David Koteles has had plays produced on the east and west coasts, including his award-winning, GLAAD-nominated comedy Bald Diva!: the Ionesco Parody Your Mother Warned You About. Bald Diva! was later published in NYTE’s anthology Playing with Canons: Explosive New Works from Great Literature by America’s Indie Playwrights and it was listed on numerous end-of-the-year ("Best of the Season") lists for best play of 2004. David's enjoyed numerous New York productions, workshops and readings of his work at such places as Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Class Company, The Rattlestick, Alice's Fourth Floor, Primary Stages, The Perry Street Playhouse, Manhattan Theatre Source, Clemente Soto Velez, the Fresh Fruit Festival, the Homogenius Festival, Cherry Picking, the Red Room, and the Westbank Café.
A graduate of the Columbia University School of the Arts, David has studied playwriting with Theresa Rebeck, Anne Bogart, Eduardo Machado, Leslie Ayvazian, Frank Pugliese, and Kelly Stuart. He was also honored with the Richard Rodgers Scholarship and a Howard Stein Fellowship while at Columbia. David graduated summa cum laude from Queens College, where he was made Phi Beta Kappa and earned the John Golden Award for Playwriting. He has also written several (as of yet unproduced) film scripts and TV pilots, and David was a finalist for the Writer’s Lab at the Sundance Film Festival. His play The Cook's Tour has received multiple readings starring Estelle Parson, Kathleen Chalfant and Mary Louise Burke. He’s a staff writer on the webisode sitcom, Ernie’s Girls. He recently adapted the bestselling book You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, written by married couple Anabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn, which is now on national tour.
Currently, David's new play My First Lady, directed by Jason Jacobs, plays from January 18-27 as part of the Metropolitan Playhouse Founders Festival. My First Lady takes a funny and unexpected turn towards a battle of race, class, and gender in the new American republic when First Ladies Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and Thomas Jefferson’s daughters gather for a friendly tea. My First Lady will be presented at the Metropolitan Playhouse (220 East 4th Street). Click here for tickets!
For more on David be sure to visit http://www.davidkoteles.com!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? I was always interested in theatre. For me, it was a natural progression. I did plays in junior high and high school. Went to a high school that had an incredibly supportive teacher who truly fostered creativity. After high school, I became an actor and did that for a few years, mostly Shakespeare and classical theatre. Then I was offered a chance to direct a play at a college. And being young, confident and, frankly, stupid, I decided I would write and direct my own play. "Like Michael Bennett did with A Chorus Line," I remember telling people like a complete idiot. However, as luck would have it, it was a pretty okay play and I soon left acting to write. I was so excited by the success, I quickly wrote my second play. Then a producer who saw my first piece asked if I had anything unproduced that he could read, and I handed him my brand new play. He liked it but it was only a one act, so he asked if I had another. I said yes, of course, I have a great companion piece to it at home, I’ll drop it off later. So I went home and wrote my third play that evening. Those two plays ended up running for six months in Los Angeles. I wish I still felt that ready to take on the world with such fearless abandon and gusto.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? It’s not so much who as it is what. I would someday like to work on a musical. I have no musical abilities, so it may not happen, but that’s been a lifelong dream. I also want to collaborate on some epic theatre, along the lines of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphosis.
3. What made you want to write "My First Lady"? Actually, I didn’t want to write it. I was kinda-sorta coerced into it by my friend and frequent collaborator Jason Jacobs. However, I’m really glad I did. I think we created a funny, subversive, smart piece of theatre. I usually write dark comedies about my family, my life and New York City, not about Dolley Madison and Abigail Adams. But every once in a while it’s good to leave your comfort zone—even if you have to be pushed out of it. This is a play I would not have written on my own accord, but I am certainly happy I did.
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? Well, I knew I wasn’t going to write a jingoistic play, and I just hope that’s not what audiences think they’re coming to see. I want the audience to look at the Founding Fathers through a lens that includes class, race and gender. (Yes, I was an English major in college). The Founding Fathers have become such sacred ground in the past few years that people seem to believe George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were infallible and are above criticism, which is so not the case. They were great men, of course, but they were not without their flaws and inconsistencies. Basically the premise of this show is what would have happened if Sally Hemings (Jefferson’s slave cum mistress) decided she wanted her place at the table? A lot of issues come up in this imaginary conversation. I don’t actually answer the questions, however; I merely broach them and offer some amusing quips. So I hope the audience will think about some of larger issues I raise after they leave the theatre.
5. What excites you about having the show be part of the Metropolitan Playhouse Founder's Festival? Well, more than anything, it’s great to be collaborating with Jason Jacobs again, and working with the insanely talented and hilarious cast we’ve gathered—they honestly make me laugh at my own material, which is no small feat. Jason told me he wanted to work with women this time, so I wrote a play for six women and made sure each role was juicy, with a lot of jokes, something meaningful to say, and a plum monologue. And I’ve got to say, that recipe secured us a really incredible cast. There simply aren’t enough good roles for talented women these days—this play should have been much harder to cast. And I actually wasn’t familiar with the Metropolitan before this, but it’s been a great experience. They are organized, supportive and generous, and have a wonderful stage. We’re rehearsing in the actual theatre, which is something that is unusual in many places. I’ve work on shows where we weren’t in the space until tech. Also, the other plays in the festival seem to be rather polished and professional. Truthfully, I’m a little intimidated because the other companies have taken this assignment very seriously—almost scholarly. We’re kind of like the class clowns on this bill. My play is equal parts history, bad puns and dick jokes.
6. What has been the best part of working with Jason Jacobs? He’s very, very patient with me. I’m an easy-going person in real life, but I’m a difficult writer, I think. I’m insecure. I never meet my deadlines. I tend to overwrite. Sometimes I lose sight of the destination and get easily sidetracked. I shouldn’t admit this, but I had months and months to write this play, but just finished it halfway through rehearsals. Which is a pretty scary place to be in for me; I’m sure even scarier for the director and producer. Jason is gentle and respectful, not just to me but with everyone in the cast and crew. He’s completely open to suggestions; he doesn’t reject a good idea because it isn’t his. He’s a true collaborator, who wants to put up the best show he can. Plus the fact that he’s remarkably talented and has tons of his own good ideas doesn’t hurt.
7. While at Columbia University, you studied playwriting with Theresa Rebeck, Anne Bogart, Eduardo Machado, Leslie Ayvazian, Frank Pugliese, and Kelly Stuart. What was it like to learn from such respected writers? You know, obviously you learn different things from different people in your life. However, Theresa Rebeck was perhaps the biggest influence on me. I was her assistant for a while and she was so good to me. She really took me under her wing, built my confidence and encouraged me to fly. Her advice was simple; she kept telling me, "You’re ready, put your work out there." I also try to be more like Anne Bogart in every aspect of my life. I think she sees the artist in everyone. She has a very generous spirit, and I want to go through life as she does, with good will toward others. It doesn’t always come that easily to me though. Anne is another person who made me write outside of my usual box; with pretty good results, too.
8. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing a show? Where is your favorite place to write? Well, I mostly write comedies, so for me it’s that first read-thru when I hear something I thought was amusing getting a laugh from the cast and creative team. There is little that is as exciting and satisfying as people you respect thinking you’ve written something funny and worthwhile.
It doesn’t matter so much where I write, it’s the inspiration that counts. If I’m inspired, I will write anytime, anywhere. And that spark comes unpredictably, from unexpected, unusual places. Museums stimulate and motivate me tremendously. Great art of any kind—a painting, architecture, a movie, a spray painted mural—can generate creativity in me. A good lunch with an old friend can excite me and get me writing. So I frequently write on subways and buses immediately after a walk in the park, a lunch date or a trip to MOMA—often on receipts and scraps of paper.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a playwright? I’ve learned that my family is insane. All I do is basically transcribe actual conversations I’ve had with my mother and people think I’ve written the richest, darkest comedy they’ve ever heard. And who knows, maybe I’m not completely stable either.
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? Again, "You’re ready, put your work out there." I wish I could have someone tell me that every day for the rest of my life. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I never think my stuff is ready to be seen. If I had my way, and it’s a good thing I don’t, I’d still be rewriting and tweaking my very first play.
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? Walking around New York, going to restaurants and museums, and exploring new neighborhoods. I just moved back, but I did live here for 20 years not that long ago, and this place still fascinates me.
12. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Invisibility. Has any writer ever chosen another? I think all writers want to disappear at will.