Monday, June 27, 2011
And The Winner Is. . .
I know everyone has been waiting with bated breath since I announced the finalists for Montgomery Theater Too’s Adaptation Competition last March. Well, it’s June now and as promised we’ve got a winner: Fairy Tale High School by Bill D’Agostino! Bill isn’t exactly new to the MT community - he served as Tom’s dramaturg on last year’s production of Alice in Wonderland – but this is the first time he’s lending us his playwriting skills. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman I give you an interview with Bill...
Q: What is your hometown?
A: Chappaqua, NY, a New York City suburb. It used to be known (when it was known) as the worldwide home for Reader’s Digest. Now it’s where the Clintons live.
Q: Current Town?
A: Byrn Mawr, PA.
Q: Tell me about Fairy Tale High School.
A: Fairy Tale High School imagines what it would be like if all your favorite fairy tale characters - Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jack, etc. - were all in high school together, taking classes and getting into trouble. The witch teaches students to cook children who eat their house, the track team run laps around a beanstalk, and everyone (predictably) lives happily ever after.
FTHS began life as a sketch for a class of youngsters I taught in Harrisburg, when I was a company member for Gamut Theatre Group. The kids at the time were obsessed with High School Musical, and I wanted to write them something they’d be excited about reading. At the same time, I was also performing in funny and quick fairy tale adaptations with the company.
When Montgomery Theater announced its playwriting competition this year, I knew it was time to expand that initial germ of an idea until it became a full-fledged disease.
The play also owes huge debts to Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods, which was one of the first Broadway shows I ever saw.
Q: Who is Bill? Are you an actor? Playwright? Performer? All of the above?
A: I’m just the boy who can’t say no - to theatre, that is.
I got my BA from Brown University with a theatre concentration and my master's degree in theatre from Villanova University. For theatres across the country, I've acted (mostly playing clowns and pompous anti-heroes), directed (mostly new plays), taught and written.
Currently, my day job is the Communications and Education Director for Act II Playhouse in Ambler, where I also serve as dramaturg for many of the productions. That means I help do research, gathering background material to inform the work of the director, actors and designers. Last year, I was the dramaturg for Montgomery Theater's production of Alice in Wonderland, helping director Tom Quinn with his adaptation, and I’ll also be dramaturg for Montgomery Theater’s upcoming comedy Big Boys.
I was also a professional journalist for seven years, which I mostly did because I wanted to know more about the world to write better plays.
Q: How did you start writing?
A: My freshman year at Horace Greeley High School, I fell in love with theatre while playing Wally Webb in Our Town. Later that year, I asked my mom to enroll me in a summer theatre camp for high school students at SUNY Purchase. In selecting classes, I had to choose between musical theatre and playwriting. Since I couldn’t sing, I chose the playwriting class, and a new lifelong obsession was born. So really, I owe my love of writing to the fact that I’m tone deaf.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The fact that most of my friends in theatre can’t afford to pay off their college loans. Theatre is chronically underfunded in this country, which is why in curtain speeches we are constantly thanking our generous donors.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: In no particular order: Tony Kushner, John Guare, Anton Chekhov, Paula Vogel, Suzan Zeder, Bertolt Brecht, William Shakespeare, Michael Hollinger, Charles Ludlam, Thornton Wilder, Oscar Wilde, Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theatre Project, Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, Mary Zimmerman and a bunch of others I'm probably forgetting right now.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that’s original and fun. Theatre that gets my pulse beating. Theatre that's REALLY well constructed. Or really messy and exciting. Theatre that questions why things are the way they are.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: See lots of theatre. You learn just as much from bad plays as good ones. In fact, the bad ones will probably boost your confidence as you think, “I can write something better than this.”
Q: Plugs, please. Any other upcoming projects?
A: I’ll be serving as dramaturg for Act II’s Fall production of Sylvia by A.R. Gurney, directed by Harriet Power. It happens to be starring the lovely and talented Jessica Bedford, Montgomery Theater’s Director of Education and a classmate at Villanova University’s Masters of Theatre program. She plays an adorable stray dog. (For reals!) So I’ll be driving up to Souderton for Fairy Tale High School rehearsals while she’ll be riding down here to Ambler for Sylvia performances. We’ll probably pass and wave on Route 309.