TENN Questions for Jeremy Sony

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Ingram New Works Playwright Jeremy Sony Welcome back friends! Do you feel like you are getting to know our Ingram New Works Playwrights better? We hope so. Next up is Andrew Kramer's interview with Jeremy Sony with only TENN (10) questions. Jeremy and Andrew decided to mix up the interview format and chatted with each other over Internet chat, giving the interview a bit more freeform or as they say a "Rolling Stone" style.

ANDREW KRAMER: So let's start with like, a huge question that probably requires a huge answer. WHY Nashville Rep? Like, if it was "because the opportunity popped up" great.... but was there something else?

JEREMY SONY: I learned long ago that not every opportunity is guaranteed and that not every opportunity is worth taking, so I do my homework before applying to anything. The WHY in "Why Nashville Rep" has more to do with the fact that they wanted to start with an idea, not a play. Since most development opportunities come in the form of "send us a play, we'll help you improve it" (and that's awesome, because sometimes I've got a play and I'm stuck), I was fascinated in Nashville Rep's approach; to work with the writers on an idea and bring it to life. I'd heard about this opportunity a couple of years ago from one of my wife's friends. That friend thought it was a full time kind of job thing and wanted me to apply. When I started researching it, I found out I knew one of last year's writers, Garret Schneider, through Ohio University, and followed last year's festival on Howlround (http://www.howlround.com) It just seemed like a good fit. And then it was Nashville. Laila (my wife, for anyone reading this who doesn't know her) loves Nashville. So there was this sense that between people she knew and people I knew telling me about this, maybe I should submit. And, well, that worked out awesomely. That was a huge answer. You were right. I'll try some brevity at some point. I promise.

That's delicious. Sort of all things aligned, eh? Were you just super excited about a specific idea for a play that you decided to apply? 

Pretty much---I've been batting around the idea for this play...are we supposed to say titles this early for the public? I say titles. My first playwriting instructor ever at Notre Dame didn't let us use the phrase "Untitled Project" for anything. Working titles were the rule. So... Pathogenesis has been a play that I've wanted to write for years, but couldn't figure out how to do it. I knew immediately that if I were going to submit, it would be for that play. That idea. There's a quote by M. Scott Peck that I'm pretty certain I found on one of those billion and one quote dot com sites: "The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual – for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost." I knew that I wanted to write a play about this battle of good and evil within someone, how it could save or destroy the world, and that it had to do with a pathogen, and a father-daughter scenario. That's what I knew. There were characters trying to speak to me, but I was having trouble understanding them. I knew TNRep would help me understand them. 

I mean, a father-daughter scenario and AN APOCOLYPTIC PATHOGEN is pretty big shit, right? 

Yeah. I think I like putting the big stuff---in this case, world-threatening pathogens---against the backdrop of the everyday stuff. For me, that's family.

That's a fantastic definition. Give me a list of five things, a recipe if you will, of a Jeremy Sony Play.

Recipe for a Jeremy Sony play. 1 part family drama. 1 part dark comedy. 1 part grief in the face of loss (usually a death in the family). 1 part big world changing issue. Shake. Pour. Serve with a garnish of spirituality (optional).

I have to know more about this garnish. Spill it.

I have a fascination with angels and demons. Mostly the angels and demons within us. I grew up sorta Catholic. Got Baptized, never confirmed. Easter, Christmas mass, and weddings and funerals were about the only times I remember going to church; but I remember clearly sitting in stone cathedrals looking at painting of angels and halos and falling in love with those images. Went to Notre Dame for undergrad and was surrounded by Catholicism---it's everywhere, there---and I remember joking that it's like the mafia of Christianity (I'm pretty sure that they don't like that joke). It just felt too grand and gilded and ornate. And while I am hardly a practicing Catholic, there's still something about angels and how they play into our lives / afterlives that I love. Some of my shorter plays deal directly with that, setting angels in a more of a caseworker status and making Heaven into a social service organization. And from a character standpoint, I think faith is interesting in how it drives people (off the page as well). It can be for good, or evil, so when I can, I like to explore that. Sometimes it's subtle. Sometimes there's an angel on stage. Hence the optional.

Super interesting. I dig that. Tell me about the very first play you ever wrote. Whatever you consider your first play. But, let's make it more fun: talk about it as if you were listing it in a season brochure at a major regional theater.

The first play I remember being proud of was Do They Expedite There. It was a one-act that I started out writing as a slasher film on stage. I don't even like many horror films, but I like some, and wanted to bring that to the stage. So I wrote this opening scene with the tropes of horror movies screaming, "Look, I'm a cliché" at the audience. About three pages in, something happened and I realized this wasn't a slasher film on stage, this was a couple of college kids playing psycho and hostage on Christmas Eve to very real police for very real reasons. It became this dark comedy, almost a twisted sitcom commentary about the perceptions of TV cop shows and films and how they warp our sense of reality, all played out against this backdrop of a couple dealing with trust issues in their relationship. That was written nine or ten years ago, and I got to direct a festival production of it in 2005. And people laughed and it was my first real audience; the first time I got to sit with strangers and watch actors speak my words. Even if no one had laughed, I would have been proud just to finally see my work on a stage. But they laughed, so bonus points. The blurb, by the by:

“It’s Christmas Eve at Bay River College and Ray’s learning the hard way that taking his girlfriend Laura hostage to clear his name for murder might have been a mistake. Sixteen hours, an incident with a butcher knife, and one fluffernutter later, Ray’s options are running out. When Laura comes up with a plan to save them both, it sounds simple enough; but playing pyscho-killer and hostage is never as simple as it seems.”

Holy shit. That sounds sort of meta and sort of awesome. But I have no idea what a "fluffernutter" is. Is that a homophobic term? Just kidding. Kind of.

No. A fluffernutter is a marshmallow fluff and peanut butter sandwich. They're amazing. Ya know, if you like marshmallow and peanut butter together.

How am I from the Midwest and had no idea these things existed. I feel like they are 1000% Midwestern. I for one would never ever eat that. Ever. Like, at all. Ever. But I want you to give me a list of words you hope to hear people use when describing your plays.

Really think about it and narrow it down to five words. No hyphens.

That's a good question. Thinking....No hyphens... that's kinda cruel. I can do this. 

Duh. I'm a witch. I seek cruelty. Just kidding. But I do like witches. I would write a witch into every single play if I could.

Personal. Wrenching. Effulgent. Tight. 

That's four. What's the last one.......drumroll.......

Sony.

Is Sony an adjective? Or do you mean "Sony" like "Chekhovian" or "Brechtian" like, "wow, that play was so Sony"?

I think no matter all the other ways people describe my plays; I want people to know they saw a Jeremy Sony play. So yeah... like when people say, "Your work is so Pinter."

Love that. Keep with the personalization. Name a quality of each of your lab member's writing you find yourself loving, mostly because I need a pick-me-up because I'm struggling with my play.

Loving Nate's humor in dark situations; I find myself laughing at things in his writing and then realizing that I shouldn't be laughing because these people are going through some serious shit. Can I say that? Can we curse here? Going through serious painful life moments.

I think we're allowed to say 'shit', we're adults.

What I love about your writing is the ease at which you blend the fantastical with the everyday. It's not just, hey here's a family drama; there's some awesome theatricality to it, and some thematic visuals that I find sexy. And sexy meaning, I want to keep watching; I want to be in that world; I want more. You also craft a scene like a boss; there's intent, I know what your characters are after, and I know what's going on even if no one in the scene is willing to say it. Love that.

You're a chum. Thanks for those kind words. Totally needed. I'm struggling. Now Dean.

Dean's writing fascinates me because there's a lyricism to it; a poetry that’s staged. The play he's doing is very different from how I write in that it is this collection of voices and stories telling a bigger story, and when I first read him, it felt like learning a new language through immersion; very quickly he grounded me in his world and I understood it and I went with it and I love how emotional it is, how it carries you along.

You're like, the best crafter of compliments ever.

That's nice of you.

Just tellin' it like it is.

Ok. Ending it soon. Tell us where are you at, right now, at 4:07pm on December 26th, in your relationship with your lab play? Spill it.

Right now, I've gone back to mapping it. I was mapping it in my head and writing out the draft, but the ending isn't there and me and the play are kind of in a standoff. So I'm taking the advice from you and the lab and mapping it out on paper, flow chat / outline style. There might be storyboards soon. We'll see. It's one of those things where the end will only unlock if I find the key, which is in there somewhere. I got into bed with my play and it's handcuffed me to the bedposts and we can't find the key... so we're stuck. And company's coming over. So we have to figure this out or it's going to be really embarrassing.

We hope you’ll join us for Jeremy’s new play Pathogenesis, May 8 and 11. Check out the Ingram New Works Festival schedule and make your reservations early here.