Playwright’s Corner: Steve Yockey
There’s something big coming to Orlando Shakes: Playwright Steve Yockey’s PLUTO. But before it gets here, it’s got a few stops to make first. This new work receives it’s National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere at Actor’s Express (Atlanta), Know Theatre (Cincinnati), and Forum Theatre (Washington D.C.), before reaching Central Florida later this month. And the critics are already buzzing…
“This powerful world premiere production will not leave anyone untouched.” – Atlanta Theater Fans
“Imbuing his ripped-from-the-headlines material with the horrific impulse of Tracy Letts and Martin McDonagh — with a dash of Tony Kushner’s hushed and prophetic intelligence — Yockey delivers an American tragedy as important as it is disturbing.”
– The Atlanta Journal Constitution
In Yockey’s play, single mother Elizabeth Miller is trying to keep things together. A tree has crashed through her ceiling, the fridge is on the fritz, and a forceful crowd threatens to invade her kitchen. In addition, she must deal with the constant presence of an… odd new family pet. Amidst the chaos, time stands still as Elizabeth attempts to repair her relationship with her teenage son and confront reality together across the breakfast table.
Want to know more about the man behind the madness? Steve Yockey has been produced throughout the country, in Europe and Asia, and has at least eight plays published and available through Samuel French. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (2008). After completing a yearlong residency at Marin Theatre Company in the San Francisco Bay Area, he now lives in Los Angeles, where he serves as a guest lecturer at CalArts. Before Steve travels to Orlando to see his work on the Mandell Studio Theater stage, he agreed to let us pick his brain a bit.
OST: How have you been involved with the National New Play Network (NNPN)?
SY: I’ve basically been associated with the National New Play Network for my entire professional career, including participation in the Kennedy Center MFA Workshop, Playwright Residency Program, Continued Life of New Plays Program, Showcase of New American Plays, and the US/Australia Playwright Exchange. Jason Loewith, the former Executive Director, used to refer to me as a “poster child” for the organization. I happily own that moniker, even when the two of us are sparring on panels at PlayFest.
OST: Why is this organization important to the future of new plays?
SY: [NNPN] is an essential organization. And it’s not an organization for playwrights; it’s an organization for theatres that take risks and develop new work as a part of their mission.
OST: What inspired you to write Pluto?
SY: The play was originally a commission from San Francisco Playhouse to write about anything I wanted—which was great, but also meant a lot of blue sky anxiety because I could write about “anything I wanted.” So this play started out by cracking into the very common, unremarkable way we hold a fixed idea of someone in our minds. We meet them and decide who they are and then that’s how we think of them, done deal. It’s especially ingrained with loved ones. We have difficulty allowing our idea of them to evolve even when the actual person changes, grows, or becomes something different right in front of us. So, it was taking that idea and exploring it with scale, from the intimate (a mother and son) to the epic (Pluto’s reclassification in 2006). And a tangential idea, in my mind at least, of what happens when we don’t talk about things, about changes. Do they go away or do they just scream louder? Then I stumbled onto my own personal symbology for the cherry tree, which I won’t ruin here, and everything started to roll.
OST: Do you have a favorite character in the show and if so, why?
SY: If someone tied me down and forced me to choose, I’d probably say Maxine is my favorite character in the show. Right now, at least. It changes. Unfortunately, I can’t say why she’s my favorite because it would ruin huge aspects of the plot. How’s that for a cryptic answer? Ask me again after the run of the show.
OST: Your work often references characters or situations from Greek mythology. How did that begin?
SY: I’m obsessed with myth as a way of processing the world around us. The Greeks, along with most cultures, have these incredible stories that were meant to give perspective on life events. They were a way at getting some ground underneath “why things happen”, and trying to provide comfort in a chaotic world. Myths are memorable, iconic, and ripe for reuse because an audience sits down with a pre-existing idea of what those images and stories mean. And the big magic of theatre for me is in exploring new American myths, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are now, how we define ourselves, the ways we do and do not talk about things as a culture. The best and the worst of the people we want to be laid bare on stage. That’s exciting and can be inherently theatrical.
OST: Why is Pluto relevant to today’s audiences and what do you want them to take away from the production?
SY: Well, the subject matter is certainly haunting the national short term memory, if not the national conversation. But it frankly has been for a while. Pluto is not a play about guns. But it is absolutely a play about communication and the fallout when that communication goes away or breaks down. In that respect, the play is intensely of the moment and unapologetically speaks to an audience that has grown too accustomed to regular reports of local tragedies on the evening news. It goes back to the idea of myth and how we want to see ourselves. And really, at its heart, what we expect from each other.
OST: Do you have any advice for aspiring playwrights?
SY: Write as much as you can. And then do whatever you have to in order to get your work up on stage. Don’t rob banks or blackmail or anything, but don’t wait around for someone else to discover your work. Also, find artists and theatres that resonate with what you’re doing and hang on to them. Those artistic relationships, the ones that you really nurture, will be your most important.
This is not the first time Orlando Shakes will collaborate with Yockey. A workshop production of his play Heavier Than was presented as part of the annual new play reading festival, PlayFest, in April 2010. More recently, Feverish, a retelling of Phaedra and Hippolytus through a modern lens, was presented as a reading at November 2011’s PlayFest. “I am beyond thrilled to be directing Pluto,” said Director of New Play Development Mark Routhier. “Steve is a prolific and widely produced playwright. His reputation for compelling, fresh, and original work will undoubtedly continue to grow.”
Pluto runs February 27 – March 23, 2014, and features Orlando actors John Connon, Jillian Gizzi, Heather Leonardi, Chris Metz, and Suzanne O’Donnell. Tickets ($17 and $25) can be purchased by calling the Box Office at (407) 447-1700 or visiting us online.
Parental Guidelines: Pluto is a play containing adult language, blood, and graphic violence. The play is best suited for adult audiences.