Episode 53: Acting Up: Interview with Playwright Clint Snyder
Lindsay talks with new-to-Theatrefolk playwright Clint Synder, author of Lord of the Pies. We talk about the writing process, writing plays for teenagers, and how does Clint feel about technology?
- Lord of the Pies by Clint Snyder
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Lindsay: Welcome to TFP, the Theatrefolk podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello. I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
So this is just you and me, right? I can confide in you, right? So I’ve been trying to figure out something new for the intro, something that says what I’m doing and the scale, and while I am actually sitting in front of a little foam box, the words “foam box” irk me tremendously. They just don’t sound right. They look right, but you’re not reading along are you? I love “Let’s do this,” but it’s taken by much bigger fish than me. [Sighs] Anyway, blerg. I’ll keep working on it.
Episode 53. We are acting up in an interview with playwright Clint Snyder. So today, I am going to talk to a new-to-Theatrefolk playwright, Clint Snyder. Clint recently joined us with the delicious one-act parody Lord of the Pies, which is a spin on the classic—can you guess it—Lord of the Flies. Pies, flies?
What makes this parody great is that you don’t actually need to know the original to enjoy and get something out of the play. It works on two levels, and when Craig and I were considering the play, that is what really sold him. He loved it out of context. He didn’t know the original work. Whereas I did know Lord of the Flies and I loved it in context. So we knew it was a winner.
You can find Lord of the Pies on our website, Theatrefolk.com. Go there now, read the sample pages for Lord of the Pies, pick it up. It is an especially unique competition piece, I think. Now, on to the interview.
So, I am here with Clint Snyder. Hello, Clint.
Lindsay: And Clint is one of our writers, and he has written a lovely, lovely piece called Lord of the Pies.
Lindsay: And so what we’re going to do today, Clint, is we’re going to spend a couple of minutes just basically talking about writing, if that’s okay with you.
Clint: Yeah, that sounds great.
Lindsay: Awesome. So where are you?
Clint: I’m in Portland, Maine.
Lindsay: Ah. Oh, I love Portland. Have you always been there or where you there for school or…?
Clint: I moved up to Maine for college, and then I moved down to Portland right after college. So I’ve been here about five years.
Lindsay: What’s your arts community like?
Clint: It’s small, but it’s nice. It’s very vibrant. There are a couple of different community theatres around here, and it’s a great place.
Lindsay: Do you find that you can sort of…there’s enough for you as an artist?
Clint: Oh yeah.
Clint: There are definitely a lot of different outlets especially for how small of a city it is, but it’s really nice here.
Lindsay: That’s really cool.
Lindsay: So my first question in terms of writing is, why do you write? Why did you choose to do that?
Clint: I guess it’s kind of a cliché, but I’d have to say I write because that’s the only thing that I know how to do. [Laughs] I don’t know what else I would be doing if I wasn’t writing, you know?
Lindsay: There was a point when I was starting out as a playwright and it was going pretty much horrifically wrong, and you know, when you get to that point you’re like, “Okay, do I go get a job or do I do this?” And I’m like, “I don’t know how to do anything else, so I might as well just keep stumbling through.”
Clint: Exactly. Like I don’t know honestly what else I would…I mean, I’m a photographer right now, but really that’s just to tide me over until I can do this as a full-time thing, you know? Because it’s what I love and it’s what I’m going to keep doing until, you know, I’m dead, I guess. [Laughs]
Lindsay: How much of your time are you able to devote to writing?
Clint: I would say I write every single day even if it’s for five minutes, 10 minutes, but I try and get at least an hour done each day because I feel like if I don’t, then I get rusty and I fall into bad habits and stop writing.
Lindsay: A lot of our customers work with teenagers, of course, and they’re always wanting to know like, how do I do it, how do I do it? And really the only thing to say to them is, “Do it, and do it often.”
Lindsay: And you’re so right, like I think five minutes a day is a more consistent habit to develop than sort of trying to cobble something together like once a month.
Clint: Mm-hmm. And you know, I love it, but you definitely have to push yourself and keep yourself going because if you’re not cheering yourself on, then no one’s going to do that for you, you know?
Lindsay: Do you have any tricks that you use when it’s a really bad day for writing?
Clint: I try and do free writing if I have like absolutely nothing to write about. I try and tap into that subconscious kind of thing to find out what I really want to write even when I’m telling myself that I don’t want to write. There’s always something back there that you have available to write about.
Lindsay: I love…it’s the best exercise just to sort of…because you’re writing, right?
Lindsay: It’s words on the page. And how do you deal with your self-critic?
Clint: I think everyone is their own worst critic, you know?
Clint: And I’m definitely really critical of myself, but you just kind of have to push that voice to the back of your head and push the one that keeps you going to the front of your head and just keep writing.
Lindsay: Do you have a special place that you write or are you a write anywhere kind of guy?
Clint: I mostly write in my room but, you know, if I’m having a hard time, then I try and mix it up. Portland’s a gorgeous city, so sometimes I get out to the beach or to the ocean or something like that just to mix it up and kind of help inspire myself.
Lindsay: Yeah. Do you find your location inspiring?
Clint: Absolutely. Portland, for such a small city, has got so many gorgeous locations, lighthouses, beaches, lobster, you know…
Lindsay: [Laughs] I was there maybe a year and a half ago, and it’s just the most wonderful walking city, you know, like you can walk from end to end.
Clint: Mm-hmm. I mean, I don’t even have a car because you don’t really need one in this city. You don’t need one in New York, but you don’t need one here either just because you can get anywhere.
Lindsay: Are you a pen and paper guy or are you a computer technology guy?
Clint: I usually try and write it out on a computer first just because I know I’m going to have to do it anyway, but if I don’t have my computer around I always carry a little notebook on me, and that way I know I’m going to get the ideas down one way or another.
Lindsay: So the funny thing is that this is really our very first conversation and just sort of like hearing each other’s voices…
Clint: Yeah, I know, it’s weird. I feel like we’ve talked so much without actually meeting each other. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Exactly, and that our whole process from the time that you submitted stuff to us to any conversation we’ve had has been purely technology-based and through email. What do you think about technology and being a playwright?
Clint: I hate technology.
Lindsay: Okay. Why?
Clint: Technology is my worst enemy, but I am technology’s worst enemy. I’m surprised I even manage to turn the computer on, you know when we were doing this Skype. I had my roommate help me out with it. [Laughs]
Lindsay: [Laughs] That never comes across in our conversations.
Clint: Well, good. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Yeah. Do you think it’s a better time to be a playwright now or would you prefer to be a playwright in another era?
Clint: Oh, I mean I would obviously like to be a playwright when the arts were getting a lot more support financially, and you know, movies have obviously kind of dampened the theatre scene a little bit, even from the thirties. It’s just not the best time to be a playwright, but this is the time that I have, so I’m going to do, you know…
Clint: …what I ought to do.
Lindsay: Yeah, exactly.
Clint: Just go. [Laughs]
Lindsay: It’s funny, they’ve been saying that theatre’s going to die for 50…
Clint: It’s been dying for thousands of years. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Actually, yes, it has been. I mean, there were times where they shut all the doors, and then it still came back, so I don’t think we’re going to anywhere. So that’s comforting.
Clint: Yeah, people need it. I need it, anyway. [Laughs]
Lindsay: Yeah, why do you need it?
Clint: I mean, I don’t know, I just love to go out and perform and see my work being performed and that’s just, you know…there’s something that drives, I think, all playwrights and actors in that regard.
Lindsay: What was it like when you saw a play of yours performed for the first time?
Clint: [Laughs] It was definitely weird because it’s not exactly what you expect, you know. The actors bring their own creativity and their own interpretation to your work, and it’s not necessarily going to be the one that you have, but it almost makes it better because theatre’s a collaboration and you have all the different minds working together. And that’s something that you really don’t get with a lot of different types of art.
Lindsay: Sometimes my favorite part is when someone comes up and says, “Well, I was doing research on your play and I saw this blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Really? Wow, that’s awesome!” [Laughs]
Clint: [Laughs] Yeah, my friends, they found some random article from some high school that had done one of my plays, and I was like, “Oh, I didn’t even know that they had done that.” [Laughs] So I love like just finding out new things about my own work when I go back and read it. I think you find that you’re never in the same place that you were when you write that in the initial draft.
Lindsay: If you look at something, particularly that’s like even a couple of years old, it’s like, “Who wrote this?”
Lindsay: You know, it can’t be me.
Clint: Because it wasn’t you, you know. You’re a whole different person than you were a few years ago.
Lindsay: It’s kind of a neat evolving…it can be an evolving craft. I think it should be an evolving craft.
Lindsay: Otherwise, we just…we stay stagnant, and we don’t like that. Have you ever seen a production of one of your plays that it was just not the interpretation that you had envisioned?
Clint: I’m such a new playwright that I haven’t seen that many productions of my own play or, you know, I’m just lucky enough not to see one that I absolutely hated, but I’m sure it’s coming and I’m sure it’ll be fine, I’ll get over it. [Laughs]
Lindsay: That’s very lucky that you’ve been able to…if you can find something that you’ve liked in everything, that’s wonderful. You want to [laughs] enjoy that.
Lindsay: Enjoy it. So what was your first play? What was the first play that you wrote?
Clint: My first play that I wrote was kind of weird, called Woman Holding a Leash, and it was an older adult child that had his mother in a supermarket. And you know those leashes that they put on children?
Lindsay: Yeah. Yes.
Clint: The adult was wearing that and she had him…you know, carrying him around the store, and then in the end she ends up choking him with it. So it was kind of weird, kind of random, but I don’t know, something…my subconscious was telling me to write that.
Lindsay: I was just going to say, what made you put that on paper?
Clint: You know, I have no idea what I was thinking when I was writing it, but I’m glad I did write it because it got me to write more and better scripts. And, you know, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to put down sometimes when I start writing, but sometimes I surprise myself.
Lindsay: Do you ever have trouble coming up with ideas?
Clint: Yeah. Edward Albee talks about being with play like it’s a child that you’re about to give birth to, and I think you kind of get those little ideas and they’re not fully formed, and after three months the pieces start to come together and you put them together and you’ve got all these characters and somewhat of a plot, and you just kind of push it out and write it all out at once, which is what I like to do. I obviously go back and edit, but I think it’s good to get it all out at once because, like we were talking about before, you’re never the same person after a couple of years, you know?
Lindsay: Yeah. I read something once that really one of the best things that you can think of yourself as when you write is as a child, because that’s when we were the most creative and the most risk-taking. And you know, once second you’re a pony, and the next second you’re on…like without even…you don’t even think about what’s wrong with that or what that world is, it just is.
Clint: Mm-hmm. You know, but because we don’t have those limitations that we put on ourselves when we get older, and I think it’s important to go back to things that you used to like a lot or things that you used to gravitate to when you were younger. I think that’s definitely an important exercise in playwriting.
Lindsay: Well, and as we get older, there are so many limitations because there’s that whole notion of “I need to write something that might pay my rent” or I need to…or this happens all the time where a company says, “Well, if you change x, y, and z, we’ll produce your play,” and what do you do with that, you know? It’s a dilemma.
Clint: Exactly, and you know, that’s why it’s so tough being a playwright nowadays, just because you have to kind of balance a commercial aspect of it with that need to write what’s really important to you and going back to those childhood memories and really tapping into that creativity.
Lindsay: What kind of playwright do you want to be, like when you see yourself in that world?
Clint: You know, I don’t really know exactly what I want to be yet. I know that I’m not exactly there right now, but I know that I have my idols, obviously. Durang is huge for me…
Clint: …and I think he is kind of similar in style…or I’m more similar in style to what he writes. But I’m not exactly sure what I want to be, but I’m not going to limit myself to one particular idea of a playwright just because it’s what people say is important or what you have to be.
Lindsay: Well, that’s where you get into trouble, isn’t it, because there’s this image of what a professional playwright is supposed to be? Like you know, if you look at it that way, I’m not a professional playwright. Like I write for students.
Clint: It’s awful too, you know, just even on the university level you get such harsh criticism from so many people that just look down on scripts that are meant for younger audiences. And it doesn’t make them any less impactful or any less meaningful, and in some ways they’re more meaningful just because you’re helping shape young minds and helping give them a love for theatre, which I don’t understand the criticism there.
Lindsay: Well, and when you think about what group of people can still be life-changingly affected by theatre, it’s not adults, it’s teenagers and youth.
Lindsay: And so if we are having an impact that is life-changing, doesn’t that make us, you know, like amazing playwrights? [Laughs]
Clint: [Laughs] Because you’re changing the world through your art, which is really what artists are trying to do.
Lindsay: When you get into the heart of it, that’s all I ever wanted to do, is write something with impact. Although, and I have to say, it took me like years and years and years to say that because I had this idea of what a playwright was supposed to be and I lived in a big city and I thought that I had these companies that these were where I had to be produced, and if I wasn’t being produced, then I was a failure, and what a horrible way to think of yourself, you know?
Clint: Mm-hmm. And you know, that’s the limitation and the stigma that a lot of society puts on us just because of their idea of what a playwright is even though a lot of those people don’t even write plays, so they can’t really…you know, it’s difficult to be a playwright having all those criticisms from everywhere coming at you.
Lindsay: Well, and then you have that conversation with someone who doesn’t write plays and their first question is always, “Well, have you written anything that I’ve seen?”
Clint: Mm-hmm, or…
Lindsay: No. Yeah.
Clint: …even worse, they have input on what your play should be. [Laughs]
Lindsay: [Laughs] You know, because everybody is an expert, I find.
Clint: [Laughs] That’s one thing I definitely learned fast, that everyone has a way to make your play better even if they’ve never written a play. [Laughs]
Lindsay: [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know why that is. [Laughs] It’s a conversation you have all the time. I think that’s the conversation that you have to learn how to handle time and time again. Although I do think, for people who aren’t in the theatre, it’s not malicious, it’s just they have no idea, you know…
Clint: Yeah. They don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know any better. [Laughs]
Lindsay: You know, we’re not doctors or…we don’t have parameters the way that other jobs have parameters.
Lindsay: Okay, awesome. Alright, so we’re going to wind up here, and the last thing that we’re going to leave with is, although I think you’ve said a lot of really interesting pieces of advice that some of our younger customers could go away with, but if you had to answer the question to a young teenager standing in front of you who is dying to be a writer and is sort of confused about the whole thing, and they ask you the question, “Well, what do I do?” what would be the one piece of advice you would like to send them off with?
Clint: I would say to just write and just do it, because if you hold on to those limitations instead of what you really want to do, I think Paula Vogel talks about how there’s no such thing as a perfect play, you know, that a perfect piece of art always has mistakes, and if you just ignore some of those criticisms for a second, it’ll clear your mind enough to go out there and do what you’d really want to do, which is perform or write or be an artist. And it’s really important to take those criticisms but to take them with a grain of salt, because nobody’s perfect, art isn’t perfect, and nobody knows everything about playwriting or theatre.
Lindsay: Awesome. Thank you so much, Clint, for spending part of your Sunday with us here.
Clint: Thanks. I had a lot of fun.
Lindsay: And we’re back. Before we go, let’s do some Theatrefolk news. [Sings] It’s a play feature! It’s a play feature! It’s time to feature a play! [Laughs]
It’s important for us to have the blockbuster plays in our catalogue, those generally friendly, reach-a-big-crowd, fun-for-everyone plays. You need plays that pack a wide punch. And, let’s be totally transparent, they make money. I like making money as an artist. It doesn’t bother me. I think it’s really awesome, you know, to pay for your groceries with plays. With plays!
So it’s also important for us to have plays in our catalogue that don’t appeal to everyone, that don’t have a wide reach, that are weird, that are quirky, that do not go with the flow, because I know, and you know, there are teenagers out there who do not go with the flow. We can standardized test them till we’re blue in the face, we can try to make them dress the same, act the same, but you cannot stop the left-of-centre teen. I was a left-of-centre teen. I am a left-of-centre pseudo-adult. And if we want a catalogue that speaks to everyone, that means we want plays that speak to everyone, all factions.
To that end, this week I’m featuring a play called Magic Fairy in the Microwave by Dara Murphy. The play is inspired by a style of theatre called the Grand Guignol, which basically tried to put horror aspects on stage – lots of blood and gore. But Dara is also a master at black comedy, so in this story we have a normal teenager with a normal life and a very unreliable narrator who’s trying to kill her. Here’s the opening monologue from the play:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to thank you for coming tonight. I hope that your seat is comfortable and that the temperature in the room is neither too hot, nor too cold. I also hope that before you came to the theatre today, you told your loved ones that you love them. Because, well, you never know.
Before we begin this performance, I have been instructed to deliver a “viewer discretion warning.”The content of this show may not be suitable for all viewers. This play is tragic and bloody, and the ending is very sad. If you came here expecting happy rainbows, kittens or magic fairies, you will be disappointed. In fact, if there are any kittens or magic fairies here today, they will probably end up in a microwave Does that thought make you squeamish? If so, it would be a good idea to have a jacket handy just in case you need to cover your eyes. You have been warned.
This is not your normal make-everyone-happy play for teenagers, and I love that! Go, run, do not walk, to our website, Theatrefolk.com. Read the sample pages for Magic Fairy in the Microwave, Dara Murphy. Buy it for your left-of-centre teen.
Lastly, where, oh where, can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at Theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on Youtube.com/theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app, and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search for the word Theatrefolk.
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care my friends, take care. Small fish on the mic? Two turntables and a microphone? I’ll work on it.