Michael Tooher, winner of The Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award, Talks With Us

Mtooher.lores

Our most recent winner of the Hidden River Arts Playwrighting Award, Michael Tooher, was kind enough to sit down and talk about his winning play, The Perfect Sameness of Our Days which received a reading in Philadelphia this past April, as part of being the winning manuscript. Michael also received $1000.

His play, which addresses the suffering of a veteran with PTSD, was very well-received, and our audience was quick to discuss, during talk back time, how powerful the subject matter was, how sensitively the subject was handled.

1. The Perfect Sameness of Our Days addresses some very serious issues regarding returning vets in the United States, and the difficulties they experience. It focuses specifically on PTSD. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for this play, and your hopes for it?

It was a combination of thoughts and images, mostly from television and the Internet that were the start of the inspiration.I remember being appalled at the images of the casual brutality against the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point we had a general state that they didn’t keep statistics about citizens killed because “it wasn’t our job.” That, coupled with the neglect and abandonment of our returning soldiers by the very individuals and organizations that are supposed to care for them made me realize a terrible truth. No matter what side they are on, they are all victims. Days is the story of what happens when two of them meet. And because all intimate relationships are opaque to outsiders, you don’t learn the truth about the characters until the end. And even then it may or may not be the truth because they are hopelessly lost.

It strikes me that war, combat and conflict is not a normal state for human beings to find themselves in. So the only surprise here is that PTSD isn’t more prevalent. Ot perhaps it is and we have just chosen to employ magical thinking to deny to ourselves the horrible cost of our actions on warriors and civilians alike. This is tragedy in its purest form and Days, to me, reflects that. It’s a brief retelling of a terrible incident in an ugly place and there is absolutely no laughter or joy in it.

2. How would you describe yourself as a playwright? What are some of your primary interests and themes?

I like to think of myself as a wordsmith. It’s a job I like to do. I come from the technical end of the performing arts so the idea of crafting words has great appeal for me.

I’ve been writing for about 6 years now and what themes I’ve been able to identify are few because of the way I work. Almost everything I write is an experiment in form and style and I never know how it will turn out. That said it seems to me that dramatists have one universal truth,, that emotion is the language of mankind. I believe the more you can get on the page the better the play will be. As for themes, it seems to me that loneliness is the number one disease affecting humans. Also the terrible unknowable future of our planet, our society and in the end, ourselves, seem like fertile ground for drama.

Also, for some odd reason, I am completely obsessed with trees and doors. They keep popping up in my work and I haven’t a clue why. The Perfect Sameness of Our Days has a magical apricot tree in it that is a hallucination of a dimly remembered yet happier past.

3. Can you talk a little bit about the opportunities and the theatre community in your home area? What opportunities have you had to develop and produce locally?

Portland, Maine is a rocking theatre town. Not only are the professional theatres very active, there is a huge amount of constantly changing production activity. Informal groups come together all the time to produce work in storefronts, art galleries and the smaller theatre spaces. In June we have Portfringe, which this year is 50 performances in 7 days all over the city. I’ve been fortunate that my work has been featured in the Maine Playwrights Festival for the last 5 years and has won prizes and readings in other local festivals. On the production end, almost all of my full length productions and readings have been out of town. I’m not sure why, it’s really just the way it has worked out so far.

4. Do you have any advice to other playwrights, especially emerging playwrights?

Free advice is worth what you pay for it. This is what works for me. Your mileage may vary.

A) Treat writing like any other job. When you aren’t doing your day gig, write. Set a modest goal, say a page a day. You will quickly discover that you exceed your goal and very soon after that you will have a play.

B) If you start something, finish it.

C) Don’t edit while you write. Ever. Finish your first draft, put it to bed for 2 weeks then look at it with fresh eyes.

D) There is no such thing as writer’s block, you just need to go fill up your life experience tank. The inspiration will come in it’s own time and place. Like stagehands or cats, it can’t be controlled, just received.

E) Pinter said that “Acting informs playwrighting.” Try it, It’s fun and terrifying at the same time.

F) Trust your process. What works for you is what’s right.

G) Believe in yourself like a sickness. The theatre world is very competitive and some cope with their anxiety with smack talk. Ignore it, especially if it’s directed toward you.

5. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would just like to take this moment to thank Hidden River Arts for the award. But what I am most grateful for was the extraordinary reading during
AprilFest at the Shublin Theatre. Days was very much a drawer play for me, Personally my favorite but I had real doubts as to it’s playability considering it’s subject matter and unrelenting grimness.
But the reading changed my perception of the play, The amazing response of the audience at the talkback, where they ignored the artists completely and proceeded to have
a conversation among themselves for an hour about the issues the play raises, will be forever etched in my memory.

Thank you.

And thank YOU, Michael, for your generous answers. Our actors were honored to take part in the play, and as they told you after the performance, it was something that struck very close to home for several of them. We had several actors who were also veterans performing during the reading, and for them, your play was nothing short of a miraculous way to express the struggles that they saw personally, among their brethren.

The 2013 Hidden River Playwrighting Award submission deadline is June 30, 2013 at midnight.
We are always looking for provocative, powerful plays, and welcome your submissions.

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