Playwright Adam Bock.
South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many plays and playwrights including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel and Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee.
Among the five readings at the 2019 festival is The Canadians by Adam Bock, which recently had a reading here as part of the NewSCRipts play-reading series. We caught up with Bock and got him to talk about his early (really early) play writing efforts, the play that changed his life and why, for him, there’s no place like home to write.
Describe your favorite writing space.
I always write at my desk at home, facing a window with a rooftop view of the water towers of New York City, a view that I love and can get lost in while I daydream. Everything has to be in its place: my dog, Gracie (pictured), sleeping underfoot and the desk has to be pretty clear for me to start, otherwise I fuss around and then start to vacuum instead of write. It also has to be quiet. They are about to tear down and then build a new high-rise across the street. I have to get noise-cancelling earphones.
As a kid, what story did you read in secret?
It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you.
When did you know that you wanted to be a playwright?
I knew pretty early on. I started writing plays in the third grade—for me and my friends to do in class—took my first playwriting class in high school (my teacher made me listen to a recording of Marat/Sade, she was awesome and I was hooked on experimental theatre). I didn’t know playwriting could be my career until I went to the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center for a semester after college. After that, I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do.
What play changed your life?
Far Away by Caryl Churchill. I saw it at New York Theatre Workshop. It was 45-minutes long and explained war, how it creeps up on us, how it dehumanizes us and then how it turns the whole world against itself and how terrifying that is. There is an amazing speech at the end of the play when a returning soldier describes not knowing whose side silence and darkness are on—and whether the river is an enemy—and suddenly I understood how, during war, walk outside and who knows what will attack you. We are so lucky we have lived without mass armed conflict on our land for a while, a fortune that I think we take for granted. Churchill did all this in 45 minutes and with a deeply theatrical, entertaining and horrifying play. Made me know that the length of a play is not its virtue, that deep is as strong as wide and that our job as playwrights is to delight and terrify people with the reality of the world, to wake up and to awaken others. A very high bar she raises and an inspiration always.
What should we know about The Canadians?
I am a Canadian who has lived in the U.S. for most of my adult life. I love the experience of exploring a new world, but also of knowing another one. It’s a bit like being gay—learning to be comfortable in many different environments, hopefully learning from them all. I think the sadness of all the difficulties we have with difference, misogyny, racism, homophobia and on and on, is that we lose the chance to learn from each other, to explore each others’ worlds, so fascinating and vast.
The PPF staged reading of The Canadians will be Friday, April 26, at 4 p.m., on the Segerstrom Stage.
Learn more about the Pacific Playwrights Festival, and purchase tickets.