Julian Giat is a 2016 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.
Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.
Ventura is about the allure of pulling the covers over one’s head and returning to childhood, and why it’s worth resisting. In certain ways, I think many of us never stop learning how to be grown up, and when today’s world is at its most incongruous, the desire to return home, to a simpler time, rears its head. I tried to imagine a character who (terrified of the pressures of modern adult life and insistent of his own ineptitude) is forced to start again in his childhood home. What I landed on was James, who moves back in with his mother in west LA when suddenly and mysteriously stricken blind. When the claustrophobia of being taken care of again turns to an addictive coziness, when his adult relationships threaten to dissolve, and when an old childhood confidant returns in crisis, James must finally spring into action and find his way back to the world of the living.
How did you come to be a playwright?
My father is a screenwriter, who succeeded in raising me in the religion of plot structure and made me understand why the movies I loved worked. One of the first scripts I ever read as a kid was his copy of an early draft of Back to the Future. Though I imagined I could support myself as a sort of script doctor while studying as an actor, in my junior year of college I finally came back around to writing my own work, studying with Roy Kendall in London for a semester at the Institute of Contemporary Arts/Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. As my father had told me of his experience, sometimes all it takes is one great teacher and one great writer (for me that writer was Pinter), and that semester in London years ago altered my course exclusively towards writing. Much of the work I’ve seen since, including that of my peers, has utterly cemented that pursuit.
Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.
I have to take an obvious route here and cite David Cromer’s production of Our Town at Barrow Street Theatre. I think it’s the only thing I’ve paid to see three times. It was just one of those experiences that lived up to every speck of the hype, and it left me absolutely wrecked each time. Though there were plays that were influential ensemble efforts for me as a young performer, and plays that introduced me to theatre at a much earlier and more formative age, nothing has stuck with me like that production. I hope Wilder had an inkling of how shockingly modern his words would continue to feel. It inspired me to not get bogged down in postmodern distancing when an emotion or point needs to get across. What his characters feel is raw, and when they speak there’s no question of what they’re going through (even in an experimental play). Because of Cromer’s leaning into the artifice of putting on a show, and trusting the audience to dissolve that artifice, I felt like I heard those words for the first time, and adopted the cheesy habit of keeping a copy in my bag when writing in case of crisis.
Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?
There are plays and writers I can’t help but come back to habitually. Some, like Night, Mother, are classics. Slowgirl, by Greg Pierce, which was at LCT3 a few years ago, captured a quiet discomfort I’d love to tap into and still think about. I greatly admire Annie Baker, and have been studying John recently like a “found document.” Most of all, though, the entire body of work by Harold Pinter continually fascinates me. What many of my friends feel about their first experience with Shakespeare, I feel about mine with Pinter. I never knew language could bite like that. His first published play, The Room, is one of my all-time favorites, but combing through his one-acts, ten-minute plays, and lesser known full-lengths will always yield some brilliant, sad, hilarious, and incredibly concise turn of phrase that almost makes me wish he had held a Twitter account.
Seen or read anything good lately?
I loved Ripcord. I was also a big fan of Tom & Eliza, by Celine Song, at Jack, and Kingdom Come at Roundabout!
What else are you working on right now?
A bizarre sort of play in which the theatre is used as a lecture hall, and one in which the characters are stuck in an Old Navy. But mostly, I’m working on how to write about where we are as a country at the moment.
Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?
To learn about, and by extension write about, a greater variety of people.
Catch a reading of Ventura by Julian Giat on Tuesday, January 10 at 2PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.