Monday, June 11, 2018

Interview: Playwright Howard Meyer Talks His New Play, Paint Made Flesh Premiering in NYC

Howard Meyer has a new play, Paint Made Flesh premiering in New York City in June 2018 at the Cell Theater. It's about Willa, a transplanted NYC painter that now teaches at American University in Washington, DC.  After ending a long and passionate relationship with a rising NYC star performance artist she is now about to marry a seemingly “normal guy” and “settle down.” Keir, her husband-to-be, is a Washington DC politician from a good DC family who is diligently working his way up the political ladder. He loves Willa and thinks he can create a stable life where she will be happy, but also has a huge secret from his college years that Willa is confronted with. I asked Howard about his new play and  what he's up to next.

SBTS: What is unique about this play?

Howard Meyer: The more refined answer to that question and the play's uniqueness and why I would recommend folks to see it: This is a play that travels on two interwoven paths. It asks the question, "how can someone, be driven, ambitious, very successful and still maintain a satisfying, intimate relationship." The play takes place in the world of fine art and also politics, but this question really applies to any walk of life. We are living in an increasingly driven world. How can relationships be protected and nurtured in spite of that? Can relationships be protected, nurtured in spite of that? 

SBTS: What was the genesis of this play?

​Howard Meyer: Two months after we married, my wife got in a car and moved to 
Baltimore, Maryland.  It wasn’t because of a big  fight, wet feet, or a sudden realization 
that our marriage was a mistake. She had been accepted for a year of study at 
MICA, one of the most respected art schools in the country. Our fate had been sealed a
few months prior to our wedding, when she received the news of her acceptance. She was 
returning to school and full-time art making after a long hiatus, and this was an amazing 
reentry into the art world. Thus began my education into art making as well: the daily 
passion and rigor, the single-minded sacrifice, the mandate for exceptional craft, and the 
competitiveness of a career as a fine artist. I was no stranger to all of these attributes
 having spent almost twenty years as a theatre artist. 

Our lives as married art makers, with all the many joys and demands had officially begun. It 
was on these many weekend visits to Maryland as a newlywed that Paint Made Flesh was born. 
In fact, some of the earliest sketches for scenes were written in my wife’s Baltimore art studio. 
She, working away on her latest creation, me at a table writing. Although I have always cherished 
the privacy of the writing life, I loved those days, quietly creating our work in the same space.

I wanted my characters to be as intricately rendered. To see Freud and Bacon side-by-side was
such a gift, but I was also introduced to many other amazing frontiersmen and women. The 
show was called "Paint Made Flesh." I had already been exploring scene sketches about a 
love triangle tested by the pressures of art making careers, but after spending time with the 
show (I went back to the gallery several times by myself), I knew I had discovered the world 
of the characters (and the title) of the new play.

SBTS: Is this play similar or different to anything else you 
have written? 

Howard Meyer: One of the things I take pride in as a playwright is that every single one of my
plays is different from all the others. So important that as the writer I am serving the world of 
the play and the voices of the characters. When I right a play that takes place outside of
my own personal milieu, I travel to that place to do research. I spent time in Washington DC 
where I saw this art show, but once I knew the play was going to be set there I went back 
to study the area. I have an aunt who lives in DC and worked as a lobbyist, so she had access 
to people that I was able to meet and interview. Was fascinating. I love this aspect of the work. 
I have traveled far and wide to research my plays: Mexico, Germany, the Southwest. Being in 
a place and breathing that air is vital to capturing the specifics of that world.

SBTS: What did you draw upon to write this?

Howard Meyer: In terms of what I have drawn upon:  All artists, in any form, I think, manage 
the multiple pressures of making the best work possible, being received by the profession, making a 
living as an artist, and also creating a life with vital relationships. It's a big challenge. Art 
making can be so demanding and so private. And the career aspects (networking, relationship
building, applying for grants, sending in proposals.... and dealing with the inevitable 
rejections) adds even more pressure to one's time and attention. So maintaining balance, 
not getting overly obsessed is a challenge. Its certainly been a challenge for me.

SBTS: Who are the major characters?

There are three characters. All are central: Willa Benson, played by Meredith Garretson. 
Dylan McGregor played by Stephen Louis Grush, and Keir Connelly played by David Lanson. 
The characters are described in the above synopsis.

Howard Meyer: I have known David and Meredith for some time. They are fabulous. Meredith,
a recent graduate of NYU's graduate acting conservatory, has been in several 
readings of this play and also in a reading of another one of my plays, and was in a theatre 
company with a dear friend of mine for years. David has also been in readings of this play and
performed the last play of mine that had a full production, Maybe Never Fell at Axial Theatre 
in the Fall of 2016.

Stephen is an amazing actor we recently met at Steppenwolf where the play had its last 
developmental workshop. He worked on the role of Dylan in that process and we were 
blown away. He has performed on the Steppenwolf main-stage 9 times in the past 10 years 
in addition to film and TV. Truly a terrific actor.

SBTS: What advice would you give to an aspiring playwright?

Patience. Perseverance. Belief in one's self and one's craft.  Its so easy to take rejection 
personally since the work is so intimate.  And there is a lot of rejection. Even for the most 
gifted writers. And also all the pressures I spoke to above. Very important and often neglected
is getting out there and meeting as many theatres, artistic directors, directors and producers 
as possible.

SBTS: What are some plays that you love and inspire you?

Howard Meyer: I love and have been inspired by most every play written by Martin McDonagh, Stephen Adly 
Guirgis, and John Patrick Shanley. Athol Fugard was a mentor and I adore his plays. 
Craig Lucas is a current mentor and I adore his as well. I have also been influenced by the 
work of Arthur Miller and Henrik Ibsen.

I love movies. Hopefully one day I can include my movie on this list! My play Lost In 
Paradise was optioned for a film and adapted into a screenplay and the producers are 
raising the money as we speak! Here are my favs in terms of writing: On the Waterfront, 
The Godfather, The Graduate, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Crimes and 
Misdemeanors, Dog Day Afternoon, Do The Right Thing, Cool Hand Luke.... and more 
recently: Moonlight. I am sure I am forgetting some.

SBTS:  Any other projects?
Another new play of mine, Senescence, will be presented at Axial this Fall. I already 
mentioned the movie which I hope will be going into pre-production sometime in mid 2019.
In terms of Axial Theatre, we are entering our 20th anniversary season in September. 
Very big moment. And the acting program is celebrating its 25th year.