Monday, April 23, 2012

Medsker on Medsker; A Self Interview

Medsker on Medsker

Joshua Medsker, playwright
After Laura kindly published my piece on how to write memoir, she asked if I would be interested in doing  an interview with her for Literary Legs about my one-person play, Spenard. Of course, I was ecstatic! Later, she suggested I write about my creative process. So I split the difference and interviewed myself. I kindly gave myself permission to interview me. This interview took place on my couch.

Interview by Josh Medsker

What was the germ of the idea for Spenard?

Well, it started out as a sort of a short story, called “Spenard Girl”. She was a teen-age stripper, with no name. I did it as an exercise, to see if I could speak in the voice of a woman. It just sort of came out.

So, the play focuses on the lives of a teen stripper, a punk rocker, a Hell’s Angel, a homeless vet, a drug addict, and a housewife… yet in your publicity materials, you refer to the play as semi-autobiographical. What do you mean by that?

Well, it’s semi-autobiographical, in that I mined my memories of growing up in Anchorage, people I was friends with, hanging out in Spenard. With the Josh character, the drug addict, I played around with the idea of fiction and memoir… It is me—all of the background material is my own, but it’s sort of a down-and-out version of me. I like to say that it’s what would probably have happened to me, had I stayed in Anchorage.

Do you have a background in theatre?

Yes. Sort of. I got bitten by the theatre bug early, in high school. I started acting, if that’s what you want to call it, when I was fourteen. As You Like It. My best friend Chris got me into it. This continued on through high school and college. It really took off in my freshman year of college. I gobbled up everything I could. Sam Shepard, Edward Albee, and Chris Durang were all favorites. I don’t know if there’s a connection between those three… but there you go. Realism couched in absurdity? Dunno. Anyway, I soon realized—well, I always knew deep down—I couldn’t act, and I wasn’t very good at stagecraft. What I was very good at was analyzing the plays, and studying the history. So, grudgingly, I switched my major to Journalism. Best thing I ever did.

I understand that you directed the play as well, even after people suggested you not. how was that experience? Had you ever directed a play before? Written a play before?

First time directing a play, first time writing a play. Well, first time finishing a play. And like I said, it didn’t start out as a play. Form is something I constantly struggle with. Theatre was the only art I ever studied. I wrote shards of plays for various contests, but never finished them. I would move on to poems or short stories. Finished quite a few of those… But I was always afraid to write a play. What it really came down to though was, that after many years, a decade… I found that I really wanted to collaborate with someone, so theatre was the obvious choice. I pulled the “Spenard Girl” story out of mothballs, and it sort of wrote itself. It was just a matter of finding other characters for the girl, Tammy, to interact with.

Josh and Jason at ABC No Rio
 Directing was another story. I stumbled through that process. The vision for the show really was borne out of a conversation with Betsy, my actor. She had a lot of ideas about the physicality of the show. How a middle-aged biker would sit, versus how a teenaged stripper would sit. She is from Anchorage, like me, comes from the same group of arty outcasts and understands what I’m getting at without talking about it, most of the time. That was the best part. There were snags, though. Most of the nuance, most of the emotion had to come through in the words, since there’s virtually no action. It’s a writer’s play, for sure. The words stayed pretty much unchanged, all the way through, until after the first performances. But we had a bitch of a time with the costumes. They were sort of… minimalist, I guess. Gestures at a costume, so the audience could fill in their own details. But logistically, as a one-person show, it was a nightmare for Betsy (and me) to figure out a way to gracefully get in and out of six different costumes.

How did the play change as you went through rehearsals? Did the play change as you saw the productions? Was it difficult?

Betsy Bell, actress

Oh god, yes. I didn’t even know what it was going to look like until the day we opened. There was a nice little audience at ABC No Rio, the night we went on—as a double-bill with my friend Jason Black’s show, Next Stop, Nightmare. Most of the crowd was there for his show. He went on first, and thank god they stuck around afterwards. Very kind of them. So, as I saw Betsy that first night, I knew something was off. Something I feared, but wasn’t able to articulate until afterwards. I had some friends in the audience. Playwrights, photographers, all thoughtful and articulate people—and they were able to give me the feedback I needed to move the play forward in the direction it had to go. Specifically, and this is a biggie, there was no “through action”. Betsy didn’t know who her characters were speaking to, and the setting wasn’t defined clearly enough. All the job of the director. So, that lack of focus really hurt us that first show, I think. So, I tweaked it a little bit, for the next shows, at LaGuardia Community College. It worked perfectly. We established the barista as the off-screen “glue”, and the cafĂ© as the setting, and it went off perfectly.

I noticed you write a lot about Alaska, and that a lot of your work is autobiographical. This play seems to be in that same mode.

Second Chance Junk Shop, in Spenard
by Michelle Wisener

Oh yeah. For sure. Although, I have to say, I think this is the last I’ll write about Alaska for a while. Going back to the absurdist thing… I think it goes back to that whole idea of pulling off the mask of normalcy, of beauty, to reveal the beast lurking beneath. That’s my agenda in writing about Alaska—to show people the desperate, yet wildly creative and unique city that I knew.

Do you have any future plans for the play?

Yep! In fact, as we speak, I am working on a book/CD of Spenard, with some old Alaska friends. I don’t want to give away too much, before it’s done. I’m getting superstitious about that in my old age! But I will say that that the CD features Betsy Bell in a repeat performance of her previous roles, some old-school Anchorage punker friends providing musical backing. The CD will be tucked inside a fancy book of the play, complete with photographs by Alaskan photographers. There are a few creative twists we are all throwing into the mix, as well. It’s going to be amazing.

Hey everybody, Laura here! Thank you Josh for doing this awesome interview with youself; it was an ingenious idea! People, if you would like to see more of Josh, as always, please visit his website or the blog for Spenard, the play!

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...