We sat down with James Still, IRT Playwright-in-Residence, to ask him a few questions about life, writing and upcoming work. We bet his answers to the questions below might surprise you, too.
Have you always been a playwright? What other roles have you played in the theatre?
I started as an actor doing summer stock as a kid in Kansas, while also being the paperboy and the coach’s son. I received my college degree in Theatre with an emphasis in Directing from the University of Kansas, and got my Equity card at Steppenwolf as a young actor in Chicago. From there I moved to Los Angeles where no one would cast me as an actor so I wrote my first play to save my life. Then, I moved to New York and kept writing plays even when no one would produce my plays, and worked as a temp in offices all over New York where I was paid to type fast. In the meantime, I wrote a solo play that I performed in New York that I then rewrote as a screenplay which was the reason I moved to Los Angeles again where I’ve worked in TV and film while continuing to write for theater—eventually becoming the IRT’s first-ever Playwright-in-Residence.
What was the first play the IRT commissioned you to write?
Commissioned… hmmm. That would kind of be Amber Waves.
That play had already been commissioned and produced (at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC) and published as a one-act… Janet approached me with the idea that it might also be a full-length play. The IRT commissioned and premiered the play in 2000 as a two-act play which has been published and produced by many other theaters. In 2001, I came across an idea for a one man play that became Looking Over The President's Shoulder that the IRT commissioned and produced the world premiere in 2001.
As a resident of both Los Angeles and Indiana, what does your schedule look like?
I’m on airplanes… a lot. In addition to my trips to Indianapolis, I work with many other theaters and producing organizations around the country. I also do keynote addresses, teach master classes, go on research trips for new projects, and this summer I took a writing workshop in Spoleto, Italy. It’s October now and I will do at least six more trips before the end of the year. Some people drive to work—I fly. And believe it or not, I also spend as much time as possible in my beautiful hometown of Los Angeles, California.
When you need to get off the grid and focus on a new play, where is your favorite retreat?
Italy is a place I’ve returned to again and again and again—often in Tuscany though I’ve also holed up in hotels and apartments on the Amalfi Coast, in Rome, and in Umbria. In the U.S., I’ve always loved writing in New Harmony, Indiana. But honestly, as a writer I’ve had to learn to be able to write anywhere and at any time. Most important for me is complete privacy so I can disappear inside my project for many hours at a time. I talk and sing and dance and meditate while I'm writing—so better to be alone! For me, writing requires endurance, reflection, resilience, ambition and being completely present.
What are you most looking forward to this season?
Well this is an unbelievably special season for me personally as it is my 20th as the IRT’s Playwright-in-Residence. Of course I’m savoring the opportunity to direct John Strand’s play The Originalist—I only allow myself to direct once a season because I have to protect my writing time. And getting to share Appoggiatura with the IRT audiences is special because the IRT will be the first theater to have done all three plays in my “Jack Trilogy” which also includes The House that Jack Built and Miranda. And then there’s Looking Over the President’s Shoulder with David Alan Anderson playing Indiana-born Alonzo Fields…an actor, a character and a play that have all made a huge impact on my life. While I will be celebrating my 20th season, what I really hope is that the IRT audiences will also be celebrating the fact that they’ve supported a playwright and new work for these 20 seasons. This season I’ll be celebrating the audience.
HAVE A QUESTION FOR JAMES? Write it in the comments below!
To learn more about how to celebrate with James, click here.
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