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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

7 Questions with John Shea (playwright)

John Shea
1. When did you attend BPT's BU MFA program, and what was the experience like for you?
I attended the BPT program from September 2001 to May 2002. The experience was my first brush with the “professional” side of theatre. So, being a professional experience, I saw the good, (Kate’s guidance and oh-so-gentle approach to writers,) the bad, (not really bad, but the tough, Derek Walcott’s brutally honest approach to writers,) and the ugly…all right so there was no ugly, I just wanted to complete the trio. The experience was terrifying, exhilarating, and I left with a very well rounded view of what life in the theatre would be like.

2. How many plays have you written? What has been your biggest success? Your biggest failure?
I have, now, 11 full length plays and dozens of shorts (my store pile for Boston Theater marathon submissions…). I think my biggest success was with, Erin Go Bragh-less, being accepted into the National Playwright’s Conference at the O’Neill Center. Had I known
what a big deal it was, I would have been too afraid to submit, but I had never heard of the O’Neill when I entered….  My biggest failure…I hope you’re talking about playwrighting here.  Let’s just say I don’t have enough of a production history to have any failures YET…and we’ll leave it at that.

3. What is different about this current play - Welcome to Somerville, Permit Parking
The only thing different about this play is the size of the cast…17. I wrote it out of sheer frustration. Stylistically, it’s very similar to my other Somerville plays, and since producers aren’t producing my 9 and 10 character plays, nor my one and two character plays, I decided to write what I wanted, and not worry about cast size. It was actually very liberating and a hell of a lot of fun….

4. Why do you need that many characters to tell THIS story?
I need this many characters because it is really the story of a city, a city finding its own identity in the shadow of Boston across the river. It’s a city where familiarity can be comforting and dangerous, a city where everyone knows everyone’s business and the large cast makes clear just how entwined everyone’s life is with those around them. What affects one, has a trickle down affect, invading (infecting perhaps,) the lives of many. I could have shown this as effectively with a smaller cast. My smaller cast plays (the 9 and 10 character plays,) focus on a particular group in a particular neighborhood, this play takes in the entire city…at least I like to think so.

5. This concert reading is the closest to self-producing you've ever gotten. What are you learning about being a producer? Why use local readers?
Being a producer sucks….too many decisions, and this isn’t even a full production. From designing print materials and paying to have them printed,
advertising and blogging as often as possible for free publicity...(luckily, Somerville Access TV gave me a wonderful spot)…organizing actors and scurrying to fill a role.  But, I do like having total control. I guess I was surprised by how much energy is in constant motion.

I wanted to use local actors for two reasons: one, their friends and family and I made it hard to say, “no,” and two, they have an authentic sound, accents, inflections, that will lend a natural rhythm to the play. It’s set in Somerville, why not use Somerville voices?

6. What kind of feedback are you getting from the community? It's based on pretty recent
news, isn't it?

Oh boy…yes it’s based on recent events and the backlash…I mean feedback, has been quite interesting. Some are embracing Somerville being in the spotlight, some think I am portraying Somerville in a negative light and some have just openly attacked me, trying to ruin my reputation (as if I needed help ruining my reputation.)  I've been called a drug addict, a drunk and it's been said I have an ongoing relationship with prostitutes. (If I could afford an ongoing relationship with prostitutes and drugs…I would have no problem producing my own work.) So, now I know firsthand what it’s like to be publicly vilified, wasn’t fun.

7. What's next for you?
I am going to keep producing. I like the idea of Community Theatre in Somerville for the Somerville Community…most of my plays take place here, they should be done here using local people. I am going to produce my two character play, The Painter, (not set in Somerville oddly enough,) in the spring and take things from there. I would love to fully produce, Erin…  It’s my favorite piece and the play that got me into the BPT
program (under a different title…), then dragged me into the world of professional theatre.

You can read more about Welcome to Somerville, Permit Parking Only at

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