Hometown: Portland, Oregon
It’s the third week of our interview series with the 2014 National Playwriting Competition winners!
This week, we’re introducing you to Spencer Slovic, whose play The Resurrectionistexplores grief and memory as a gifted scientist programs a robot to have his deceased son’s personality – though the authenticity of that personality is uncertain.
I want to start by asking you how you heard about the Competition? What led you to submit your play to us?
Well, I was in a playwriting class the first semester of my senior year of high school. The class consisted of writing a one act. We had written short scenes before. Our teacher basically recommended for everyone who was interested and whose plays were far along enough to submit to the competition. A few years before, four to five years ago actually, one of the students had won it so he kept on encouraging people to send their plays in.
What was the process of writing The Resurrectionist like? What did you go through to get to this play?
I had never written plays before the class. I had read plays before but I wasn’t in the theater community or anything. So, we read some plays, some one-acts and short scenes. We wrote a monologue. We wrote some comedic scenes. We started with a two-person scene then added a third person to make a three-person scene. Just reading and writing lots of different types of plays not in any particular genre. And then, halfway through the semester we transitioned into writing the one-acts we came up with. We wrote the first scene and workshopped those in class. We workshopped all the scenes we did. We acted them out. We improve-ed. It was really a hands-on class which I liked a lot. We acted out most of the things we wrote. Through that, the last month or so, we were just writing our one-acts. I had just finished the first draft when I sent it in to Young Playwrights Inc. By the time the class was over, I had a different draft altogether.
What really attracted us to it and what’s excited the folks who’ve come across it so far is that it’s an interesting blend of a sci-fi concept but also a kind of timeless, human dilemma. At its heart, I feel like it’s really about grief. Was there a particular idea or genre you were going for? What inspired you to write this story?
Originally I was envisioning more of a sci-fi type of play. I was thinking about setting it in space, like on a moon base or something. My original idea was for Brendan to be zombie, like an actual human who somehow came back to life. Somehow that all evolved to have a little more realism. It’s still futuristic though and it’s not really feasible in real life. I think it’s more similar to magical realism now than flat-out fantasy. I wasn’t trying to go for any particular type of genre. I was just trying to find a story that was worth telling and then write it however it came out. I wasn’t thinking about genre when I was writing it.
I think it is a story worth telling. I find it really relatable, what goes on in the family. Is there an aspect of the play you’re thinking of working on once you get to conference?
I’m not sure exactly. When I was talking with my dramaturg Max [Posner], his main suggestion was to give the characters a little more unique personality if I wanted to. To give them their quirks, to establish more of their relationships to each other. I’m interested in seeing at the Conference what I can do with just the character work, which I didn’t go into too much when I wrote the first draft of it.
You mentioned Max Posner, who is actually an alum of the National Conference. What’s the process been like working with him?
It’s been good. We’ve only talked once on the phone but it was a really productive, fun conversation. We talked about, again the character work, like how the characters interact with each other. Like the relationship between Al and Leslie I didn’t really flesh out other than their one central conflict in the play. He gave lots of suggestions of what else I could include without making it longer or changing the whole story. This way I could give the characters just a little more detail and depth.
I hear ya. I’m currently in the middle of a rewrite myself and I think about that every day! You mentioned you read a bunch of plays in your playwriting class. Are there any plays or playwrights that you felt particularly inspired by or just liked a lot?
One of my favorite one acts is Kobo Abe’s The Man Who Turned into a Stick. Just something about that. It’s not so much about the story itself but the ideas that come out of it. We also readNo Exit… which showed me the medium of playwriting as more of a dialogue based thing. I’m more used to working with film and screenwriting, which is a lot more visual. Originally when I was thinking of ideas for a one act, they were all more visually based, like what I wanted to happen, what I wanted people to see happening on the stage. The dialogue—once we started riffing with that a lot with that in class—that added another dimension to filmmaking too. But it got me thinking of a different aspect of story that I hadn’t thought about as much before.
Are you working on any films right now?
Yeah, I’m in a few different film clubs here at Stanford. I’m writing a few short films here on my own that I might want to produce. I’ve made a bunch of short films and stuff in the past and some other screenplays, like longer feature-length screenplays.
Would you mind telling me what any of those projects are about?
So the longer, feature-length screenplay that I’m writing, I only have a third of it so far. It’s about a man who lives on his own out in the desert in a self-sustaining, self-sufficient house. He grows his own food. He basically lives there alone. Once a week, a truck brings some necessities for him. It’s about him living there and one day a woman shows up at his door, sort of dehydrated in the middle of the desert, and he has to take care of her.
That’s a compelling idea. You mentioned the difference between visual writing and dialogue-based writing. I can totally see that story working through visuals. You don’t need a lot of language to show that character’s situation. That sounds really great and exciting. Is there anything else you want to say about The Resurrectionist or the process?
I’m still working on the play. I want to develop it more into maybe something longer. I’m not sure if I want that to be in the play format or transition it into something more screenplay. When I think about how to add more to it, how make it more…how to add more to the story, I’m thinking more visually. If I continue working on it, it will be interesting to see what direction it will be.
Regardless if it becomes a stage play or a screenplay, I hope the exercises you get to do at Conference will help you towards that!
Spencer Slovic will be joining seven other playwrights at the 2015 Young Playwrights Conference in New York City, January 7-15. We will be inviting members of the Young Playwrights family (like you!) to the readings of these talented young writers.
The deadline for writers in the United States aged 18 and under to submit a play to our 2015 competition is January 2nd.