the play "The Rabbit Hole" (David Lindsay-Abaire) and received the role of Howie. Looking back, I think I got the role, not because I gave a good audition, but because I was slightly taller than the long-limbed actress who would play my wife.
Thus I threw myself into theatre. During the day I taught philosophy and literature at a classics college. During the evening, I devoted myself to bigger acting roles, to staging my plays, and to writing, writing, writing.
The more I wrote, the more my characters began to reflect personal concerns about the world. As long as I can remember, I've felt distressed that human beings so often sacrifice the pursuit of truth and goodness in favor of tribal comforts. Everyone knows the ease of the tribe where my people speak my tongue. Woe to the stranger, the outsider, who dares to live a unique life. Steve Jobs encouraged us to "think different." But when meeting one who does, we often demand either assimilation or annihilation.
Most of my plays strike this chord. Characters like Socrates and Søren Kierkegaard were raised by, then rejected by their religious cultures. Characters like this have populated my plays. Surely my conservative religious upbringing fosters this preoccupation.
My plays also attempt to fuse ideas and emotions. Many in the modern world believe human beings are either rational or emotional -- either cool thinking reeds or a passionate bag of organs. Surely we are both.
It is said that Fyodor Dostoevsky didn't just think about ideas, but he felt them. His novels inspire me to write characters gripped by both conviction and passion because both ideas and emotions matter. When either exists in isolation, we grow deformed.
Lastly, I love the witty, poetic dialogue of Tennessee Williams and Tom Stoppard over the extreme realism of much contemporary stage dialogue. We can hear realism in any alley. But the elevated tones of a musical tongue inspire me to dream of a present kingdom wreathed in gold and green.