Friday, January 4, 2013

5 Questions with Hal Corley

The 12th reading in our FORUM "Soundings" series is EIGHT FOURTEEN by Hal Corley. This reading will begin at 7pm on January 5, 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).

Having had a serious breakdown after 9-11, New York City-dweller Henry moves with his wife to Mount Morris, NJ, Henry’s childhood home, seeking solace in the suburbs. Then the great blackout of August 14, 2003 occurs trapping Susannah in NYC and the jobless Henry at home. Eight Fourteen, with deft wit and great insight, examines both the fear engendered by 9-11 and the quiet desperation of men forced out of work by a bad economy.

Two of Hal Corley's plays, Finding Donis Anne and An Ounce of Prevention, have been widely performed (Seattle Rep, Syracuse Stage, Walnut Street, Westbeth, and in Atlanta, LA, Boston and Charlotte, NC).  Recent:  Brush the Summer By, Adirondack Theatre Festival; ODD*, winner, Premiere Stages Festival, excerpted in S&K's Best Stage Scenes of 2008; Easter Monday*, Pendragon, Saranac Lake, NY, excerpted in Exceptional Monologues 2* and S&K’s Best Stage Scenes and Monologues of 2011; Suocera and Mama and Jack Carew* in rep, and Peoria, The Death Bite and seven shorts, Theatre Artists Studio, Phoenix, AZ, where Hal has three times taught 10-minute play workshops.  His newest play, Weak Trembles, was in Pandora’s Box annual festival in October 2012. Hal’s The Imaginary Orange won First Prize in FirstStage LA’s One-Act Contest and premiered at Theatre Three, Port Jefferson, NY. Others have been produced by Washington DC's Source, Stageworks/Hudson, LA’s New American and Eclectic Company Theatres, Santa Ana’s Theater Out, Brooklyn’s Gallery Players, Orlando’s Playwrights’ Roundtable, and Ontario’s Flush Ink. Two of Hal's 10-minute plays, 1959 and Il Nido e Bello were finalists for the Heideman Award. His adaptation of Wilder’s Fanny Otcott is available from YouthPlays and his Christmas short Treed will be published by Playscripts.  Hal has twice been a semifinalist in the O'Neill Competition. For his work in daytime serials, Hal won five Emmys and two WGA Awards.  He lives in Summit, NJ. He is published by Samuel French, Inc.

1. What inspired you to write Eight Fourteen?

I had a strong emotional response to the blackout in August 2003. Like my central characters, I was an ex-Manhattanite, only in NYC for the afternoon, ultimately stranded and trapped for the night. The startling ways the escalating/then ebbing crisis moved in real time from a serious terrorism threat to feel-good party atmo struck me as a defining moment in our culture. With the shadow of 9/11 over all our lives in this region, the event was a powerful trigger and inadvertently created a kind of snapshot of where we all were. Though I considered focusing on one family's internecine issues (like my small cast plays), I realized early on that I wanted to move beyond my comfort zone, to capture a broader swath of society, a kind of collage of responses to the country's mood. The resulting topics woven into the 24 hours are varied: disillusionment with a failing economy, a spreading cloud of unease about the future, and especially the widening (sociopolitical) chasm dividing the country. Hopefully, while Eight Fourteen is a "period" piece, it (also) allows us to examine our current climate through a specific prism, a theatrical portrait of an era via a single evocative night.

2. Is your play entirely fictional or is it based on people you know who moved from NYC to the Jersey suburbs after 9-11?

The play is a work of fiction. None of the designated careers and back stories line up precisely with real people (though some occupations are professions I know well, especially daytime TV; see below). But the central family's emotional construct is at least loosely modeled on my own experiences, as I left NY shortly after 9/11 and found the resulting relocation challenging. For the first time I was a stay-at-home dad, and after two decades of city life, found the relative isolation a tough adjustment. I have been interested in deconstructing some of the cliches about city vs. suburb ever since, and 8/14/03 -- when people were stranded on either side of the Hudson -- seemed an ideal time to look at lifestyles and demographics. I appreciate the romantic filter through which we often view even the recent past; accordingly, perhaps 2003 now has an almost "quaint" feel. An irony not lost on any of us as this tumultuous year closed: after all we went through in 2012, 2003 may seem a kinder, gentler time.

3. You’ve taught several 10-minutes play workshops. Can you tell us a little about your process for this class?

I have carved out a niche, teaching the popular sub-genre to the absolute neophyte. I love working with those not only new to playwriting, but people who've never written more than letters or journals. My approach is to demand immediate commitment to premise and characters, using guided prompts to narrow/specific choices. For the uninitiated who haven't learned to second guess creative decisions, it's freeing, because plays take shape immediately. I focus on craft, characters goals, a source of antagonism, resolution. Since I use user-friendly worksheets to create backstory, structure, experienced playwrights might find the techniques highly restrictive; but brand new writers enjoy the instant gratification built into the process. A couple of my students in AZ wrote plays that went on to win contests/productions, and two in Summit HS placed in a NJ competition.

4. You are a five time Emmys and two WGA Awards winner. What did you win these awards for?

I wrote soap opera for 13 years, serving as co-headwriter on both All My Children and As the World Turns (i.e. providing background for the soap world depicted in 8/14 by the way). I came in via ABC's Writer Development program, and ended my run in soaps over a decade later running the program myself.

5. If you weren’t living in NJ, and could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I should say Italy, since I study Italian and the language became a mid-life hobby. But honestly, my two favorite places are the Adirondacks and Big Sur (both affectionately referenced in Eight Fourteen, ironically). Both are untouched, still as close to pristine as imaginable. The Lake Placid area has become a beloved vacation spot in the last twenty years, and though I'm not sure I could survive winters in the North Country, it remains a favorite place in which to ruminate, rest and sometimes even heal. 

 ♦ 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 EIGHT FOURTEEN.

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

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