5+1 Questions for Adam Szymkowicz '04, who Interviews other playwrights

BY Michael Juliani, December 4, 2015

Since graduating with his MFA in Playwriting in 2004, Adam Szymkowicz has been busy writing. His plays have been produced throughout the United States and in Canada, England, the Netherlands, Germany and Lithuania. In New York, his work has been presented or developed at such places as MCC Theater, Ars Nova, Playwrights Horizons, LAByrinth Theater Company, Primary Stages, The New Group and The Lark, among others, and his plays are published by Dramatists Play Service and Samuel French. After Columbia, Szymkowicz received a Playwright's Diploma from the Juilliard School's Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program. In addition to writing plays, Szymkowicz has spent a considerable amount of time maintaing the blogI Interview Playwrights. where he posts interviews with some of the most successful and interesting playwrights in the business. To date, he has interviewed over 800 playwrights.
How did you start your blog interviewing playwrights?
I had a blog and I was at a turning point where I either changed it or stopped doing it altogether. I had a show up and was being interviewed for the first time and I realized being interviewed was fun, and I thought, Maybe I'll interview some friends of mine. And so I started interviewing some playwrights, and I kept doing that.

Have there been interviews that stand out in your memory as particularly informative or influential on you?
So many. Theresa Rebeck. One of my mentors, Chris Durang. Mark Schultz. Here are some things Annie Baker said that stuck with me. “Don’t give up. Don’t love everything you write, be hard on yourself, but don’t become so crippled by self-hatred that you can’t finish a draft. Apply to everything—every writer’s group in New York, every developmental festival in the country. … And maybe this is me being a curmudgeon, but I think way too many New York theater people just see plays and watch movies and TV and don't read novels or poetry or philosophy or try to learn about history. A lot of young playwrights are weirdly anti-intellectual. … And I think you can see that reflected in all of the boring paint-by-numbers theater out there. So I guess I also recommend reading lots of books that have nothing to do with theater/film/TV (which is not to say that I think plays should be written for an audience full of intellectuals; quite the opposite)."
What do you hope readers will gain from reading the words of the playwrights you interview?
To me, it's most interesting that all sorts of people from all sorts of places do this thing. There isn't one path or one place to come from or one kind of person to be. I want people to grasp how many smart interesting people are writing plays right now.
Is there a play you are working on now? Can you tell us a little bit about it? If not, what other projects do you have in the works?
I'm working on a couple things. I just turned in an outline for a Violent Femmes musical. I haven't heard back yet, but I also haven't been fired yet. So yay! I'm writing a two-hander about a couple in their eighties, one of whom is dying. I've written a lot of large-cast plays recently. I might write a bunch of two-character plays next. I have a lot of ideas I'm excited about on that front.

And just to pull a page from your book: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person. (And tell me, if you will, how you came up with this question.)
This was originally a facetious question posed to one of my friends, but it wasn't taken that way so I kept asking it. I was an actor pretty much since kindergarten on and off in plays at my schools. I was pretty good, but not outstanding, and I got hooked on theatre by being in plays. I loved theatre but didn't love acting, and when I started writing, I started writing plays. The first time a roomful of people laughed at something I wrote, I was hooked and it affected me much deeper than when I was the one on stage making people laugh.

Is there anything else we didn’t ask that is important to know or keep in mind?
I think theater is important and necessary at all levels and in all places it happens.