THERESA REBECK INTERVIEW
1. How did a nice girl from Cincinnati end up on Broadway via
Well that question would take me a year to answer properly. The short
answer is, I was always a playwright who occasionally took jobs in
Hollywood, mostly so I could support myself and later my family.
I've been working in the theater professionally since 1989, but in the
year 2000 things really started to move more fluidly for me and my
work as a playwright. So there was no "via Hollywood" really—it
was more of a straight path as a playwright, that just took a lot of time
and a lot of work.
2. Have you always wanted to write?
My aunt actually saved the first story I wrote, when I was six. And
remember telling people I wanted to be a writer when I was maybe eight
or nine. No one believed me, and I am quite sure I did not even
3. What led you into visual mediums immediately instead of trying
the novel world?
It's not the visual nature of the different dramatic mediums which
appealed to me, so much as the fact that language and story really
make no sense to me when they are not seen through character.
Character is like a prism to me. I can't really write unless I know
who's talking, unless I'm talking THROUGH someone. Does that make
sense? I can't seem to write in the third person omniscient voice. I
don't know who's talking.
4. When you get an idea, how do you decide what medium it best
Honestly, I usually just assume everything is a play. And then there
are other things that clearly aren't plays, and then when I know that
much it takes a while to figure out the rest. Sometimes I think about
something for a long time in one medium and then realize that its the
wrong one, and switch. Usually a clue, if I've misconceived
something, is that I literally cannot get myself to sit down and write
5. You've written your first novel, please tell us the name, publish
date and a storyline blurb. Publisher, editor, etc.
The novel is titled THREE GIRLS AND THEIR BROTHER, and it's being
published in March 2008 with Random House (Shaye Areheart, publisher)
in the US, and with HarperCollins in the UK. It's about three teenage
girls in Brooklyn who have a famous literary grandfather and so the
New Yorker publishes a photo of them, declaring them the new "It"
girls, and then they get sucked almost instantaneously into the
maelstrom of the celebrity fast lane. The first part of it is
narrated by their brother, who basically watches his sisters get
abducted by the media. So it's sort of satiric, and sad at the same
6. Can you share some of your writing process? Are you
a detailed outline writer, a seat of pants sit down with the fingers on the
keys and let it come, etc.
I don't like the outline anymore, I really don't. You have to do much
too much of that in film and television and I think it finally saps
the creativity out of some people—me, certainly. Usually I think
about something for a while, and then I sit down to write it.
Sometimes I have to think much longer about certain stories than
others. Sometimes I have
to start writing before I really know what
I'm writing about; the writing itself reveals a tremendous amount to
me. I think that when you force yourself to write without fully
knowing where you're going, the deeper subject truly reveals itself to
you. Now, I would not recommend this for everybody. When I was
really much more of a novice I wrote a few things without having a
sense of where they were going and got myself into real messes. So I
feel fortunate that I have a degree of technique right now that I can
Having said that, I also have to admit that I am often terrified at
the thought of rewriting something because I have no confidence
whatsoever that I will be able to actually do it. Sometimes I think,
"I hope that person inside me who actually knows how to do this,
decides to show up today." I sometimes feel like I'm channeling.
7. Please share your recent Broadway experience? You had a fantastic
cast, director, etc. and a fun storyline, or so it seemed to. What was
the good and the bad of the experience?
It was really a great thrill to work a larger theater and have the
history and traditions of Broadway itself kind of supporting the work.
The house my play was produced in was the Biltmore; No Exit premiered
there, and Mae West was arrested there. You really feel yourself to
be fully embraced by the American theatrical tradition. Also, there
really is more money, and more visibility and just more excitement on
Broadway, so the production attracts a degree of talent that is
definitely kicked up. And it was truly thrilling to see the
audiences connect so completely with a straight play, a new American
play, on Broadway, where they say the new play is very much an
endangered species. The entire community of theater artists was also
pretty excited by the play, and I felt really embraced; it was
exceptionally rewarding. The downside honestly came in at the last
minute, when some of the critics wrote truly nutty reviews, which put a damper
on people's spirits for quite a while. No one involved
in the show, or the audiences, quite understood what their issues
were. And then for a while people kept saying to me, "Well—you
should be really proud, your play is really connecting to audiences!"
Like that was supposed to be some sort of consolation prize, that the
audiences loved the show so much. And I thought, but isn't that
actually who we're doing it for? If you had to choose who you would
write a play for, the critics or the audiences, who would you choose?
And why is there a choice involved? I think the critics are often out
to lunch and that if you worry too much about pleasing them you're
worrying about the wrong thing.
8. Do you prefer writing for regional theatres? Why?
I think I do prefer writing for the regional theaters. All that
worrying about the critics in New York tends to poison the atmosphere
a bit. And honestly, there's nothing anyone can do about it, they're
extremely idiosyncratic, almost perversely so, so you can really
produce a simply perfect show, and then have it dismissed for the most
bizarre of reasons, and then everyone gets so sad. In the regional
theater, I think that there is less pressure and insanity and so the
work feels very safe and strong. Sometimes you can't get the actors
you want—it’s hard for actors who are married, or have children,
be away from their families for a full three month commitment. But
often you can get terrific people to go—we have an amazing cast going
to Denver for my next play—and then it's like being on vacation, and
getting to do what you love, with really fun people, and without
having the sword of Damocles hanging over your head.
9. You have a book of essays on the writing life, can you give us the
name and perhaps tell us something about the collection. Share a
story, or why you wrote it, etc.
Well, the title of the book is FREE FIRE ZONE, and it's about being a
writer in theater, television and film. I've done all three—which
more and more people are doing—but I think I was one of the first
hop back and forth quite so regularly. Actually, that's not true,
Paddy Chayevsky did it. In any case, over the years I've begun to
see, when I go to speak at university writing programs, how little
information novice writers have about how the business really
works—things like, how to get a play produced, what a producer does,
how to spot a bit fat lie, what megalomaniacs are like to work for,
things like that. And I thought, you know, these passionate and
talented young writers start to look more and more like lambs being
led to the slaughter; somebody better tell them a few things about
what it's really like to work in this dirty business. I mean, it is
really great work, to be a storyteller, but there's a lot of really
nasty politics attached to it, and you have to know what you're
getting yourself into. So that's why I wrote it—to give people
shred of a clue, about what to expect. So the book has lots of stories in it.