Friday, December 21, 2012

5 Questions with John Biguenet

The 8th reading in our FORUM "Soundings" series is BROOMSTICK by John Biguenet. This reading will begin at 7pm on December 21, 2012, and will be held at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dreyfuss Theatre, 285 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ. Click here for directions. Click here for a printable map of the campus (the Dreyfuss Theatre is located in Building 9).

In Broomstick, a witch confesses all—her first love affair, how she discovered her powers, how she has used them. But more than that, it is a funny and frightening return to our childhoods, where we first wrestled with evil and justice. For the witch is a completely unsentimental moralist who knows everything about the human heart—having been both its victim and avenger all her long life—and who metes out inexorable justice, immune to our pleas for mercy, cackling at our excuses. In Broomstick, whiners wind up in casseroles.

John Biguenet has published seven books, including Oyster, a novel, and The Torturer's Apprentice: Stories, released in the U.S. by Ecco/HarperCollins and widely translated. His work has received an O. Henry Award for short fiction and a Harper's Magazine Writing Award among other distinctions, and his poems, stories, plays, and essays have been reprinted or cited in The Best American Mystery Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, The Best American Short Stories, Best Music Writing, Contemporary Poetry in America, Katrina on Stage, and various other anthologies. His work has appeared in such magazines as Granta, Esquire, North American Review, Oxford American, Southern Review, Storie (Rome), Story, and Zoetrope. Named its first guest columnist by The New York Times, Biguenet chronicled in both columns and videos his return to New Orleans after its catastrophic flooding and the efforts to rebuild the city.

Biguenet’s radio play Wundmale, which premiered on Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Germany's largest radio network, was rebroadcast by Österreichischer Rundfunk, the Austrian national radio and television network. Two of his stories have been featured in Selected Shorts at Symphony Space on Broadway, the Long Wharf Theatre, and elsewhere. The Vulgar Soul won the 2004 Southern New Plays Festival and was a featured production in 2005 at Southern Rep Theatre; he and the play were profiled in American Theatre magazine. Rising Water was the winner of the 2006 National New Play Network Commission Award, a 2006 National Showcase of New Plays selection, and a 2007 recipient of an Access to Artistic Excellence development and production grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the 2007 Big Easy Theatre Award for Best Original Play; it has had numerous productions around the country. In 2008, Biguenet was named Theatre Person of the Year at the Big Easy Theatre Awards, the region’s major professional theater awards. Shotgun, the second play in his Rising Water cycle, premiered in 2009 at Southern Rep Theatre, with subsequent productions at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Florida Studio Theatre, and elsewhere; it won a 2009 National New Play Network Continued Life of New Plays Fund Award and was a 2009 recipient of an Access to Artistic Excellence development and production grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Shotgun is published by Dramatists Play Service, Inc. He was awarded a Marquette Fellowship for the writing of Night Train, his new play, which he developed on a Studio Attachment at the National Theatre in London and which premiered at New Jersey Rep Theatre in 2011. Broomstick, currently in development, has had staged readings over the past year at Stages Rep in Houston, the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans, and Portland Stage in Maine; it will premiere at New Jersey Rep Theatre in 2013. The third play in his Rising Water cycle, Mold, will premiere in 2013 at Southern Rep Theatre. This ongoing cycle of plays about the flooding of New Orleans has been the subject of articles in American Theatre, The American Scholar, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of the 2012 Louisiana Writer Award.

Having served twice as president of the American Literary Translators Association and as writer-in-residence at various universities, he is currently the Robert Hunter Distinguished University Professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.

1. What inspired you to write BROOMSTICK?
When an actress who had been in two of my previous shows asked if I had a one-woman script she could perform, I thought it might be interesting to write a play about the confessions of a witch.  The funny, formidable character I’ve wound up with returns us to our childhoods, where we first wrestled with notions of evil and justice.  But the story she tells is certainly not appropriate for children and certainly makes clear why men were frightened enough of old women—full of experience and knowledge and not in need of a man for anything—to brand them as witches.

2. Does this play have a strong New Orleans witch influence or would you say it is more universal?
After writing so much about the flooding of New Orleans following the collapse of its levees, I wanted to work on something unrelated to my daily life in a city in ruins.  The witch is an old mountain woman with a country accent, perhaps Appalachian.  She has never been to Louisiana or anywhere else far distant from the woods where she lives.  But she shares characteristics and kinds of knowledge widely associated with witchcraft around the world.  Her neighbors, for example, think she has a third nipple to suckle her familiars.  Of course, maybe she’s just a half-crazy old hag who tells people she’s a witch to frighten them off.  Then again, though, maybe she really is exactly what she says she is.

3. Your radio play Wundmale premiered on Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Germany's largest radio network, and was rebroadcast by Österreichischer Rundfunk, the Austrian national radio and television network. Was it written and performed in English or did they translate it? If it was translated, how close was it to your original words? 
Wundmale was translated from my English text by Denis Scheck, a wonderful German critic and translator.  So it was as close to the English as German can get.  I later wrote a full-length stage version of Wundmale entitled The Vulgar Soul, which premiered at Southern Rep Theatre and became the best-selling new play in its history.  The Vulgar Soul is the story of a man without any religious faith who develops the stigmata of the Crucifixion, his efforts to rid himself of the wounds, and what happens to him when they disappear.

4. Your play Rising Water had its New Jersey premiere on our stage in October 2008 and was written in response to Hurricane Katrina. With Hurricane Sandy recently destroying the Jersey Shore what advice would you give to a playwright who wanted to write a play about this disaster?
Before living through the flooding of New Orleans and its aftermath, I would not have guessed that love stories might serve as the best narrative structures to examine the consequences of a massive catastrophe.  But all three plays in my trilogy use love as the lens through which the human toll of such events can be understood.  So my advice to New Jersey playwrights is simply show what saltwater can do to a relationship.

5. If you were going on an adventure, who would you choose as your travel partner: witch, werewolf or vampire? And why?
Considering what I learned writing Broomstick, I’d have to choose a witch as my traveling companion.  An older, independent woman has seen it all and knows what to do about most problems—and don’t forget the great stories she has to tell on a long journey about all those whining children and hypocritical women and cruel men she encountered in her life who wound up in casseroles!

♦ Playwrights Theatre will present these readings free of charge, with an optional donation of $10

♦ A $25 dollar donation will get you a FORUM pass that covers all of the readings.

♦ A $250 donation will get you a rehearsal pass that allows access to all reading rehearsals.

♦ Reservations can be made online at or call (973) 514-1787 X10

Click here to reserve your seat to see BROOMSTICK.

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

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