Interview – Playwright Daniel Guyton

Daniel Guyton is an award winning Atlanta-based playwright who has been published and produced all over the world. His work has been described as “wicked”, “innovative”, “delightfully perverse”, “surreal”, and “funny”. Personally, I find it cutting edge and highly entertaining. Dan is not afraid to push the limitations of expectation.

The following interview speaks for itself and needs little introduction. He kindly shares his methods and thought process, opens up about his work, and intelligently reflects. Dan is a prolific writer and a true artist. Enjoy.

How did you start writing plays?

I started writing short stories and poetry as early as second grade. I received a lot of compliments on my storytelling from teachers and classmates, which encouraged me to keep going. By 7th grade, some of my poems and short stories were getting published in the school literary magazine. In 10th grade, I was asked to perform some of my poetry out loud at a school poetry slam, which was incredibly fun and exhilarating. I had always been a very shy individual, terrified to speak in front of people I didn’t know – which is one of the reasons that writing was so appealing to me. I had no trouble expressing my thoughts on paper, but I sometimes struggled with getting my thoughts across verbally. However, I performed in the poetry slam, 2014-03-26 20.29.11 HDRand the crowd loved my work. It only took one time hearing a crowd of my peers laughing and applauding for me to make me realize that I wanted this experience to last. So I continued doing high school poetry slams for the next two years. Pretty soon, though, that wasn’t enough. I tasted the spotlight and I wanted more. I started taking acting classes. For one thing, acting allowed me to get in front of an audience again, and two, the lessons I learned in acting class helped me fight through my debilitating shyness. I studied acting all four years in college, and by my junior year, I decided to combine my love of poetry writing, with my love of acting. By the middle of my junior year, I had finished my first play, and it was performed in front of my peers. It was a success. The rest, as they say, is history.

How do you come up with your ideas?

There’s actually no easy answer for this. Every play is different. Often times, there will be a major news event, such as a bizarre killing, or an idiot going off on a homophobic rant on national television, and I’ll think, “Why would someone behave that way? That type of behavior makes no sense to me.” So then I become fascinated with that behavior, I start researching the behavior, trying to figure out what it is that would make a human being do such a bizarre and sometimes horrific thing, and then I’ll write a play from that person’s perspective. In a way, it helps me understand the more bizarre aspects of human behavior. Of course, other times, I’ll just come up with a funny title, such as “Mrs. Claus Gets Menopause” or “Macabre-Cadabra” and then I’ll try to come up with a compelling storyline that fits the title. Many times for me, playwriting is a form of puzzle solving. I get several pieces of the puzzle in my head, and then I have to put them together in a compelling narrative.

How many plays have you written?

52 plays and 12 screenplays.

How many have been produced? Where?

I’ve been produced 181 times. The most exotic locales were Reykjavic Iceland, London England, Canberra Australia, and British Columbia Canada. Aside from that, I’ve been produced in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, and several other cities throughout the country. But probably the most exciting American city was thisIMG_9607 past December in Malverne, NY. A small theatre company there produced my play “Last of the Tannenbaums”. It was pretty epic.

What are your favorites?

See above.

Who inspires you?

My favorite playwrights are Harold Pinter, Jean Giraudoux, Christopher Durang, Martin McDonagh, John Leguizamo, Moliere, and Tony Kushner. As a screenwriter, I’m also inspired by Harold Pinter and Martin McDonagh, but also by Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. Other storytellers I admire are Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin, and Jeff Lindsay.

How do you market yourself? What are some strategies to getting your name out there?

I use Facebook heavily (www.facebook.com/dguyton21). I also have a website (www.danguyton.com), a blog (http://danguyton.blogspot.com) and a twitter account (www.twitter.com/dguyton21). I submit my work out constantly. I’m a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and they have a Sourcebook that they update once a year, with contact information for theatres that accept new works, playwriting contests, residencies, agents, etc. I’m also a member of The Official Playwrights of Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2351514659/), and the Playwright’s Binge (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/playwrightbinge/info). As far as strategies go, I would recommend a multi-pronged approach: A) The more plays you have written, the more contests and theaters you’ll be eligible to submit to. Many times a theatre will specifically request a comedy with 2-4 characters. If you only have dramas with 10 characters available, then that will hinder your chances for that particular theatre. Sometimes I’ll even write a play based on the criteria given out by the competition. (For instance, a competition might suggest something like, “write a 2-character play about vampires, set in the Middle East”, and if it sounds fun to me, I’ll actually write a play that fits). The point is, never stop writing. B) Submit to as many theatres as you possibly can. It truly is a numbers game. The more often you submit, the more likely you are to find a match. And do not be afraid of rejections. I get at least 10 rejections for every 1 theatre that accepts my work. C) Be proud of your work. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re a playwright. I’ve had so many experiences where someone will say, “Oh you’re a playwright? We’re actually looking for a play at our theatre right now!” Or “Oh my god, my best friend is a director. You should totally contact so-and-so at this address!” Hey, it works. D) Join a local playwriting group. Many of the larger cities have them, and if your town or city doesn’t have one, start one. Just invite local playwrights to meet in your home or at a coffee shop. It’s a great chance to meet other playwrights from your area. You might even invite local actors to come and read for you. (It helps if you buy food or drinks for the actors). It’s also a great chance to get feedback on your plays, give feedback on other people’s plays. Plus, some of those other playwrights and actors may also be producers, and they may like what you’ve written. (I’ve had this experience as well). And E) There is nothing wrong with self-producing. It can be costly if you’re not sure what you’re doing, but if all else fails, you will get your work out there.

Don’t aspire. Do.
The minute you write your first play, you are no longer an aspiring playwright,
you ARE a playwright

IMG_6096

 

What is your writing process like? How do you know an idea is good and what steps do you take to construct the play?

For me, writing is like putting together a puzzle. I will often get ideas from the strangest sources – newspaper articles, a weird dream I have, a funny-sounding title, some guy acting weird at the supermarket. There’s no telling where the ideas come, but I get them all the time. What sets the playwright apart from your average run-of-the-mill crazy person, however, is that the playwright has to tell a cohesive story with those ideas. In most plays, there are interesting characters, dialogue that keeps your attention, visual elements, special sounds, lighting, etc. The playwright needs to be conscious of all of these elements, and combine them in a way that keeps the audience’s attention. I could have a brilliant idea about space aliens blowing up Mt. Rushmore, but if that story doesn’t have a compelling arc, or characters I can connect with, then it’s just an idea, and nothing more. It only becomes a play when ALL of the elements (Character, dialogue, plot, etc) come in together to make an interesting story.

If this isn’t your full time job, how do you balance your professional responsibilities with your play writing?

My dream is to one day write full time for a living. Unfortunately, I am not there yet. I do work 40 hrs a week at a day job, which has a very long commute. What this means is that weekdays are pretty much out, as far as writing. I get home from work, and I am beat. Before I was married, I would typically come home from work and then start writing until the wee hours of the morning, and then be exhausted the next day at work. Now, my wife helps remind me that I actually do need to sleep, and I also need downtime when I’m neither working or writing. So weeknights are typically spent relaxing. The weekends are when I get to do all of my writing, and get my play submissions in. This leaves me very little time for a social life, unfortunately, but I was never a huge social butterfly anyway. Still, I am hoping to someday write full-time for a living, and not have to worry about the day job. Ah, the American dream, right?

What is some advice you can give to aspiring playwrights?

Don’t aspire. Do. The minute you write your first play, you are no longer an aspiring playwright, you ARE a playwright. It is not an easy lifestyle, and even the big-time playwrights that you read about have not always had it so easy. But if you have a passion for it, then you need to do it. Regardless of what I say, or what anyone says, you’ll know if you want to be a playwright. The stories are in your heart, and you feel the need to get them out. Do it. Get those stories out by all means. Playwriting is a passion. It’s a compulsion. It’s also an art form. So even if you never make a million dollars off of it, don’t let that stop you. When I was in college, I had a professor tell me, after reading one of my plays, “Don’t quit your day job.” I didn’t even have a day job – I was in college! But a wiser person than I once said, “Success is the best revenge.” So for the next seven or eight years, every time I won an award or earned a production, I made sure to email that professor and say, “I haven’t quit my day job yet, professor, but I’m getting closer and closer every day.” After about 8 years, this stopped being fun for me, so I quit writing him. But don’t let anyone tell you that your stories have no value. All art is subjective, so even if a thousand people hate your work, if ONE person likes it, then it has value to that one person. Plus, history is riddled with artists who were not respected in their lifetime, but who became legends later on. Alfred Jarry, Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, Vincent Van Gogh… Just remember – your work will always have value to someone. Even if the majority of people don’t see it just yet.

Final thoughts?

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to contact me at www.danguyton.com.

Thank you for inviting me to interview with you, David. This was a lot of fun!

Shakespeare’s 450th: A selection of favorite speeches

Today, on Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, I’ve decided to post some powerful, well-known, or favorite speeches from his plays. Just a few, not all (I have a lot of favorites). These are the ones that resonate with me for one reason or another.
What they all have in common is that they explore some part of humanity. Shakespeare forces us to take a microscope to ourselves, and that’s what makes the work stand up to time – it isn’t dated, because human nature isn’t dated. As you read these speeches, don’t be afraid to stop, ponder, and re-read. You never know what gems are hiding in those rich words, or how they may affect you.

Macbeth
V.v.20

MACBETH She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

* * *

Hamlet
III.i.64

HAMLET
To be or not to be—that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep—
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowardsof us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Issicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.—Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia.—Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

* * *

King Lear
II.iv.304

LEAR
O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s. Thou art a lady;
If only to go warm were gorgeous,
Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st,
Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But, for true
need—
You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need!
You see me here, you gods, a poor old man
As full of grief as age, wretched in both.
If it be you that stirs these daughters’ hearts
Against their father, fool me not so much
To bear it tamely. Touch me with noble anger,
And let not women’s weapons, water drops,
Stain my man’s cheeks.—No, you unnatural hags,
I will have such revenges on you both
That all the world shall—I will do such things—
What they are yet I know not, but they shall be
The terrors of the earth! You think I’ll weep.
No, I’ll not weep.
I have full cause of weeping, but this heart
Storm and tempest.
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws
Or ere I’ll weep.—O Fool, I shall go mad!

* * *

Julius Caesar 
III.ii.82

ANTONY
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest
(For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men),
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me,
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And sure he is an honorable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you, then, to mourn for
him?—
O judgment, thouart fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason!—Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

* * *

Henry V
III.i.1

KING HENRY
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once
more,
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility,
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews,summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage,
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect,
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon, let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a gallèd rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base
Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth, and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, younoblest English,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought,
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
Dishonor not your mothers. Now attest
That those whom you called fathers did beget you.
Be copy now tomen of grosser blood
And teach them how to war. And you, good
yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture. Let us swear
That you are worth your breeding, which I doubt
not,
For there is none of you so mean and base
That hath not noble luster in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot.
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

* * *

Richard III
I.i.1

RICHARD
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York,
And all the clouds that loured upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barbèd steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;
I, that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate, the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mewed up
About a prophecy which says that “G”
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul. Here Clarence
comes.

* * *

As You Like It
II.vii.146:

JAQUES All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

 

Obligatory clip art birthday cake.
Obligatory clip art birthday cake.