Call Answered: T.J. Young Interview: Sperm Donor Wanted Playwright

actor broadway off-broadway play playwright queer playwright regional theatre theatre Mar 27, 2024
Call Me Adam Title Page. Call Me Adam logo is on the left side. T.J. Young's headshot is on the right side. In the top center of the page is an orange circle with jagged edges that says Featured Interview. Between our photos it says Sperm Donor Wanted. Below the title and in between our names there is an auburn circle that says

When I was sent a request to interview queer, black playwright T.J. Young about his new play, Sperm Donor Wanted (or, The Unnamed Baby Play),  I was very intrigued by the story behind the story.

I am thrilled he agreed to speak with me about this new show!

In this interview, T.J. answered my call to reveal:
  • His inspirations
  • What he discovered about himself while writing Sperm Donor Wanted (or, The Unnamed Baby Play)
  • His fears about presenting this play in public
  • The lessons he's learned about playwriting from his students
  • So much more

Connect with T.J.: Website, Instagram

Sperm Donor Wanted (or, The Unnamed Baby Play) After several attempts at having another child, wives Lisa and Bex turn to the internet for help. They find their help in a gay couple, Aaron and Charles. As we are pulled back through the events that got them to where they are, the lives of these four become more entwined and complicated than they had ever planned on. They lay their story bare, sharing their deepest fears about parenthood, the secret betrayals of their relationships, and say the things they never got to say.

Sperm Donor Wanted (or, The Unnamed Baby Play) will play at The Chain Theatre from April 11-28, 2024Click here for tickets!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? I started in theatre as an actor. I was lucky enough to go to a Creative Arts elementary school where we engaged in creating art and theatre from kindergarten to 5th grade. It wasn’t until after high school, after years of feeling like I wasn’t seeing myself on stage, that I wrote my first play. It was out of that desire to see myself and experiences I related to on stage that really drove my initial writing. I still write for that purpose, but it has also expanded to continue to explain life to the living.

2. After being a finalist for the 2023 L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award, your play, Sperm Donor Wanted (or, The Unnamed Baby Play) is coming to NYC this April at the Chain Theatre. What are you looking forward to most about this run of the show? I’m looking forward to seeing how the play is received by audiences. There are a lot of ways into the play, and I am excited to see how the play changes when people experience it. I think that first productions are vital to learning more about the play. The audience is a participant in the journey, and finding out how the ride is for them is critical.

3. In writing this play, what did you discover about yourself that you didn't know going through the inspired events? I discovered what it takes to actually have empathy for someone. The writing of it forced me to really look at the way I approach empathy. Finding ways to round out characters I don’t agree with and find the source of their actions was a big growing point as an artist and as a person. Truly understanding someone is hard. This play helped me find a way to do that.

4. What was the hardest part of the play to write? The hardest part was separating myself from it to craft a narrative that was compelling. When I wrote it, I had very little narrative distance. While some of the events in the play are based on my life, I still had to find a way to make it compelling while keeping the emotional core of what drove me to write it in the first place.

5. What is something that scares you about mounting this play? It is one of the most exposing pieces I’ve written, so there is a level of fear in that regard. You open yourself with every play you write as it is. This one has been an even more exposing experience.

T.J. Young

6. Where is your favorite place to write? I love writing in my office at home in Pittsburgh. I am right next to the kitchen, so if I get the need to snack, it is an easy trek.

7. When you are done writing for the day, how do you let go of the words and decompress? I either hop into a video game or board game, or I watch video essays on YouTube. Games have always been a way for me to decompress, either by myself or with others. The video essays have become a way for me to feel like I am constantly learning. Especially video essays about the theme park industry. Those fascinate me the most.

8. In addition to being a playwright, you are co-representative for the Dramatists Guild - Pittsburgh region NPP, Chair for Region 2 of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, where you also aid with the Playwriting Intensive, and teach workshops both at the regional and national levels. You are also an Associate Professor of Dramaturgy at Carnegie Mellon University. How do you balance all of these positions with your playwriting? All of it feeds into each other. If I’m going to teach playwriting, I need to be doing it. In doing it, it helps me teach it. When I teach it, I find new ways to advocate for writers. All of that feeds into my work with the Kennedy Center and the Dramatist Guild. Being in those spaces inspires and feeds my imagination, triggering the idea of a new play. So, then I start to write it. It is all a circle that feeds into itself.

9. What advice do you pass onto your students that you have learned from writing plays? It really is about finding a truth you want to speak to. Anytime I get stuck or am fighting to get a script out, I’m really fighting the fact that I’m not sure what I want to say about a certain subject or topic. Once I find the truth of what I’m aiming for, I can find ways for characters to explore, examine, and live in that truth. But you have to be intentional about what you want to say.

10. What have your students taught you about playwriting that you thought you knew, but they shed new light onto it? The idea of what theatrical means is something my students continue to teach me. What excites me about a show or a production might be different than what excites my students. When I hear them talk about how an element of a production moved them in a way I hadn’t considered or didn’t experience, I can start to find different ways into an idea that will reach new and different people.

11. What is something you can lay bare with my audience that we didn't get to talk about in this interview? I truly believe in the power of love. And not in a sappy “all you need is love” sort of way. But, in the way that love can make the bad parts of life worth it. This play was birthed out of a really hard time for me. When I sat down to write it, I didn’t realize it was part of the process that would lead to my divorce. But it taught me to love myself and the experiences I’ve been through. Love gave me the strength to recognize when I wasn’t receiving it. This play is a love story of sorts, but a different kind for each character. In relearning to love myself, I figured out how to love the trials I have been through as well.

T.J. Young, Photo Credit: Gregory Neiser

More on T.J. Young:

T.J. Young is a Texas-born playwright and dramaturg based in Pittsburgh, where he serves as co-representative for the Dramatists Guild - Pittsburgh region. His plays include WE FLY, The Inseparables (Pittsburgh Public Theatre Commission), Isle of Noises (James Madison University Commission), No. 6 (2017 Harold and Mimi Steinberg Award Winner – KCACTF, Indiana Rep), Lyon’s Den (2018 Harold and Mimi Steinberg Distinguished Achievement awardee), Ruby’s Baby Blue (2016 John Cauble Short Play Award Regional Finalist- KCACTF), Hell is Empty (2017 John Cauble Short Play Award Regional Finalist - KCACTF), and Sperm Donor Wanted (2023 L. Arnold Weissberger New Play Award Finalist). He is the recipient of the 2017 Ken Ludwig Playwriting Scholarship. He was the 2019 Spotlight Artist of Throughline Theatre Company in Pittsburgh, PA. He received his MFA in Dramatic Writing from Texas State University. He is also the NPP Chair for Region 2 of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, where he also aids with the Playwriting Intensive and teaches workshops both at the regional and national levels. He is currently an Associate Professor of Dramaturgy at Carnegie Mellon University.

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