Visit the Boston Playwrights' Theatre Web site for information about our programs, tickets, and more!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Q&A with Glen Merzer

Glen Merzer

Alum Glen Merzer remembers some of the earliest days of the playwriting program here. Since his time in Boston his writing has taken many different forms, and one of his recent projects is the screenplay Best Seller, which will be read at the Writers Guild of America, West  -- starring Kevin Pollak and Ed Begley, Jr. -- on Nov. 7.

KAM: A recent issue of The Dramatist was dedicated to Los Angeles, which I thought was great because even thought it’s a city with a thriving theatre scene, of course it’s also synonymous with Hollywood and movies. How would you characterize the theatre community out there?

GM: I grew up on NYC theatre, whose beating heart was mid-sized theatre.  Circle Rep, Playwrights Horizons, the Manhattan Theatre Club and other such theatres were constantly producing new plays, and often launching plays that went on to national prominence.  LA theatre divides itself mainly into two camps: a profusion of small, Equity Waiver houses, and a few large, institutional theatres like the Mark Taper. 

The former is not cohesive and is to some extent driven by actors wishing to showcase themselves, and the latter tends to be gutless.  That said, there's a constant infusion of new energy into the Equity Waiver scene; for the committed theatre-goer, there are gems to be found here and there.  But you have to do a lot of driving to be a committed theatre-goer here.  It's daunting.

KAM: You’ve written your share of scripts for films and television shows. You’ve also written a few books on health. What keeps you returning to plays?

GM: I have no idea why I keep returning to plays since the theatre world is so unwelcoming to playwrights.  I actually haven't written a play in a couple of years, though.  I'll write one again if I have an idea.  In my mind, I'm a playwright first, but that's never been how I've made my living.  My latest project has been another co-authored book on health, which I hope will come out early in the spring.  I remain in a protracted battle against animal agriculture, whose practitioners don't seem overly worried about me.  In fact, most of them don't know that I exist.  But on my diet, I can wait them out.  So that's going well.

KAM: Your screenplay Best Seller is about to have a reading at Writers Guild of America. Tell us a little bit about it.

GM: Best Seller used to be called Anonymous, but now there's a big movie coming out called Anonymous.  After a long career in Hollywood, I've found that while I still struggle to get my scripts made, I'm having more and more luck getting my titles made.  Best Seller concerns a struggling novelist who takes a gig to polish the manuscript of a thug, and gets the thug a best seller, on the condition of anonymity.  It's a comedy based on my play Anonymous that was produced Off-Broadway in 2000.  I'm having a reading at the WGA on Nov. 7.  Today I lost Jeff Garlin, so I have to replace him as soon as possible. 

KAM: You studied playwriting here in the very early days of the program. Share with us, if you will, a memory of that time.

GM: Yes, I was one of the first, if not the first, to have plays produced at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre.  Derek Walcott was running the theatre, but he and I didn't see eye-to-eye so I was allowed to just direct my one-acts myself.  One of them was called The Poetry Reading and I got an actor who taught at Emerson College, Jim Sweeney, to perform the piece.  It was a monologue about a poet giving a poetry reading after his wife has just left him for a woman, and he never gets around to reading a full poem; he just keeps going on verbal detours as he essentially breaks down on stage.  

After doing the show at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Jim did it at a space downtown, I think it may have been a church, I'm not sure, and we billed it not as a play, but as a poetry reading by the famous poet Darryl Henry.  Jim goes on the stage as Darryl and has his personal breakdown on stage, and the audience bought it the whole way.  They never knew they were watching a play.  I had invited the American Repertory Theatre to send a rep to see it, and it turned out that they did send someone, but the person didn't stay to see it because he thought he was coming to see a play, and at the door he was told there would be no play, just a poetry reading.

KAM: Was writing for film and TV a goal for you early on, or an interest that evolved over time?

GM: Writing for TV was never a goal of mine, but for a string of ten years I was blessed to suffer the embarrassment of doing it.  My original intention was to be a playwright only, but my interest in film evolved as I lived in L.A., starting in 1986.

KAM: Do you ever make it back East?

GM: I haven't been back East for many years now.  My wife and I don't like to fly.  I think the last time was 2005.

KAM: What's your next writing project?

GM: My next project is a book I am co-authoring with Pam Popper on health, to come out in the spring.  We haven't settled on the title yet.  It will be my fourth co-authored book advocating the plant-based diet. 

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, check out this reading! Tickets are free, but please RSVP to with “Best Seller” in the subject line. Monday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., at the Writers Guild of America, 7000 W. 3rd Street, 2nd Floor Multi-purpose Room, Los Angeles, CA 90048

No comments:

Post a Comment