I first interviewed playwright Mark Snyder in 2011 when At Hand Theatre was presenting a reading of "As Wide As I Can See." A year later, "As Wide As I Can See" is being fully produced at HERE Arts Center in New York City.
"As Wide As I Can See" is set in the backyard of a recession-stricken Ohio town, where the beer is on ice and the citronellas are ready to be lit. Dean, a disillusioned journalist, and his freeloading best friend unwittingly prepare for the most explosive barbecue of their lives. Tensions mount when Dean's girlfriend inadvertently invites a mysterious woman from his past to the party. Burgers are flipped and scores are settled in this new drama about remembering who you were and confronting who you've become.
1. What made you want to write "As Wide As I Can See"? I grew up with two wonderful brothers who, for different reasons, wound up staying in our hometown in the northeast corner of Ohio (where the play is set), and the love and dedication they had for the area always moved me and at the same time (in my urbanized view) felt very foolish. My own relationship with the region has been particularly complicated, especially while watching job opportunities, natural resources, and the communities themselves dry up and vanish over the past seventeen years since I’ve lived there. There is a reason that Obama and whichever yin-yang they choose as the other candidate will campaign heavily in that part of the country --- we embody so much of what challenges and ails our country’s economy and the deep, very human, need to be heard. People don’t feel listened to in Ohio, and they are very frustrated.
So I was curious as to how the concept of “place” and “home” can impact characters at various points of their lives, all forced together out of necessity, with all the conflict that situation implies. I started writing on New Years Day 2010 in a borrowed cottage in East Hampton – about as far away from the rust belt of Ohio as you can get! The play is my attempt to see our hometown through my brothers’ optimism and the relationships they forged with other locals who are all eager to bring the area back to prominence. Gradually, as Dean and Tyler and the women in their lives took the play over, it grew more and more fictional – except for the setting, which remains in essence a heightened version of where we are from.
2. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing "As Wide As I Can See"? I must admit to being very curious as to how the play will be received by sophisticated New Yorkers. It’s a tricky group of characters, in this play; alliances shift and initial impressions morph as you learn more about them. And the play is set very specifically in 2010, when optimism in our country had really started to wane. While I don’t feel like the play is “political” in that traditional sense, I do feel that the current environment is a huge backdrop for what happens and colors many decisions the characters make in the play. My dream is that audiences stop referring to Ohio as “the Midwest”; it’s closer to our coast then one might think, both in attitude and values. Maybe these characters will be the faces our mostly-insulated city places on the troubles in the rest of the country, who knows?
3. What does it mean to you to have your work at HERE Arts Center? It’s a dream come true, really; HERE is an artistic home to some of the wildest and boldest original voices in the city, and their spaces are both scrappy and elegant at the same time. My play’s decidedly well-made and traditional from a structural standpoint, but what’s happening inside the play is most definitely not. I like to think we are a good fit for each other.
4. This is your second collaboration with At Hand Theatre (Lila Cante, 2009). How did you initially get involved with them? A mutual friend suggested I send my plays to them, think we might work well together. I think it took me about four minutes sitting with Dan Horrigan, Justin Scribner, and Sara Sahin (LC’s director) to be completely excited by the company. Not only does their mission really appeal to me, but the warm vibe and the long-term commitment they’ve made to my work makes me feel so grateful and thankful and blessed. I can bring them anything I’m working on, and I know I will be supported, nurtured, and advocated for by everyone in the company. It’s such a rare thing. I read A Comfortable House, which is all about Circle Repertory Theatre and Marshall Mason’s collaboration with Lanford Wilson, and I just didn’t think those companies existed anymore in New York; they do!
5. What is it about At Hand Theatre that made you want to work with them again? Ha ha, like I’m fielding invitations all over town, Adam…Honestly, I came to them in December 2010 to meet about a reading slot I had scheduled for January 2011 with the company, for a different play. I walked into the room and handed them an early version of this play, and said that I’d like to do a reading of this instead. They said yes right then and there, before even reading it. As the company continues to grow, I’m developing alongside it. That’s really exciting for a writer.
(AHT Artistic Director) Dan Horrigan, who is directing "As Wide As I Can See," asks really smart and probing questions, and then leaves me alone to answer them for myself about the play. Working with him, and these crackerjack designers, and this beautiful company of actors – it just feels like the right time in the right space with the right people.
6. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing a play? I’m scribbling all the time – I really love honing the play over many drafts and many different actors reading the parts – and in the process, I understand why I wrote the play in the first place. It’s not one of those gigs where someone can say “Write me a play about ____” and I’ll just leap into the abyss of my subconscious and pull out something related. Playwriting is essential and we tell stories so we can illuminate the darker and oft-neglected parts of what it means to be human. And when the tiny epiphanies that occur when you are writing closer and closer to the truth of the moment, for that character, happen – it’s terrific.
And I love the first day on the stage with all the design elements in place. Theatre designers are the coolest people in the whole world. An entire world is created from what I wrote! Unbelievable!!
7. If you could write a play for anyone, who would you choose? I keep lists and lists of such names, but I would prefer to be surprised – and surprise you!
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a playwright? Deeper empathy.
9. If you could have any superpower, which one would you choose? The ability to mash-up; apparently the kids are loving it these days...
10. Favorite way to spend your day off? Last summer, I took a marvelous entire day and biked from Brooklyn to Fort Tilden/Far Rockaway beach for some sun and hipster frisbee. Best day ever.