TENN Questions for Dean Poynor
NATE EPPLER: How is Nashville so far?
DEAN POYNOR: Dude, Nashville is awesome. From great food at Mad Hatter, to karaoke at Blue Jean's, to a premo cup of coffee at Eighth and Roast, I have been treated so well and everyone has been so generous. Not to mention the amazing plays I've seen and the work that we have done with the actors, artists and producers at Nashville Rep. I hope to experience more Nashville hot spots in the coming weeks, and I can't wait for our readings this Spring.
I stole this question from Jeremy Sony’s interview with me: In five words, describe what makes a Dean Poynor play.
Sparse poetry, searching immediate holy.
You describe your work as taking place at the crossroads between the mundane and the divine; What led you to explore that intersection?
I grew up as a son of missionaries and was raised in a decidedly Evangelical culture, and as a result I bring a particular worldview to all my work. Even as religion plays an important role in my life, I find I'm constantly examining the place of religious experience in the lives of my characters. I am constantly challenged as an artist and as a person to be more articulate about what I believe. As I do, I'm less interested in thinking about the sacred and the mundane opposites, and I'm more interested in understanding their interdependence.
Who is your role model as a writer? Or, you know, your literary hero? And why?
My favorite writers have always been Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and probably Italo Calvino. They all are able to spin intricate tales out of the most ephemeral of matter. Walker Percy had a natural, easy style that, like the best drama, acts on the sly. And I had an Ibsen phase, too, where I carried around one of these watermolded paperbacks that I found in some antique store somewhere with three of his plays in it. I think I was drawn to his high melodrama. I can see how I strive to be influenced by them all.
What is the single most important valuable life lesson you learned from a television sitcom?
Comedy takes timing, drama takes time.
How has being a parent changed your work?
See the quote on “time” above. Having a wonderful, effervescent young boy has been a blessing in so many ways. And it has drastically reduced my free time. A good friend of mine said that having a kid meant he didn't have any more time to get in his own way. I think I'll steal that.
When do you know you have a good idea for a play?
Man, I don't know. Usually because I can't stop thinking about it. Something clicks as a dramatic moment - a character, a line, a stage image, something theatrical - that would have an impact on an audience. And from that kernel, a play grows and grows until it's ready for harvest. But of course it's usually only one moment at a time, so there's a ton of work to do. I guess the kernel, the scent of drama, has to be enough to sustain you during the process of uncovering the rest.
How do you work? Is it a set time each day? A set number of pages? What's the typical Dean Poynor writing day?
I work in the cracks. With a one-year-old, it's hard to find any time alone. I used to write more consistently in the mornings, but now I'm able to squeeze in time over lunch, or at night. On the Subway I'll write down notes on my phone and then build out scenes when I get to wherever I'm going.
When you’re working through a rewrite, how do you decide what to keep and what to throw out?
Anytime things drag us down, either in terms of pace or in terms of taking us off course - wasting our time and attention - then it has to go. I wish I could always see this clearly when I'm writing it, but that's what reading and rehearsal is for. Very often it is something important that goes - either something that I like or that I think says something that should be said - so it's always hard to tease out the underlying function from the words themselves. But the act of making drama is managing attention and casting a spell, so any extra ingredient may spin the whole thing off in the wrong direction.
If you had a chance to rewrite a moment from your life, which moment would you rewrite?
I have a hard time saying that any one moment needs to be rewritten, because I can't say where I would be without that experience. There have been moments that I've not enjoyed, you know, but I'm on this side of them now. I would probably hate middle school again. Sitting in a desk for a long time. But then again, now I know how to do algebra, so it would probably be a lot easier.
We hope you’ll join us for Dean’s new play Together We Are Making A Poem In Honor Of Life, May 10 and 13. Check out the Ingram New Works Festival schedule and make your reservations early here.