Interview: Joe Waechter

Posted on May 15, 2013

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WaechterWhere are you from originally? Where are you living now?
I grew up in a small town in a small town in the Appalachians of North Carolina, and am now living in Minneapolis, Minnesota where I’m on fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center.

What first drew you to a life in the theatre and playwriting, in particular?
Growing up, I was always drawn towards writing. At first, it was short stories and poetry, and later it was plays. I think it was a way of expressing the things that I was too shy or scared to say out loud. Growing up is already so confusing, but growing up gay and Catholic (we were the only Catholic family in my school) made things even more complicated. Writing was a way to confront and give voice to those aspects of my life, and writing plays illustrated these feelings and ideas with more intensity. Plays are raw and immediate, and I love that watching them is a shared, collective experience and that multiple interpretations are possible inside of a single moment.

What is the first play you ever wrote and has it been produced?
My first play was called Gravy Boats. It’s never been produced. It was about civil war reenactments, country music, and home improvement. It was also about the things you hide in your underwear drawer, like secret and shameful things, and featured lots of cross-dressing by both men and women. I typed it out on a computer – in Comic Sans – and when I printed it out, I quickly hid it with the rest of my writing – in my underwear drawer.

What or who has inspired you?
I find inspiration in so many places. Right now, I’m reading novels again, which is exciting. Other inspiring things: dance performances, music, newspaper articles, painters, photography, poetry, and artistic and personal heroes… I get inspired when I get angry, or when I’m full of joy. My peers and fellow writers also inspire me. There’s so many writers doing incredible things in theatre, and they inspire me to be rigorous, take risks, and write bravely.

What was the initial inspiration for the play being workshopped at PlayPenn?
PROFILES, the play that will be developed at PlayPenn this summer, was inspired by a true story, but also by some essays about typography and existentialism. I’d been thinking about the possibility of writing a similar play for a while, but I hadn’t planned on writing it when I did. I went on a silent retreat that was led by Erik Ehn. We wrote for 16 hours and slept for 7, and in that time I had the first draft. I put it away for a year before pulling it out. It’s very different now, but the heart of the play remains intact.

Why did you decide to apply to PlayPenn, and what do you hope to get out of the conference?
I’ve heard incredible things from other writers about their experiences at PlayPenn. As writers, we spend so much time alone, and it’s such a gift to dig into the play through workshop with awesome collaborators. This play in particular will benefit from time with a director, dramaturg, and actors. I’m excited to explore and experiment with how the play functions. I’m also looking forward to sharing this play with an audience, and hearing how they experience the play during the reading.

What’s the most interesting job you’ve worked while trying to support yourself as a writer?
Oh, man. I have had so many jobs. Recently, I’ve been fortunate to piece together a living from fellowships, commissions, and teaching jobs. But I have also worked as a waiter at restaurants that range from NYC celebrity hotspots to trashy southern diners. I’ve bartended, mowed lawns, and done lots of odd jobs. At one point, I was inspired by that amazing and terrible movie, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, to use my personality in place of qualifications and acquire a job at a fancy NYC advertising firm. I worked there for a long time. But the worst – the absolute worst – was working at a truck stop in North Carolina, where my main duties included picking up garbage in the parking lot, cleaning the bathrooms, and scrubbing out the deep fryers.

If you could change anything about the American theatre, what would it be?
I wish that tickets were free and that it were less expensive to make. But I also want everyone that works so hard making theatre to get paid and have health insurance. In general, I just wish more people had access to theatre, and that audiences better represented the diversity of the world we lived in.

Complete this sentence: I write plays because…
…I’m compelled to write plays. Life is so strange. I think writing plays is a way of exploring and organizing that strange-ness for myself and audiences. I want to make theatre that moves audiences towards a greater awareness of our world, and eventually inspires intrinsic change

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