A New York Innovative Theatre Award nominee, Mark Jason Williams is a playwright who inspires people! Mark creates theatre for a cause, writing plays that tackle complex moral and social issues and get to the heart of the human condition. New York-born and bred, Mark received a BFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. As a playwright, his work has been performed all over the New York metropolitan area, including Off-Off Broadway productions at The Gene Frankel Theatre, Manhattan Repertory Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Source, and showcases at the 78th Street Theatre Lab and the New York LGBT Center. Mark’s latest play, “Recovery,” was a breakout hit at the 2010 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, playing sold-out nights and winning two Planet Connections Awards, including a special Activism Award for Mark’s efforts in fostering a partnership between the production and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, for which he raised funds and promoted awareness. “Recovery” will also appear later this year as part of the 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festival as part of Mark’s dedication to touring his plays throughout the country. As a survivor of pediatric leukemia, Mark is committed to giving back to the community, and has done extensive work for non-profit agencies that support people with disabilities, LGBT youth and individuals with cancer, among others.
His current play “The Other Day” is part of the 3rd annual Planet Connections Theatre Festivity and will play at The Robert Moss Theatre in NYC (440 Lafayette Street) through June 22! For tickets, click here! For much more on Mark be sure to visit http://www.markjasonwilliams.com.
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? You know how people say something is in their blood? I started writing because of my blood. When I was five, I was diagnosed with leukemia and spent a lot of time in the hospital. It was really hard at times, especially for my parents, so I started making up stories and having everyone around me act them out. Even the doctors and nurses got in on the “play” about Hulk Hogan vs. Godzilla. Later on in life, I ended up studying Dramatic Writing at NYU, where I met a wonderful professor named Venable Herndon. He was also battling leukemia, and we bonded over that and several other things. Venable provided constant encouragement, even when he wasn’t feeling well. His energy and desire to always focus on the positive was the biggest influence and inspiration in my life as a young writer. Venable was a mentor and a friend, and though he’s no longer with us, I can still feel his presence every time I write a play.
2. Who is the one person you haven't worked with that you would like to? That’s a great question! There is so much talent out there that I would love to work with, but if I had to chose one, I’d pick Laura Linney. She’s just so incredibly talented in everything she does, and she seems like a great person to have a drink with, too.
3. What inspired you to write "The Other Day?" When I turned 30 a few years ago, I somehow decided that it was time to settle down and find “the one.” I went on date after date, and kissed a lot of frogs, but didn’t find the prince. So, after each of these experiences, I’d go home, eat a bunch of peanut M&M’s and watch a bunch of bad gay movies where, you know, dating and romance always looks so hard-bodied glamourous. And I thought, “what kind of shit is this?” I started spending time more time around real-couples, and I grew intensely fascinated with the insecurities and nuances associated with dating and having a significant other. That, coupled with my desire to create a comedic drama about the human condition in which gay men break stereotypes and allow themselves to laugh, lose, love and be flawed--without being defined by their sexuality--became the inspiration for The Other Day.
4. How has writing "The Other Day" and other shows strengthened your life? I think playwrights are the luckiest people in the world. I mean, I have the ability to put all of my feelings into a play, which is way cheaper than therapy, and then people come see it! There is nothing greater than to hear an audience laugh at my words, or to have someone tell me they’ve cried or felt an emotional connection to the story. Writing plays has provided me with a greater sense of self-identity and self-confidence, and given me a sense of purpose. I feel like I have a responsibility as a playwright to tackle complex stories about the human condition with humor and authenticity, and to have people come and see these plays is the biggest compliment in the world.
5. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing a show? I love the rehearsal process; watching a director and actors find the voice and vision of the show astounds me. Sure, sometimes I have trouble letting go. I mean, this is my baby, but after spending years and years of parenting a script on your own, you want to see how it plays with others. As artists, we can be so intense and dramatic, but I love to just play around and see what works.
6. Favorite place to write? My home office. It’s bright, spacious and overlooks a river. Add a glass of wine, and it’s the perfect environment for me.
7. Favorite way to stay in shape? I probably should exercise more, but I hate the gym, so I mostly stick to walking. Sometimes, I’ll dance around the house or bounce on a trampoline.
8. Boxers or Briefs? Briefs. Boxers make me feel old for some reason.
9. Favorite website? Netflix.com. I love instant gratification.
10. Superman or Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman! I love strong female protagonists--especially ones that can twirl.
11. What is the best advice you've ever received? Stop thinking and start living.
12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? My grandmother, or Nanny, as she liked to be called.