‘From Shakespeare With Love?’ by Jonathan Dorf
We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Shakespeare birthday than interviewing another great internationally produced playwright, author, professor and director Jonathan Dorf as he explains what inspired him to write ‘From Shakespeare With Love?’
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I’m primarily a playwright, having started writing when I was in high school. I’ve been fortunate that over 40 of my plays are now published, with well over 1000 productions in all 50 US states and over a dozen different countries. I’ve also written several produced short screenplays that have played the festival circuit, and most recently premiered my short film directing debut, ‘Thicker’, at the Pasadena International Film Festival. I also really enjoy teaching playwriting, and I’ve served as a visiting professor at The Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University, as the United States Cultural Envoy to Barbados, and teach as part of Screenwriters University. I’ve also been a guest artist at festivals from Nebraska to Singapore — I love traveling to teach. (Hint, hint!) I created the content at I’ve also been a guest artist at festivals from Nebraska to Singapore — I love traveling to teach. (Hint, hint!) I created the content at Playwriting101.com, have served as a long-time playwriting advisor to software-maker Final Draft and, last but definitely not least, I co-founded YouthPLAYS, the publishing company of plays for young actors and audiences.
Tells us about ‘Shakespeare with Love?’
The play is about a group of Shakespearean characters who find themselves stuck at an airport waiting for a long delayed flight to London. One of them, Romeo, announces that when they finally make arrive, he’s going to find Shakespeare and kill him for ruining his life. It’s up to the other three, who are from the comedies, to convince Romeo that the Bard does indeed love love. To do that, they use examples from their own plays. Will it be a case of everything that can go wrong will, or all’s well that ends well?
What inspired you to write the play?
I was actually commissioned by Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre to write it. Each year they have an educational theatre season, a slate of plays that tours to schools, and sometimes these plays are commissioned; in other words, they approach a writer and hire them to write a particular play that fits their needs. They wanted a Shakespeare-related play, and as I recall, the education director wanted something that would look at the Bard’s treatment of love. It needed to be fun and accessible to teens (their target audience was high school and middle school, which I think in the UK you’d call secondary school), and it needed to work with four actors, as the Walnut always uses a company of two women and two men for their touring shows. I came up with the idea of four Shakespearean characters stuck in an airport because it seemed like it would be a fun, contemporary setting and provided a natural ticking clock (the arrival of the plane). It also served as a good bridge to jump into actual Shakespeare, and since each Shakespearean “episode” brought in new characters, it offered the flexibility for groups to do it with more actors or to stick with the original four.
What is your creative process?
I have a creative process? Honestly, I’m all over the place. I tend to walk around with the idea for a play (or screenplay) in my head for a while, perhaps occasionally jotting down something if I think it’s a good idea and I don’t want to forget it. (On that note, always sleep with a pad or something nearby, and write it down if it arrives in the middle of the night — you won’t remember it in the morning.) When I’m finally ready to write, I work on pads or in spiral notebooks. I don’t have a particular time that I work — just whenever I feel I have something to work on. I may write a half a page or several pages. Eventually, of course, I do type things into the computer (I’m a Final Draft guy), and the process of transferring the play from pad to the computer is actually the first step in my rewriting process. It’s rare that anything goes from pad to program without some of it changing.
What advice do you have for new writers?
Read as many plays as you can. See as many plays as you can. And, of course, write as much as you can. If you don’t already know some, try to connect with a group of actors, and once you write something that you think isn’t embarrassing, get them together — just offer to feed them and they’ll come — so that you can hear it out loud. It will almost never sound exactly like it did in your head, but that’s OK.
Either way, it’s important to hear your work. You learn the most, of course, by having your work produced, both from the rehearsal process, but also from the performances themselves. It doesn’t have to be a fancy production — I started with a one-act festival production at my high school. Now, I always try to sit in the back, and I simultaneously watch the show and the audience. How an audience is responding — whether it’s leaning forward in their seats or reading their programs — is enormously informative. And it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a copy of my book, Young Playwrights 101, either!
Who are your literary influences?
I have always loved playwrights like Albee and Pinter, both for the rhythms of their language and for the “weight” that occurs between and under their lines. But I also love the absurdity of Beckett or the magic of Kushner. I’ve also been moved by and really enjoyed the writing style of Steven Dietz. Because I do a lot of writing for young people, even though I write very differently and generally for a different subset of the youth audience, someone like Suzan Zeder is amazing. But there are so many great plays out there, whether it’s Stoppard’s Arcadia or Jose Rivera’s Marisol. You learn something from everything.
Why do you think theatre is important?
Theatre is an important part of how we tell stories and talk about the human condition, and it’s historically been a powerful form of protest. Participating in theatre and the arts is crucial for all of us, because it forces us to walk in the shoes of others and develop a greater sense of empathy. As a young person, you don’t need to want to be a professional actor to benefit from participating in it. Whether it’s developing a greater sense of self-confidence or learning how to work well with others, forgetting the “art” side of it all, those are valuable elements of personal growth.
Jonathan is working on a few different projects at the moment. On the stage side, he has a trio of plays brewing: one set in a dystopian, population-limited world in which neighbors are encouraged to turn on each other; a musical set in the world of reality programming, and a one-act that explores the selfie. He’s also hoping to direct another short, and he’d like to turn his most produced play, 4 A.M., into a web series. And if that weren’t enough, one of those one-act plays would make a great TV series, so the hope is to write an outline for it, enough to pitch it. On top of that, he’s working on an update to Young Playwrights 101. If you want to keep abreast of what he’s working on, sign up his e-mail list at http://jonathandorf.com.