The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII
Baker, Bush, Harvey, House, Mitchell, Parson, & Shelby 45
like, “Wow, this local theatre. This is really cool. This might be better than designing vacuum cleaners.” It was, so I got involved in my community theatre. They were looking for someone to run through props or help build scenery; and I ended up stage managing, which I wasn’t very good at, but I fell in love with it. I got cast in the next play. I think I did five plays at the West T. Hill Community Theatre in Danville, Kentucky. I thought, “Broadway is ready for me, folks. I’m going to New York.” And I did. I was thirty years old. I got into the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts; I went up there to act, and I was terrible. I stunk. I am not a good actor. But I also saw a lot of theatre. It’s true: if you want to learn how to write a play, see a lot of plays. If you really want to learn how to write a good play, see a lot of bad plays. For as many good plays as are in New York, I would say there’s probably three times as many bad plays that are in New York. I’m not talking Broadway or off-Broadway, although they exist there as well. I went to see friends in plays. I saw so many bad plays there that if I could have snuck out, I would have, but there were only four of us in the house, totally exposed. I thought, “This is just awful. These are god-awful. Even I could write better than this.” Keep in mind, I don’t like to write. I started doing it—I started writing plays. I started adapting a book for my first effort. It eventually became a parody of Gone with the Wind called I’ll Never Be Hungry Again . I was at the tender age of thirty-two or thirty-three at the time. I was writing a musical. I know nothing about music. I don’t know an eighth note from a quarter note. I started writing lyrics and finding my way. I think the first draft was four and a half hours long, which isn’t much longer than the movie but nevertheless too long for the stage. With some friends’ help, I cut it down, and I did what I feel every playwright should do: I produced my own work. That, my friends, is hard. I rounded up some actors from New York, went back to Kentucky, went back to my community theatre, and said, “I’ll pay you guys. I’ll raise money to pay you guys.” I stayed with my poor mom and dad. We rehearsed and put on that play in two weeks. It was still three and a half hours; I didn’t cut it down that much. What a lesson that was—I learned about theatre and the respect I now give producers. I never want to ever do that again. I did it three more times, but that was enough. There was so much stress involved, but that’s how I started writing. I started writing because I was a bad actor, but I hadn’t quite given it up yet. I started writing to give myself work. I wrote plays. I put myself in them.
I finally journeyed to the point where I was much happier not auditioning, which, if there’s any actors in the room, you know how awful that can be or maybe you don’t yet, but you will. For me, it was awful, waiting for the phone, waiting for the chance to go be creative when I could sit at home and be creative and basically create my own destiny. That is why I became a playwright. I didn’t want to design vacuum cleaners anymore, and I knew I wasn’t a good actor. There are probably better reasons to become a playwright than this, but that was my journey into it. I started off writing musicals; and then I read a newspaper article when Timothy McVeigh was going to be executed for the Oklahoma City bombing in The New York Times —I was living in New York still—about the last public execution in America, which was in Owensboro, Kentucky. I thought, “I want to write a play about this and what it was like at this time and the woman who actually was the executioner.” It was actually supposed to be a woman doing it. I started writing it. I left musical theatre behind me, which is much more expensive to produce; and I started writing. I never got that play produced, but it sent me on the journey. Eventually, I wrote a play called The Other Side of the Mountain . For those of you coming tonight, you’ll see it tonight here at Emory & Henry. I sent it to the Barter Theatre, and I thought, “There’s no way a theatre in the Bible Belt of Virginia is going to do a play about lesbians. It’s not going to happen,” you know? But they produced it. They entered it into their Festival of Appalachian Plays and Playwrights. They produced more of my work eventually. And here I am now as their playwright-in residence. Why did I write a play set in Kentucky when I am the outsider? Because—this is going to sound so like I’m a copycat—because I love Horton Foote. Silas, that was my story. Horton Foote sets all his plays in Pearson, Texas, or thereabouts. He was living in New York, but he would write about his home. It’s true that I am not native to Kentucky, but some of my best experiences and a lot of my growing up were in eastern Kentucky. And I thought, “No one writes about these people. No one tells their stories.” At least, that’s what I thought in my very limited, very small Soho apartment in New York City. I thought, “I’m going to set a play back home for my friends and for my experience with it.” Most of my plays in Appalachia have an outsider coming in because that is my perspective still. I am the outsider. I am the newcomer. I don’t know how long you’d have to live here to actually be from here. I don’t know if
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