Richard Willett is the author of the play "The Flid Show" -- about a man living with the effects of thalidomide, which starred the real-life actor Mat Fraser, an actual thalidomide survivor. His play "Random Harvest" brought the ghost of that 1942 classic film's star Greer Garson comically and mysteriously into the lives and living room of a NY gay couple. And his acclaimed "Triptych" -- which New Directions debuted in 1999 and brought back by popular demand in 2000 -- was inspired by the real-life incidents in which students from elite colleges were made to be photographed nude as part of a supposed research project. Richard has received an Edward F. Albee Foundation Fellowship, a Tennessee Williams scholarship, an OOBR Award, and grants from such distinguished organizations as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation.
Richard's latest play, "Tiny Bubbles," marks his return to the New York stage! "Tiny Bubbles" concerns what happens when a longstanding drinking friendship between two men, both gay -- the high-flying Danny and the more grounded Kirk -- gets complicated after Kirk decides to join AA. All manner of unpredictable things occur when one man's sobriety plunges his disconcerted drinking buddy into a dream world in which he alternately lives as a cloistered nun -- and as a 'Mad Men'-like exec partial to three martini lunches.
"Tiny Bubbles" will run from July 12 through August 13 at Medicine Show Theatre (549 West 52 Street, between 10th & 11th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? I wrote my first play when I was about five years old. My father was a writer/actor/puppeteer, so I'm sure that had something to do with it.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Right now: Linda Blair. She's actually a character in a play of mine called WEEKEND AT THE WILLARD. I recently met her and she's reading the script. And Drew Barrymore, because I think she would be terrific in the screen version of my play THE FLID SHOW. And Heath Ledger, because I'd just started wanting to when I couldn't anymore.
3. What made you want to write "Tiny Bubbles"? I wanted to explore the question of if there was a middle ground between the world of the 1950s and early '60s, when drinking heavily was considered pretty run-of-the-mill, and the modern era, when as my lead character, "Danny," says, in order to be dubbed an alcoholic, "all you have to do is take pleasure in a third lousy drink."
5. "Tiny Bubbles" is your first play in NYC in several years. What excites you most about having a show back in NY? What made you leave NY initially? I left New York to return to my birthplace, Los Angeles (I was raised, however, in Vancouver, Canada), and shift focus for a while to writing for movies and television. Movie and TV writing is much more about story, about what is happening on screen. The screenwriting guru Robert McKee put it well, I think, when he said that one watches a movie and one listens to a play. Returning to the theater anywhere is always pleasurable for that reason -- the return to an emphasis on language -- but also for the artistic control and freedom it provides the writer. Doing it in New York just means there are more exciting possibilities -- and I get to revisit my old home.
6. Do you feel your work has changed at all since moving to CA? Only in that I appreciate more the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of writing. And I now write with a tan.
7. Many of your plays deal with many real-life subjects such as survivors of thalidimide ("The Flid Show", which starred an actor who was himself born with no arms) and the real-life instance of Yale students who were forced to be photographed nude as part of a 'research project' ("Triptych"). Now, "Tiny Bubbles" deals with what happens when a gay man's drinking buddy enters AA and how that affects him. What makes you want to write shows that deal with these kind of subjects? How do you decide which subjects you want to write about? In the theater, the subjects tend to find me. Also with screenwriting, but the difference is that in theater you can to some extent still get your quirky, original play about intriguing subject matter produced, but in the movies, without a commercial "hook" of some kind, you can write and write and write and nothing may ever see the light of day. So those subjects are part of what I love about the theater. I'm not sure where they come from -- but all three of the ones you mentioned both fascinated and scared me.
8. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing a show? Rewriting. Where is your favorite place to write? At my desk at home very early in the morning.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a playwright? The first time I sat in a theater and watched a play of mine being done, I felt as if I were in church somehow, a profound sense of having found home, having found my place to be in the world. And I've learned to be amazed at the good fortune to have found that so early on.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? You create your own reality.
11. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? My boyfriend.
12. Favorite way to spend your day off? Writing. Always writing. Day off?
13. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer briefs. The middle path.
14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? To know the ending.