Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.
NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Gabridge's short play Quack was a stand-out production at the Boston Theatre Marathon in the summer 2015. With its clever premise, poignant relationships, and quick and witty dialogue, the play feels instantly relatable and rewarding. In his Interview, Patrick describes the play, discusses some of the latest plays and movies that he's seen, and talks about his newest projects!
Hi, Patrick, and welcome to ArtsImpulse. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
I’ve lived in the Boston area since 2000, and, before that, I moved around the country a fair bit with my wife and family. In addition to writing plays, I also write novels (my Civil War novel about Robert Smalls, Steering to Freedom, just came out last year), screenplays, and radio plays. If I’m not writing, I like to be gardening or farming, or fixing up old houses.
Talk to us about your career as a writer and playwright. How did you begin? What have you done? What are some highlights of your career?
While I was in college, I wrote my first play, a one-act set in an elevator (LOTS of new writers write such plays) and sent it to a small theater company in upstate New York where I’d worked as an actor and stagehand. To my surprise, they decided to produce it. I was hooked. That was almost 30 years ago.
I’ve written a bunch of plays with a variety of styles and subjects. When we lived in Denver, Colorado, I helped start a theatre company, Chameleon Stage, and worked as a producer and writer with them for a while. Since I’ve been in Boston, I’ve been very fortunate in working with many, many different companies (more than 40 in New England). Being a Playwriting Fellow with the Huntington Theatre Company and New Repertory Theatre has been pretty awesome. I’ve been in the Marathon a bunch of times (10 or 11 times, so far), and I love it. Fresh Ink Theatre has also done two of my plays, and I love working with them. Lab Rats was produced by Brown Box Theatre Project in November 2015, and I got to go on tour with them to Maryland, which was an absolute blast.
Tell us about Quack. What’s the story? How did you write and develop this play? Why do you think that it resonates with audiences?
It’s a short piece about a young duck who imprints on a man and doesn’t realize that she’s duck. But, of course, it’s about a lot more than that. It’s about a young woman in her first serious relationship, who is allowing herself to be defined and confined by the man with whom she’s in love.
It started when I heard about an actual duck who was fixated on a young man. My daughter, who is a college student, told me about it, and then I started thinking about her and relationships and what first loves are often like for young people. And I adored the idea of the complete denial on the part of the duck of being a duck.
It’s a piece that really hits home for people. I think many of us have been in relationships that feel similar to Abigail and Andy. It’s a piece that starts out light-hearted and can get pretty dark at the end. I’ve seen some great productions of it here in Boston, and I’ll get to see it performed in South Korea (in Korean) in August 2016. It’s a ten-minute play that manages to be simple and also have an arc and scope at the same time. Which is tricky.
Do you have any writing mentors, idols, or influences? Do you appropriate anything from them in terms of style or content?
I’ve been part of two playwriting groups. First, I was in Chameleon Stage in Denver, Colorado, from 1990 to 1997, and then, in 2003, I helped start the Rhombus Playwrights Group here in Boston, and we’ve been meeting ever since. The writers in those groups have influenced me far more than any plays that I’ve ever read or seen. With Rhombus, we meet every other week and hire actors who read for us for a semester at a time, so I’m always seeing work in progress, read by fantastic Boston actors. I get to witness plays develop and watch writers whose work I very much admire, up close and personal.
Groups like that do shape and influence your style—either out of admiration, or else out of challenge—I’ve got a safe creative space where I can push myself to try something different.
What was the last play that you saw? Last movie? TV show? What were some of your reactions?
I see quite a few plays. I just saw Brown Box’s latest “Boxer Shorts” collection, “From Water to Dust,” and appreciate how much they can do with very simple staging. And I was excited to see four short plays that have a very different idiom from the mostly naturalistic work that I see. It’s been a super-rich month for shows—I saw Milk Like Sugar, The Convert, Back the Night, The Octoroon. It’s thrilling to see so much work written by writers of color and featuring diverse casts.
For movies, I just saw The Big Short (I’m a huge fan of Michael Lewis) which I loved—and who would expect that Adam McKay could make such a cool grown-up movie about something that’s very complicated, and also make it so fresh and compelling? And I saw Spotlight, too, which I appreciated for all the local connections (and actors).
For TV, we tend to watch one show at a time. I loved, loved, loved Luther. Now we’re on to the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, though I’m looking for something more fun.
Talk to us about your ideal day.
Probably a day split between writing all morning, then working with my hands in the garden or on the house after lunch. Then, dinner with family, and then off to see a play that features friends of mine (or written by a friend). And being in rehearsal on a show of mine on that day would be good, too. My ideal day probably needs to be about 28 hours long.
What advice would you give to other playwrights? Theatre artists, in general?
Advice? Hm. Well, I think the thing that I’m realizing is that playwriting is a long game. Seeds that I plant, career-wise, take a long time to bloom. And the same applies for developing my skills. Young writers get a flush of early success, but then it’s important to be able to weather the dry periods. Keep writing and build a body of work.
And theatre, like any other art form and business is based on relationships. You have to get out of the house and see shows and get to know people. At least that’s how it works for me. I’m really interested in the Boston theatre community, and how much we can all work to help each other. I’m running the New England New Play Alliance with this idea that people can pull together to boost the entire new play ecosystem.
That’s my big advice. Do your own work, but make time to work to lift the whole system.
How do reviews or reviewers factor into your writing or process, if at all? What advice would you give to reviewers for new plays?
They don’t factor into my writing process. I’m interested in people’s honest perceptions, so reviews can help me get a sense of that. And I like when good reviews help to build an audience for a play. I think that I’d ask reviewers of new play to try to keep an open mind. Perhaps try to read the play script after, so you have a sense of what elements you saw came from the production and what came from the play itself. Most of all, I think reviewers should see a lot of new plays. I don’t actually understand why reviewers write about established plays or touring productions of well-known material. What’s the point?
What is one thing that you have to do every day?
I keep a journal, as kind of a writing warm-up tool. And partly as meditation. I write in it most days. And eat chocolate. That’s really the thing that I try to do every day.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yes, it’s a very busy spring. I’m workshopping my play, Blood on the Snow, a commission from the Bostonian Society, which will be produced at the Old State House in May 2016, in a site-specific production. We’ve been working on this project for about 2 years now, so it’s exciting to see it finally happen. (www.bloodonthesnow.com)
Flat Earth Theatre Company is producing my political satire, Blinders, at the Arsenal Center in June 2016, which is very exciting. It’s a play that I wrote a while ago, but the current presidential election is making it seem more relevant than ever.
And, this summer, Quack will be in the InspiraTO Festival in Toronto, Canada, and produced by the AND theatre in Incheon, South Korea, in a festival of plays all written by me.
Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?
Thanks for caring about the local arts scene. There’s so much going on, especially around new plays, in Boston and New England right now. I feel lucky to be a part of it.