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Daniel Talbott is an actor, director, playwright, producer and literary manager of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater as well as the artistic director of the Lucille Lortel and NYIT Award–winning Rising Phoenix Rep. His recent directing work includes Scarcity (Rattlestick), Mike and Seth (Encore), Slipping (Rattlestick), AZAK (Rattlestick/Encore), Lake Water (Neighborhood Productions), Eightythree Down (Hard Sparks), Much Ado About Nothing (Boomerang), Squealer (Lesser America) and The Umbrella Plays (the teacup company/FringeNYC—Overall Excellence Award: Outstanding Play). His plays include Slipping, Yosemite, AZAK, What Happened When, Someone Brought Me and Mike and Seth. He is a graduate of Juilliard and of Solano College Theatre’s ATP and teaches at Primary Stages/ESPA. [End Page 153]
Can you talk a little about how you started writing and what advice you have for other first-time writers?
It’s funny, because I still think of myself as a first-time writer. There are so many artists I work with whom I look up to, like Adam Rapp, Lucy Thurber, Annie Baker, Sheila Callaghan, Mark Schultz.… I really admire their work, so I still feel like a newbie. It’s always shocking to me that anyone wants to see a play I’ve written. I entered the theater world as an actor in the [San Francisco] Bay Area when I was seventeen. The scene there is very homegrown. It’s small and intimate. Berkeley Rep was one of my first theater homes. And even though I went to school as an actor, I knew I wanted to start a small theater and direct. So I started Rising Phoenix Repertory the summer of my first year at Juilliard, in 1999. By that point I’d done more work as an actor, producer and director than I had as a writer. Playwriting was one of the last things I tried.
Why did it take so long for you to give writing a try?
I don’t think I had the confidence to try and write something before that. Then I read this article about Sarah Kane in The New York Times my second year at Julliard. Sarah Kane is an extraordinary, ferocious British playwright who started at the Royal Court and committed suicide when she was twenty-eight, and her plays include Blasted and Cleansed. She believed in experiential theater—theater that you can taste and feel and experience fully, not just listen to and talk about. I’d never seen or read her work, but reading about her life and her suicide, and the way she talked about the theater, really moved me. Something just kind of popped in me, and I said, “I’m going to try and write a play.”
Was that Slipping?
Yeah. I finished the first draft in 2000 and sent it to the Royal Court Young Writers Festival [in London]. At the time I didn’t know what the Royal Court was, and I’m glad I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to send it if I had. I just sent it because [End Page 154] Kane had started there. They produced it as part of this thing called “The Workers Writes.” After that, David Van Asselt, artistic director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York, read it. He was really supportive of me. Basically whatever I am as a playwright I owe to David and Rattlestick. My advice to new writers is “Just do it.” I’m going to turn thirty-seven in November. The older I get, the more it all goes back to the work. I don’t think there’s any program or manager or agent who’s going to make or break you. Not that going to wonderful programs and having an amazing agent aren’t great and important; I just feel that you can still do your work and walk down the path that interests you, whether [or not] you go to the school you want or have the representation of your dreams. You can always do the work. I...