Anonymous Jane Interviews Me About “Thank You For Ten”
If you give them a chance, many authors can find something to say about their work for hours or days on end. To an extent this is necessary. Marketing is about 40% of being a writer these days, after all. But sometimes in order to prevent marketing and education about their work from devolving into repetitive rambling, an author needs specific questions to answer. Enter Anonymous Jane.
Not their real name, of course. But this trusted fellow creative and friend of mine agreed to my request to come up with questions for me about Thank You For Ten: Short Fiction About a Little Theater only if they could stay unnamed. The moniker “Anonymous Jane” was a compromise position between naming them, and referring to them simply as “anonymous” and she agreed. What you see below is the result of an instant message discussion. (Anonymous Jane hates the telephone even more than I do.)
Anonymous Jane, an artistic type in her own right, has read all of the stories in the collection. However, none of her questions, (or my answers) contain spoilers. I’ve not edited any of my answers or her questions just to make me look better, either, so bare that in mind, though once this was all together I did edit for original typos.
With that, and with public thanks again to her for her willingness to do this, I’ll hand this post over to her. (Her words being italicized.)
The stories in this collection obviously take place in a community theater. I know you spend a lot of time in community theaters. Is this all about the famous “write what you know” advice?
I’d by lying if I claimed theater wasn’t something I know a great deal about. I did it in college, and ever since then as well. Thirty or so productions at various venues over the years. A lot of that experience did of course inform the writing of these ten stories, but I wouldn’t say I set out to “write what I know” since I write about many things I haven’t experienced first hand. But when you’ve been a part of something for as long as I’ve been a part of theater, and it’s mostly a positive experience, you want to share with others the sort of feelings and thoughts and adventures and foibles that are particular to it. Plus the theater is fertile ground for drama both off the stage and on it.
Are you telling stories that are only possible in a theater, or do you think these sort of themes and moods could exist in stories set anywhere else?
Just about any story you write, no matter the setting or the time frame is going to have aspects that apply elsewhere, at least in spirit. If not, people would probably not read stories. Some great fiction is so specific, of course, that perhaps nothing of its beauty survives outside of its setting, but in most cases I think good fiction offers something to relate to outside of its own settings.
But I wouldn’t have written these stories as a collection if I didn’t think there were at least some issues unique to the theater, both good and bad. It’s those universal aspects of being human viewed through the particular lens of a setting that makes for the best fiction to me. I hope that I’ve struck a good balance between those universals and those particular quirks of both theater in general and the theater in these stories.
So what are some of those aspects of the stories that would be unique to the theater? And do you think readers will have to be theater people to get them?
I thought about that every time I sat down to work on these stories, and all the way through the editing process as well. Do I think a person needs to be intimate with theater in order to enjoy these stories? No, in the end I don’t. Nonetheless there’s some flavoring in this collection that theater people will be more likely to notice than those who have never been involved in a show. I don’t mean Easter eggs, I’m not trying to create a puzzle or hide anything for fellow theater geeks to solve or anything like that. I just mean there are a few nuances and cadences in the action and dialogue that probably play best within the theater, and may show up most clearly to those with a theater ear, as it were.
It’s like a lifelong professional fisher. They can look out to sea, notice certain clouds at certain times and be able to say with confidence that rain will come by afternoon, and deduce what kind of catch they can expect. Whereas the rest of us can see the same clouds, and even enjoy them, but don’t realize the nuance and implication of their presence on the fish.
As to what those things may be in the stories; it’s a little difficult for me to say. As I mentioned, I didn’t specifically set out to write stories saying, “this will really hit home with theater insiders if I throw this in.” I just tried to remain true to how being in the theatre has felt to me over the years, and allowed stories to spring up from that. My hope is that theater people will recognize it as their own when the read the stories, and that non-theater folks will appreciate it for what it is; part of a hopefully enjoyable story about a certain activity.
Most of what happens in these ten theater stories doesn’t happen on the stage. In fact as I recall most of the stories don’t even take place while plays are being performed. Did you do that on purpose?
For the most part, I can say yes to that. Had a wonderful story that took place entirely on the stage presented itself as I wrote, I would have of course still written and included it. But there is just so much that goes on inside a theater other than the actual performances. Physically the stage is just one fraction of even a small theater space. There are green rooms, dressing rooms, offices, lobbies, bathrooms, balconies, light booths and so on. Each of those places are crucial to the success of a play long before opening night. I think of all of the arts, theater may just have the largest portion of its iceberg under the water.
Add to that the various different types of people who are in and out of an average theater or arts center each day, for any number of reasons. Classes, setting lights, painting or office work. Hosting something, fixing something. Making plans for a future production or putting away an old one. So even aside from a performance on the stage, a theater is swirling with the agendas, visions, problems, desires and disasters of many creatives, each ripe with the potential for a good story. And that’s just in one theater! I could have called this collection “Thank You for Sixty” as far as that goes.
All of that goes into making a theatre space what it is. All of that combines to give the venue itself a character, even if the personalities within it don’t always get along.
Which brings up a good point. Part of the title of this collection is, Short Fiction About a Little Theater. The building itself is sort of the main character, isn’t it?
In a way, yes. And you’re right about the title, that’s no accident. Readers who have been involved in theater will without a doubt see some of their own venues and companies reflected in the events at the Little Dionysus Playhouse. At the same time I want this theater, like any theater in real life, to have its own traits and particular obstacles. The venue will often determine who comes around often and who avoids it. (If you think even amateur actors don’t choose certain venues over others, you’re wrong.) The venue will also by its nature dictate to an extent what happens inside of its rooms and on its stage. Combine that with what we were talking about before, the mixing of so many artistic and business personalities, and you’ve got a unique playhouse with which to work. It may not be clear on every page, but one of my goals was to convey to a reader of the entire collection how the specifics of the Little Dionysus Playhouse allow for the specific stories to unfold in the manner they do, thus revealing its own personality.
And you didn’t create this theater specifically for these stories, did you?
Technically, no. The LDP is the setting I created for a novel, Flowers of Dionysus which I hope to have out by the summer of 2015. But as I wrote that novel, the possibility of writing other stories that took place there was always appealing to me. Thank You for Ten is among other things a realization of that brainstorm. But these stories are not a prequel or sequel to the novel, per se. It’s a whole other collection of stories with different characters than the novel, and you don’t need to read the novel to enjoy them, or vice versa.
Is the LDP based on any of the theaters you’ve been in in real life?
It’s a sort of amalgam of a few of them. I based parts of it on one theater, parts of it on another, that sort of thing. But I also threw in unique features.
And the people?
How tricky can this get? But truly I suppose any character an author creates has something in common with someone the author knows. It may just be their wild hair, but something. People inform our ideas about other people, and that’s not so odd to me. You’re probably asking, though, if any characters in the stories are directly based on someone I actually know in their entirety, and the answer is not really. Just about any true theater person is going to have certain traits; we’re all a bit more perceptive, a bit more tolerant, we trend towards introversion and occasional moodiness. Most of us are tired by the time we even get to the theater. I’ve made use of those common characteristics throughout the stories, and like all authors I’ve borrowed a mannerism or two. But I can’t say that the protagonist in one story is a representation of my old acting professor or anything that specific, no.
Does anything, besides the theater and the venue unite all the stories?
Love, I think. Or at least passion. Dedication. Maybe that’s cheating on your question, but it’s that commitment to the idea of theater at the LDP that holds all of this together. Some of the stories show us frustrated people, or people that aren’t quite getting it right. A few times we see people that have never even been inside a theater before the events of the story. Will they ever come back? Some will and some won’t. But one thread that runs through all of the stories and basically all of the characters is that the LDP in particular and the theater in general can have an impact. If you give it a chance, if you open up to it in some way, as an actor, technician, board member or audience member, the theater can show us things about ourselves. It will revel secrets to those who are patient enough to receive them. The more you put into theater, the more you tend to get out of it, and what you get out of it tends to be positive more often than negative. That’s what keeps the characters and theater people in real life coming back over and over again despite the pitfalls.
If most readers come away with that after reading Thank You for Ten, I will have accomplished my goal.