Monday, December 5, 2011

5 Questions with Judah Skoff

The 13th reading in the FORUM series is THE GRASSHOPPER WAY by Judah Skoff. The reading will take place on Saturday, December 10, at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dreyfuss Theatre, 285 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ. The reading will begin at 7:00pm. Click here for directions. Click here for a printable map of the campus (the Dreyfuss Theatre is located in Building 9).

Judah Skoff graduated from Brown University where he studied English and playwriting. He won the National Playwriting Competition, two New Jersey Governor's Awards in the Arts, the New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest, and has been a finalist in numerous competitions. His plays have been performed at theatres and festivals around the country, including Playwright's Theatre of New Jersey, the Abingdon Theatre, the State Theatre of New Jersey, the Salon, the Theatre-Studio, the Great Plains Theatre Conference, the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, New York University, and Pace University. Judah's writing has been published in Red Ochre Lit and Red River Review.

1. What inspired you to write The Grasshopper Way?
The Grasshopper Way is about the abyss which opens up when loved ones leave. It begins after a mother, Lily, has inexplicably abandoned her young adult daughters. They must decide whether to look for her and try to repair their family, or move off on their own. But it’s also about the occult and the forbidden allure of ancient ritual. It features a rabbi who has lost his faith and a young woman who has psychic visions. Ultimately it’s about spiritual anxiety and the choices we must make in a cold and indifferent world.

In this respect I wanted to write a horror play, which is very hard to do. But it is not horror in the exploitative sense. Rather, I hope it has more in common with classic writers such as H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James, where the overwhelming feeling a reader walks away with is unspecifiable dread, along with fear and awe towards the vast, sometimes cruel unknown.

2. You are a former New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest winner, what was your play about that you entered into the contest?
Having won the New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest, sponsored by Playwrights Theatre, and now all these years later coming full circle by having my third play performed at FORUM, is tremendously gratifying. I have to thank my great friend and mentor, Playwrights Theatre’s artistic director John Pietrowski, for that unique opportunity.

My winning play, a one-act called Two Boxes, was an absurdist piece about a man guarding an undefined space (for reasons he can’t remember), from another man who seeks to cross that space (for reasons he does not know). It was heavily influenced by Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, two writers I read compulsively during high school. They were a kind of religion for me, and I studied their work as a rabbi studies the Talmud.

The play I am currently working on is called The Man From Box. It is an expansion and development of the themes and story of Two Boxes. It is set in the suburban house of a young couple. One day a stranger knocks on the door, claiming to have lived in their home and seeking to stay with them. I hope to bring The Man From Box to Playwrights Theatre when it is complete. I think that would really bring us full circle!

3. How many full length plays have you written? How many one-acts?
I have written four full-length plays and am about halfway through a fifth (the above noted The Man From Box). I’m pleased to say that three of the four have had (or will have) readings at Playwrights Theatre. Without anyone looking, Playwrights Theatre has become my artistic home. This is something that every playwright hopes to find. It’s a testament to how encouraging Playwrights Theatre is to new writers.

I can’t remember how many one-acts I’ve written, since I began writing them at age fifteen. But it was my success with one-act plays---their winning contests and getting produced at various theatres---that gave me the encouragement and confidence to continue playwriting.

4. What do you enjoy most about playwriting?
Enjoy is not a word I generally use to describe playwriting, but seeing a play up on stage in front of an audience is most satisfying.

5. What is the last book that you read?
I can’t name only one when so many recent books are still buzzing in my head. I’m a longtime student of theology, and so I recently read Rabbi Arthur Green’s marvelously heterodoxical Radical Judaism. Although I disagree with many of Green’s conclusions, his learned and insightful book is a powerful argument for religion in the scientific, modern world. It also has the best description of “religious experience” I’ve ever read. I also just finished Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Count me among those who believe this book to be, perhaps, the finest English-language novel of the last twenty-five years. I am currently reading British playwright Mark Ravenill’s Collected Plays: Volume 2. Ravenhill came to prominence in the middle nineties amidst an explosion and revitalization of British theatre. This second collection of plays cements his reputation and supports the argument that he is filling the theatrical void left by Pinter. What can I say? He is, quite simply, one of the best.

Click here to purchase a ticket to see THE GRASSHOPPER WAY at at FDU.

You can also find additional information on our website about the entire
FORUM reading series.

$10 per reading
$25 for a FORUM pass (if you are going to attend at least 3 readings in the series---this is the best deal)

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