Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Careers in Entertainment: Interview with NYC Playwright Michael Block

 Michael Block
Jersey's Michael Block is one of the NYC area's up and coming playwrights. As part of  this site's new "Careers in Entertainment" page we interview Michael to find out the answer to "So You Want to be a Playwright?"

Read on about his latest stage production Pageant Tales and Beauty Fails, how he got started, and how he'll keep trying to get on Big Brother.

Suzee: First, tell me about your latest project.

The Cast of Pageant Tales and Beauty Fails                                                             All photos by Molly O'Keefe
Michael Block: My play Pageant Tales and Beauty Fails is a hilariously outrageous and offensive comedy about a fictional
beauty pageant called America’s Goddess and the zany characters that inhabit this year’s event. It’s currently playing at Theater for the New City as part of the Dream Up Festival. It’s been an incredible journey to work with an amazing cast and crew to bring this play to life. I’ve had my work done before this is truly the first full scale production and it’s been a dream come true.

Suzee: Second, tell me about when you realized the theater was calling you.

Michael Block: I have always had a love for theater. My mom would take me to the city all the time to see Broadway shows but I never imagined myself partaking. In high school (Mahwah High School in New Jersey) I was fortunate to have a wonderful teacher and mentor, JoAnne Fox, take me, this shy kid with a love for theater, under her wing and invite me to be a part of the drama club. I was the stage manager as a sophomore, a position that was normally held by the upperclassmen. Mrs. Fox encouraged me to follow my dreams and with her guidance I pursued theater in college and the rest of history. I owe everything to that extraordinary woman. I know she must be proud, smiling from above.

Suzee: For a all future budding playwrights, tell me about how you got where you are. Did you study it in high school? What did you study in college? Were you involved in productions outside of school? What classes would you recommend?

MB:  For me, playwriting came on whim. During high school and college, I stuck very much to the technical side of the theater. I studied stage management at Boston University and in the conservatory setting, my focus was primarily in stage management. As it so happened, the majority of the shows I worked on were new works by current students and alumni. Watching these writers create, I wondered if I could do it too. So I tried! I had a story that I wanted to explore and a couple months later, I had my first play! When I moved to New York, I spent most of my time continuing to work on new plays as a stage manager, which encouraged me to continue writing. After I had a few more scripts finished, I submitted some to various companies and projects, and to my shock, I was accepted! My first year, I had a play read or produced once a month for six months. Though some would be surprised, I’ve actually never taken a class in playwriting. My training has been watching playwrights in the rehearsal room work their magic. Learning by seeing really has been the best class.

Suzee: I see that you run crowdfunding campaigns. Have you found success with these?

MB: I wish the answer were yes. Crowdfunding is hard. Especially for young artists. It seems nowadays everyone is raising money from the same pool of people so reaching your goal can be harder than imagined. It’s expensive to create art.

Suzee: Tell me about some of your past projects, or things you have done that you are most proud of.

MB: I’ve been quite fortunate to work pretty steadily as a stage manager and playwright in New York since graduating. The project I’m most proud of is my theater collective, Rhapsody Collective. Rhapsody Collective is a group of young artists I’ve brought together to create new work from the ground up with the focus on collaboration. Through Rhapsody Collective, we’ve had two cycles of work where I’ve produced thirteen plays and eleven readings. Some of these works have gone on to have future life, including Pageant Tales and Beauty Fails! We are about to embark in our third cycle this fall. I’m looking forward to working with a brand new group of artists. And you can check us out at

Suzee: Tell me about Theater in the Now. What is the most interesting interview you have had so far?

MB: Theater in the Now ( is my website where I’ve had the great opportunity to interview over 500 artists on various projects and review over 100 Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway productions. It started as a little side project and has grown into something much bigger than I ever imagined. All of the interviews I’ve done have been special, but what’s most interesting for me is, after using the same set of questions for three years, I don’t think I’ve ever received the same answer for the question “Why theater?”.

Suzee: I heard that you made it through a few steps to get on Big Brother. How did you find out about the auditions? What was the process like? Do you have any advice for someone that wants to be on this show?

Michael Block: I’ve been obsessed with “Big Brother” since the very first season in 2000. Sixteen seasons later, I’m still a superfan. I first auditioned for the show in Boston in 2008, which was quite an interesting process. I watched the show to find out about the auditions and then I get up with them on their website. You basically had 15 seconds to sell yourself. I auditioned again this past March for the current season, with a bit of a different process, but I’m still just a superfan watching from home! One day I’ll get on. I’m determined! But one thing I’ve learned through these auditions is just be yourself, with perhaps a little dash of crazy.

Suzee: Who are some of the playwrights you admire the most?

Michael Block: The playwright I’m most inspired by is Nicky Silver. I’ve read all of his plays and he’s truly had a great impact on me as a writer. I love his way with characters and relationships. I’m also a huge fan of Annie Baker, who I had the great honor to work with on Circle Mirror Transformation, John Logan, Aaron Sorkin (in all his mediums), and Itamar Moses. I’ll even throw some classic playwrights like Henrik Ibsen and Tennessee Williams into the mix!

Suzee: Now a few questions about what you do in your spare time.

Name a few of your favorite Broadway or off-Broadway shows.
MB: My all time favorite musical is Spring Awakening. Saw it eight times. Some of the more recent shows that have inspired me are Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812Restoration Comedy at The Flea, and The Book of Mormon.

Favorite show to binge-watch.
MB: “Survivor”. I used to watch it in real time but once I went to college, I became busy. A few months back I made it my mission to catch up and I’m almost through all 29 seasons!

Favorite show on standard TV.
MB: I wish I had time to watch primetime TV but one show I will never miss live is Saturday Night Live.

Favorite movies
MB: I’m a real sucker for a good comedy. I love the Christopher Guest canon, all of the Mel Brooks movies, really anything that will make me laugh.

Best place to eat before or after a Broadway Show, or your favorite eateries in the city at a reasonable price.
MB: My favorite place to eat or drink is definitely Blockheads. There’s one at New World Plaza that I go to way too often. Best (and strongest) margaritas in NYC! 

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