Episode 20: Bradley Walton Interview
Craig spoke with playwright Bradley Walton at the Virginia Theatre Association Conference. Bradley talks about how he started out as cartoonist and transformed into a writer.
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- Bradley Walton
- The Absolutely Insidious and Utterly Terrifying Truth About Cat Hair
- The Baloney, the Pickle, the Zombies, and Other Things I Hide From My Mother
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Lindsay Price: Welcome to TFP. The Theatrefolk podcast. I am Lindsay Price. Resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello. I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening. We’ve got another playwright interview today. This time with Bradley Walton. But first lets do some Theatrefolk news. Okay. There is no news, it’s December. But what I will say, as I do every podcast, is where can you can find us. We post new episodes of TFP every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on the Stitcher app, and of course you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. All you have to do is search on the word Theatrefolk. Episode 20. Bradley Walton. Bradley Walton has three plays in the Theatrefolk catalog. And two of them, may well indeed, win the longest and catchiest title award. We have the “Absolutely Insidious and Utterly Terrifying Truth About Cat Hair” and we have “The Baloney, The Pickle, The Zombie and Other Things I Hide From My Mother.” And, then the third play, which while has a short title, is I believe a play of epic proportions. A wonderful exploration on the nature of story and creativity. And frankly, a catchy title is all well and good. And a catchy title is sometimes what gets people in the door. But as far as we’re concerned, a catchy title has to be backed up by a play of good quality. A play that’s got something interesting going on behind it. The catchy title is really only the tablecloth over the really good play. And Bradley Walton really has that in spades with the plays that he’s got with us. So he’s from Virginia and Craig had a chance to speak with Bradley when we were at the Virgina Theatre association conference. So lets get right to it.
Craig: Hello, Craig here. I just wanted to put this in front of my interview with Bradley Walton. Normally, when we do interviews they’re 20-25 minutes long and this one went a little long. It went 35 minutes long. And when we’re on the road, we record things with our camera. And what I didn’t know until today was that our camera stops recording after 30 minutes. So here are the first 30 minutes of my conversation with Bradley Walton.
Craig: I know you started writing comic books. How did that start?
Bradley: Well, I read comic books for as long as I can remember. I got into them very very heavily around about seventh grade when I was about 12-13 years old.
Bradley: I had gotten into Dungeons and Dragons at that time.
Craig: Oh yeah, I did too. In high school.
Bradley: And TSR, the company that made Dungeons and Dragons had another role playing game that was based on the Marvel comics superheros.
Bradley: And they had a module for the X-Men, which I had heard of the X-Men but had never read the X-Men comic books. So I got this X-Men module for the Marvel game and started reading all these character descriptions and histories and backgrounds. It was really interesting. So I got really really heavily into the X-Men. And that, I guess, really propelled me into wanting to write comic books. And my dad, who was a banker, got into comic books as well. He could appreciate the investment value in old comic books.
Craig: Oh, Okay.
Bradley: And he was on a business trip…
Craig: It’s great when you can sell an angle to your parents, you know, I can make money off of this.
Bradley: Well, he would go on business trips and would bring home X-Men comic books for me.
Bradley: And he was at a comic book store in Warrenton, Virgina. And called home and said, There’s got to be the first issue of the X-Men here. Should I buy it. And he told me how much they were charging for it. And it was a really good price. And I hauled out my price guide and I said, Okay dad, you can put that amount of money in the bank for me and it’ll earn, you know, how much interest will that earn, the appreciation rate on those comic books, 20-25% a year.
Bradley: And he could appreciate those numbers. He brought the comic book home. And we just kind of kept going with the comic book thing together. And he would take me to comic book conventions and I would get to meet people in the comic book industry. And get feedback. In college, having determined that I wanted to write comic books for a living, I determined somewhere in there that it was really hard to get into the comic book industry as a writer, because editors did not like to look at unsolicited writing samples. But they could look at a piece of art and tell, in a few seconds, whether or not that was any good. So I decided I would try to get into the comic book industry in an artistic capacity.
Bradley: Make editorial contacts. And then once people knew, hopefully, they will be more willing to take a look at my writing.
Bradley: So to that end, I became an inker. Which is kind of like tracing with ink over pencil art. Except its not tracing in that it takes years to learn how to do it well.
Bradley: Not an easy thing to describe. You just kind of have to watch it and do it. But anyway, I thought it was just like tracing and I could learn it in a few months.
Bradley: So I took that up as my skill. And within a few months I determined, wow, that was a really stupid idea.
Bradley: But I had committed to it at that point. I had found a professional artist who was willing to give me some tutelage. Would let me mail him samples and then call him up and he’d give me feedback over the phone. So I just kept rolling with that. And I got into the comic book industry as an inker and eventually did manage to turn that into some connections for some writing.
Bradley: Had a little bit of success with some small publishers. And then in 2000 my daughter was born. And something had to give, because comic books had never at any point paid the bills.
Craig: Right. Things had to get real.
Bradley: Yes. Doing the day job. Doing the comic book job. Now there’s a baby on the way. Somethings got to go. So the comic book thing was what gave. However, right at that time also, I made a day job career change from retail to my former high school. And my former high school drama teacher was still working there.
Bradley: And some of the former English staff was still there. And I had been very active in drama and forensics when I was in high school. So I was almost immediately recruited to take over the forensics program. And the drama teacher asked me if I wanted to direct an annual spring play. He had a one act play on his production schedule. He had a musical. He did not have a full-length non musical show. And he was committed to doing a spring show for his church. Doing a full-length non musical play itself was not something he was able to do. So I said, yeah, I really miss drama. I had a theatre minor in college. And working in retail doesn’t leave you a lot of time to do community theatres.
Bradley: So I hopped on that. So for the first two years I decided to do Shakespeare. Partly because Shakespeare was something that really intimidated me. I could read it but had to really work at it to understand it. I could not watch a Shakespeare play and really process it effectively.
Bradley: It was just something that took a huge amount of mental energy. But I could tell, you know, these are really good.
Bradley: If I commit to them. So, also, going back to comic books. I was really into a comic book called Sandman.
Bradley: And Sandman very heavily had incorporated a Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest into its story lines. And I wanted to have a better understanding of those plays so I could better understand Sandman.
Craig: The fairy stuff or just the…
Bradley: Yes. The Sandman comic book series is about a character who is the Lord of Dreams.
Bradley: And he basically gives William Shakespeare the gift to be able to write all of Shakespeare’s plays.
Bradley: And in exchange, Shakespeare has to write two plays for him.
Bradley: The two plays that Shakespeare writes for his end of the deal are A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest.
Bradley: And Sandman, Lord of Dreams, is friends with the fairies who are the real life counterparts of the fairies in the Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Bradley: And one of the stories in the Sandman comic book is the world premiere performance of the Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare’s company for the actual fairies, who are the characters in that play.
Craig: Oh, neat. Okay.
Bradley: And then the Tempest is with it’s…
Craig: The magic and the [creation of] stories.
Bradley: The magic and the parallels of putting aside the magic and moving onto something else. That story line paralleled the end of the Sandman story arc with Sandman, Lord of Dreams, setting aside his realm and basically making a place for someone to come along after him and take over his duties.
Bradley: And wrapping up the end of the Sandman comic book series. So, I did Tempest for my first play at the high school and Midsummer Night’s Dream for my second play. And for my to do Shakespeare was a really big deal. It was very difficult.
Craig: Well, it’s very brave of you to do that as your first [Fourier].
Bradley: Yeah, jumping in with both feet I suppose. I directed a production of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe my senior year of high school and I had done a one act play in college that I had directed. And I directed a production of Sarte’s No Exit in college.
Craig: Oh, Okay.
Bradley: But for a full-length play especially having been away from theatre since I graduated from college, 6 years, 7 years before, It was quite a jump for Tempest. So Tempest went over Okay. So the next year we did Midsummer Night’s Dream. And I started tinkering with the idea of doing a Star Wars spin on a Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Bradley: And of doing Bottom end Mechanicals as Star Wars fans.
Bradley: And my wife said, well, Okay, [inaudible 11:10] you could have Wall be Han Solo in carbonite.
Bradley: It just struck me as a brilliant idea, and everything gelled around that. This suggestion from my wife of having Wall be Han Solo in carbonite. So Bottom and the Mechanicals were all dressed in Star Wars shirts, Star Wars neckties. Peter Quinces home, that set, had, and this was right around the time when episode 2 came out, so there was a bunch of merchandise in the stores.
Bradley: So we had inflatable character chairs and Star Wars posters on the wall. When Bottom sings to Tania, we had him singing an excerpt of the song [Yoda] by Weird Al Yankovic.
Bradley: We performed Pyramus and Thisbe in Star Wars costumes at the end of the play with Pyramus dressed as Luke Skywalker, Thisbe is princess Leia, Wall is Han Solo in carbonite, Lion is a wookie, Moonshine is a Jedi Knight with a lightsaber. And it worked out really really well. And that was a really fabulous experience.
Craig: And then you wrote.
Bradley: And then having done two years of Shakespeare and having survived it, its like, Okay, whats the next really crazy thing that I can do.
Bradley: I’ll try writing a play.
Craig: Right, Okay.
Bradley: And I remember my parents thinking that I was, I don’t know, crazy for doing it. But they thought it seemed like a bit much of an undertaking. But I did it. And we staged it. And although there were moments that I wanted to crawl under my chair and die during the performance, those were largely due to poor decisions that I had made as director and not as a writer.
Craig: Was it hard to finish writing the play. Every time we’re at a conference, a teacher will say, I’m going to write a play this year, I’m going to write a play this year. And, you know, you go to the same conference 5-6-7 years in a row and its the same teacher saying the same thing. And you never actually do see this play. How did you actually just finish it? Because I think play writing is finishing a play. Anyone can start a play but you have to finish it too.
Bradley: I’d approached the thing with the mentality that it was this huge undertaking and would take me months to complete.
Bradley: And I started the thing in October and I think wrapped it up in February. And I was able to complete it because I had a deadline. I knew that we were going to perform this play.
Bradley: And I had to have it done by a certain date. And I knew, just from working in the comic book field, I was used to having deadlines.
Craig: Oh, Okay. Good.
Bradley: And from when I had been doing art samples. Just samples with no deadline. I could get them done but it would take me forever. But then once I got actual work with actual deadlines I was able to pump out the work a whole lot faster.
Bradley: So I had basically had a history of working under deadlines and being able to get the work done.
Bradley: So I got it done. So that part really wasn’t an issue.
Craig: Did you write it for the people who you knew were going to be in it? You knew what your theatre’s limitations were.
Craig: You knew what your budget was.
Bradley: And I also knew that a lot of the people that tended to be active in the one act play and the musical at my high school were not the people who were coming out for the spring play.
Bradley: It was a completely different group of kids.
Bradley: Over the years, the occasions that I have sort of tailored apart for a specific student usually has just not worked out. The student either doesn’t audition, or they audition but they have a limited time commitment and they just want a small role. One year I even had tailored a role for a specific student and then another kid gave a better audition for that role.
Craig: Oh, wow.
Bradley: So that was who got the part. So its never completely hard and fast. So in the interest of fairness I really really try not to tailor the roles to specific kids.
Bradley: And then if something needs to be tweaked we’ll do that in the process of the performances. The first play was called Monster Hunters. It was about a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators who were vacationing in Scotland. And visit this old friend who is getting up in years and she think she saw the Lockness Monster when she was a child. And she wants paranormal investigators to look into it to give her closure on this before she dies. And it was actually based on a comic book script that I had written that never wound up seeing the light of day. And I expanded it into a full-length play. And after the play was done, I went back and tried to convert it into a graphic novel. And sent it off to a publisher that I knew who sent me back a response that the dialogue was really good and he thought it would make a good play.
Craig: Well, that’s good, you were on to the right track then.
Bradley: And my theatre director was really encouraging at my high school. He said that it did not read like a first play, at all.
Bradley: And maybe because I had a little bit of writing experience behind me in comic books, I don’t know. But writing dialogue comes pretty naturally to me.
Bradley: Even when I was working in comics, dialogue was usually my starting point.
Bradley: And then I would fill in panel descriptions and what not around that. I never wound up doing anything with Monster Hunters in terms of shopping it out to any publishers. I need to at some point.
Bradley: It’s sitting there. But just the act of going back and revising the play I think would take more effort than writing a completely new play from scratch.
Craig: You don’t want to see it again or you’re afraid of your young self?
Bradley: No, not really. Revisions are much harder than writing for me. I don’t know if that’s true for other playwrights or not. I said, when I wrote Monster Hunters it took me 5 months that time just working on it in bits and pieces. Now when I sit down to write the annual play for my high school, it takes me 10 days to maybe 3 weeks at the most. I tend to write very, very…
Craig: That is very quick.
Bradley: And push it through just as fast as I possibly can. I find that the faster I go, the easier it is for me to keep track of whats going on.
Bradley: And if I sit and leave it undone for a long period of time, then I have to go back and figure out what was going on and learn who the characters are all over again.
Bradley: So I tend to write very quickly for that very reason. Now my one acts, when I write those, I never write those to perform at my high school.
Bradley: And those will sometimes get written in small chunks. The Absolutely Insidious and Utterly Terrifying Truth About Cat Hair with Theatrefolk is a classic example. Was written in chunks of about 300 words at a time. Not knowing from one day to the next what was actually going to happen.
Bradley: And I really thought at times it was going to be a complete mess. It wasn’t. I’m not sure how that happened that it wasn’t a complete mess.
Bradley: But at the same time there is a certain element, I guess, of spontaneity and surprise moving through the play that I think probably comes from the fact that…
Craig: You were surprised yourself as to what was happening next. Yeah. That ones a funny one to sell because people always look at the character list and they say, oh, a lint roller, a granola bar, what is this. Just read it, you know. See what happens. It’s pretty cool. What I like about your plays is that, and this is interesting because you come from like a visual, like a graphical background. Is that, as you say, your dialogue is very easy and natural. And I think the stories are very engaging. And what I find really interesting about the plays is that visually they’re so open to interpretation. I know, the 3 that we have, I know anyway, you can do anything visually with those plays which surprises me because I would think that you would think very visually. Do you have like a strong visual image in mind when you’re writing the plays.
Bradley: Not usually.
Bradley: I am, maybe I shouldn’t admit this, I am a very lazy director. And doing things visually in theatre is not one of my strong points. Even when I was working in comics, I was embellishing other peoples artwork.
Bradley: I tend to be pretty good at designing my own play posters, which are usually photo and graphics based. But when I’m writing for theatre, I usually try to leave things as open ended as possible. Because I don’t want to prescribe something as set in stone. That people feel like they have to follow because I don’t want to suppress someone with a different visual sense than I do, that may have a better visual sense.
Bradley: And impede them from coming up with something totally awesome.
Bradley: And the production of Truth About Cat Hair…
Craig: Yeah. I was going to say…
Bradley: That [Beth Goodwin] directed in Corinth, Maine is classic example of that.
Bradley: I would never have envisioned a sort of Dr. Seuss style visual with bright colored, neon cat hairs.
Craig: No. I know, me neither. When I look at that play I think very literally that the characters would be in maybe beige bodysuits with yarn hanging all over them. The cat hair characters or something. Then you see something like that and you go, wow, I never considered that but that is so…the pictures are beautiful.
Bradley: I mean, beige bodysuits with yarn hanging off, that’s an absolutely legitimate interpretation.
Bradley: And she came along and just did this, Oh my gosh, it just totally pops off the stage. And I go and I look at those pictures. I always wind up grinning because its so awesome.
Bradley: So that’s, you know, I want people with that kind of…
Craig: Beause your script imposes nothing in terms of visuals, really.
Bradley: So I try to write for people like her.
Bradley: Who come along and do awesome things like that.
Bradley: But you know, at the same time, also leave it for a very basic simple interpretation for schools that have limited resources.
Bradley: Or for directors like me who are good at maybe working with the students but you know putting some kind of brightly colored visual smorgasbord on stage is just not there thing.
Craig: Ah, I have a question.
Craig: I was looking at the 3 plays of yours that we have today. And I noticed there’s death in each one of them. Is there death in all your plays? Is that an important thing to you, to have people die?
Bradley: No. I guess that’s interesting. You wound up with 3 of the plays that have death in them. No. That is not a common theme at all running through my plays.
Craig: Just ours.
Bradley: Just the ones with Theatrefolk.
Craig: How many plays have you written down.
Bradley: If you include my 10 minute scripts.
Bradley: I have got a great total of 50 plays that have been published.
Bradley: Through Theatrefolk and several other publishing companies. And then I guess a couple more beyond that, that have not been published.
Bradley: Monster Hunters. That first play being the prime example. I’ve got a couple of 10 minute plays that I haven’t been able to find a home for. And I had a play that we did at my high school. I guess it was 2 or 3 years ago that I have not been able to find a publisher for. Despite the fact that its, I think, my favorite thing that I have written.
Bradley: I have not shared it with Theatrefolk, because the characters are all in their mid to upper thirties.
Bradley: Age wise.
Bradley: And actually having done that play I really came to appreciate why Theatrefolk prefers that the characters in the plays be mostly teenagers. Because the play that I wrote was called Super Villains and Zombies.
Bradley: And it was about a group of super villains that had gone into retirement after a superman type character had gone insane. Burst into their stronghold. Killed a bunch of them. Then vanishes without a trace. And they didn’t know what happened to him. The survivors all go into hiding. And 10 years later there’s a zombie apocalypse. And the super villains all, for whatever reason, return to there former stronghold. To basically deal with the end of the world. And the two main characters were a husband and wife super villain team.
Bradley: Who has separated because their marriage was based on putting silly costumes and causing mayhem. And when they couldn’t do that anymore they lost the ability to relate to each other. And eventually drifted apart and separated.
Bradley: And trying to do this play with teenagers, we did it, we got it but the kids had a really hard time relating to the characters. Especially the marital aspects.
Bradley: Because they just didn’t have that life experience yet.
Bradley: Like I said, we pulled it off.
Bradley: I think the play can successfully be done with teenage actors. I feel like we successfully did the play with teenage actors.
Bradley: But its also more of a community theatre play.
Bradley: But that one I have not been unable to find a home for yet.
Craig: Well, that’s part of why we’re so specific to. Because knowing what you are also means knowing what you aren’t. And we’ve had to turn down a lot of fantastic scripts just for that reason. Well, and to be fair to the author, we’re not going after those other markets either. So we wouldn’t be able to place your show in a community theatre. We do not have those connections with community theatres. So have you seen all of the plays you’ve written or there’s some you’ve never seen.
Bradley: There’s some I have never seen.
Craig: Wow. What’s that like. Is that like having children you’ve never met. Or is it not quite as extreme.
Bradley: No, it’s not as extreme. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this but to a certain extent, I write plays to make money.
Bradley: It is a commercial endeavor. Its a commercial endeavor that I take seriously. Its a commercial endeavor that, yes, I’m writing plays for young people and I understand that students who perform these plays, that drama can be a significant life changing event. Its not something that I take lightly, but its a commercial endeavor. I make money off of it.
Bradley: I pay bills, to some extent, off of writing plays.
Bradley: And I determined at some point early on that if I was only writing this annual full-length play to direct myself at my high school that I wasn’t make a whole lot of money off of that.
Bradley: And I was writing 10 minute scripts for the forensics market also. But I started experimenting with one act plays. And I wrote a one act. It was called The Tree. I wrote it and sent it off and it got published without ever having been performed, and then a school within driving distance of my house, it was about five hours but that’s doable…
Bradley: Did a production of it. And we drove down and I watched it. And I was really nervous about, you know, is there going to be stuff in here that I’m going to feel like I need to need to change.
Bradley: And I was fine with it.
Bradley: So I’m very comfortable writing one act plays and sending them off to find a home with a publisher without having had them performed or seen them performed. I would never attempt that with a full length play.
Craig: Yeah. There’s too many moving parts.
Bradley: Yes. One acts are more succinct. There more concentrated. And I always put them aside for awhile and go back and look at them again later.
Bradley: To try to come at them with a fresh perspective. Maybe get other people to look at them. Maybe get the drama class at my high school to read them. Give me feedback on them. But I’ve written a lot of one act plays that I’ve just written and sent them out into the world. And I hope they’re doing Okay. The ones that I’ve seen, they seem to be doing fine.
Craig: I don’t want to leave here without talking about [Storied]. How much of you is in Storied? Where does that all come from? Because there’s so much philosophy in there about the creative process, writing, good ideas, bad ideas. What of you is in there. Everything. Nothing.
Bradley: That’s a loaded question. It’s loaded in that [Storied] wound up being so dense especially in the last third of the play.
Bradley: It’s probably intensely personal on a lot of levels but I would not be able to articulate, accurately how much of me personally is really in that play. I can say that when the real pivot point in the script comes. And one of the main characters dies and the other two characters are standing there trying to figure out what do we do now.
Craig: What happened.
Bradley: But they’re not sure at that point if they are people themselves acting of their own free will or if they’re characters in a story themselves.
Bradley: And why should they continue with the story at that point if there characters. Because if they make the decision to not go forward that is an absolutely legitimate decision for them to make and if they’re actual people it’s a legitimate decision for them to make. And if they don’t go forward in there characters, well, that was the authors decision and it says nothing bad about them because there not acting of there own free will.
Craig: That I am sorry to say is where the tape ran out. I think it ended at a good spot there. But we did go on to talk about Storied. I really encourage you to pick up a copy of Storied and give it a read. It has so much to say about the creative process, about characters, about storytelling.
Lindsay: Thank you Bradley for taking the time to talk to us. And that’s where we’re going to end. That’s it. That’s all. Take care, my friends. Take care.
Music credit: “Ave” by Alex (feat. Morusque) is licensed under a Creative Commons license.