From the Archive: BushGreen meets Neil Labute
What plays should we be reading, putting on and going to see?
It doesn’t matter, just read! That’s overly simple, perhaps, but at the heart of this idea is something extremely valid. I learn as much (sometimes more) from bad plays than the good ones. ‘What not to do’ – that’s a huge lesson for a writer. Dip into as many of the great “isms” as you can; read a Greek and an Elizabethan (plus a Shakespeare), one of the Jacobeans and a Restoration play as well. Hit the Spanish Golden age and a Noh play from Japan. Gobble down a German expressionist (“From Morn to Midnight” is terrific) and compare it to the American writer Sophie Treadwell’s “Machinal.” Understand how we got from Moliere to Racine and from Churchill to Sarah Kane. Fill in the blanks the second and third times through, but just keep reading. It’s much like writing and exactly like that damn shoe company (Nike) advised: just do it. Oh, and if you haven’t read “Uncle Vanya” yet, then you suck.
too many plays to mention that should have been revived and haven’t been yet. one of my favorites is david rudkin’s “ashes.” it’s a great read and beautiful on stage–take a look. wallace shawn’s “marie and bruce” is worth a look, in fact most of his plays need to be reconsidered. aphra behn–she’s a great read, too, plus i just love her name.
What are your career highlights so far?
Shadowing Max Stafford-Clark around the Royal Court for a semester; working at the Public Theater in New York; working at various venues in London (which sounds like some serious English ass-kissing but it’s not, I just like it in England); meeting Mamet; sharing a stage with Sam Shepard (both of us reading from new material); every time the curtain goes up on a new production (seriously – that thrill never lessens).
Who is the greatest influence on your career?
Without ego I’d have to say myself – I was not coaxed into the profession, I had few models before me growing up and little encouragement. I stayed with it long after many of my friends did and held out while doing a series of miserable jobs so that I could continue writing (and directing) – many artists stood out to me and made me envy their life and works, but I’m the one who kicked my ass along the way, made myself sit down and write and keep the flame burning still. I wake up every day eager to get back into it.
Where do you want to be in 5 years time?
More of the same, I hope. Another handful of plays written and performed, a few more films finished – that said, I hope I continue to grow and to challenge myself as both a writer and as a director. I would love to direct other writers onstage and I’m also very interested in television. I’d love to try and sustain the lives of some characters week after week in a believable way (without resorting to cancer and twins and prison and traveling to Hawaii).
What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen at the theatre?
I’ve been lucky to see some beautiful plays and performances in my life – can it feel much better than the final scene in Stoppard’s “Arcadia?” or the last moments between two sisters in Churchill’s “Top Girls” (a revival I saw with Deborah Findlay and Leslie Manville can still make me cry when I think about it). Watching Vanessa Redgrave from the top balcony at the comedy theatre as a student – she only looked up at us once or twice but she seemed more alive and committed in those moments than most actors do during a whole performance. Brian Cox doing a Conor McPherson monologue in a little theatre in Los Angeles was a great night out. My favourite might actually be Zjelko Ivaneck doing a piece from one of my own plays, “bash,” over at the Almeida – he gave a performance that was a master class in stage acting. He absolutely blew me away.
Neil Labute received his Master of Fine Arts degree in dramatic writing from New York University and was the recipient of the a literary fellowship to study at the Royal Court Theatre. Films include: In the Company of Men (New York Critics’ Circle Award for Best First Feature, Filmakers’ trophy at the Sundance Film Festival), Your Friends and Neighbours, Nurse Betty, Possession, and The Shape of Things, a film adaptation of his play by the same title. His latest film Wicker Man, starring Nicolas Cage, was released in September 2006. Plays include: Bash: latter-day plays; The Shape of Things; The Distance From Here; The Mercy Seat; Autobahn; Fat Pig; This is How it Goes; Some Girl(s); Wrecks; and in In a Dark Dark House.