Friday, January 4, 2013

5 Questions with Bob Clyman

The 13th reading in our FORUM "Soundings" series is A LITTLE QUID PRO QUO by Bob Clyman. This reading will begin at 7pm on January 6, 2013, 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). 

Mark is a philosophy professor whose specialty is altruism, or the notion that people don’t always act exclusively in their own self-interest. His friend Ben, a much more pragmatic fellow, sets out to prove that he can convince the most well-meaning person to give up their convictions and act from their most selfish motives. 

Bob Clyman’s plays have been produced Off-Broadway and at regional theatres, such as the Alley Theatre, Laguna Playhouse, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, San Jose Repertory Theatre, George Street Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Colony Studio Theatre in Los Angeles, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, and L.A. Theatre Works, in addition to touring Scotland.  His play SECRET ORDER was initially commissioned and produced by The Ensemble Studio Theatre under the auspices of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  It was subsequently produced at 59E59 Theatre in New York, where it was nominated for an Outer Circle Critics Award for the best script in 2008, and has since been produced at many regional theatres.  His play TRANCED, has been produced by San Jose Repertory Theatre and Laguna Playhouse, where it received an Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award in 2008. 

His most recent play, THE EXCEPTIONALS, also received an Edgerton Award and was produced in 2010 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre.  It will be produced at the Contemporary American Theatre Conference in the summer of 2012 and was nominated by The Independent Reviewers of  New England for both Best Play and Best New Play of 2012.  Four of his earlier plays were produced at the Circle Rep Lab in New York. He has been awarded a number of national prizes, including a Eugene O’Neill Summer Conference Fellowship, Geraldine Dodge Fellowship, New Jersey State Arts Council Award, Edward Albee Foundation Fellowship, Berilla-Kerr Foundation Award, Djerassi Foundation Fellowship, Shenandoah Valley Playwrights Fellowship, Playwrights First Award and Theater in the Works Fellowship.

1. What inspired you to write A LITTLE QUID PRO QUO?  and  2.  What interested you in altruism, or the notion that people don’t always act exclusively in their own self-interest?
Let me respond to the first two questions with a single response.  I’m a huge fan of unanswerable questions, particularly of the chicken and egg variety.  One of my favorites, which is getting tossed around a lot these days, is whether altruism is fundamental to human nature.  Some regard altruism as pure and non-contingent, an instinctual reaction to the suffering of others that often trumps other, more self-serving automatic reactions.  Others view it as invariably strategic, consciously or otherwise, gradually crafted over the course of human evolution to serve and advance one’s own personal agenda. 
In the absence of anything close to conclusive evidence supporting either position, I became interested in why some people seem so certain that the more feel so convinced that hopeful, affirming view is accurate, while others seem to take it for granted that the darker, more fatalistic view is the accurate one.  What interested me was why both groups of people seem to get roughly the same amount of enjoyment from maintaining and espousing their particular position.  I thought about how some people built their lives and made life-altering decisions based one or the other belief.    
What came to mind then was the idea of two old friends, whose testy friendship has survived since childhood, despite their holding strong, opposing beliefs in this regard.  I wondered what each one’s basic beliefs about human nature had not only guided him in making crucial life decisions, both personal and professional, but his happiness and reputation would be jeopardized if he were to lose faith in those beliefs.  Then I wondered what would happen if each friend’s desire to prove he was right became so intense that they decided to put their opposing beliefs to a test?  And then what would happen if the test got out of control? 
3.  Where do you find inspiration for your plays?
At times, I can find inspiration almost anywhere, even if the source is pretty well hidden, but the fact is on most days, it’s tough to find it anywhere -- even if it’s right in front of me, screaming and waving its arms in a futile attempt to get my attention.  For me, it’s all about creating an ‘inspirable’ state of mind, which eager, open and susceptible.  Easier said than done. 

4. Where do you like to write, in the comfort of your own home or at a coffee shop?
I prefer to write at home, probably because that’s where I’ve always written, so even on days that it’s hard to get started, I feel pretty confident I’ll be able to write again.  Home is also where I have the most control over noise.  I think the words that an actor says in a theatre are received by an audience in a very different, much more poweful way, when these words are surrounded by silence.  There has never been an air conditioner that’s so quiet, it doesn’t lessen the effect.  So it’s important for me to hear the words in that same silence when I’m first writing them.  Admittedly, there can be times when I’m feeling so in the groove, it seems effortless to write in the middle of a train station.  Ironically, it’s those moments of unstoppable flow that evoke the strongest sense of being ‘a real writer,’ even though I realize I’m much more of a real writer when I’m at my desk, grinding it out.  I wish I could be one of those writers who can say, ‘I get most of my ideas in the shower, or when I’m in my car getting groceries’ -- but I can never seem to get my brain into its writing gear, unless I’m looking at a screen or even a bunch of post-its, so I can move words around and actually watch them move.

5.  If you had the opportunity to sit down and have dinner with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and what would be your most burning question?
I admire a lot of writers, some of them playwrights, but also a wide range of other kinds, whose books have let me in on their quirky insights and specialized knowledge, while giving me a great deal to chew on.  And I’d probably enjoy having dinner with any of them, but it’s not a dream of mine – maybe because I’ve already read their plays and books, which if nothing else, communicated their thoughts more clearly than they ever could over dinner, because they weren’t just thinking up those thoughts on the spot.  Plus, it takes more than one dinner with anyone to get past the niceties and learn how to get to the richest part of that person’s mind or, for that matter, offer the best of mine.  And as for my ‘burning questions,’ it’s only after the conversation gets going that I start to find out those are anyway.  So if I’m only going to have this one dinner, I’d rather have it with one of the good friends who will unfailingly say things that I consider illuminating, simply because we’ve had so many years of practice.  

♦ 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 A LITTLE QUID PRO QUO.

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

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