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Interview with Gruesome Playground Injuries Playwright Rajiv Joseph

2 February 2013

It’s not every day that we get to interview a Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright. Rajiv Joseph was nice enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions from our Artistic Director Mark Pickell. He shared his thoughts about GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES as well as what his life is like after being nominated for a Pulitzer and having a show on Broadway.

Can you share with us a little about the origin of the story and characters in Gruesome Playground Injuries?

One night, a few years ago, I was talking with an old friend who began telling me about all the terrible and insane injuries he’d endured over the course of his life, from the time he was little, well into adulthood, and I was struck by how his injuries and scars sort of marked time for him. I thought if he ever wrote a memoir, each chapter could revolve around these injuries. Later I wondered, if a single life could be tracked through injuries, what about a relationship. And then I began writing.

What are some of the changes that came to the script during the development process?

Most of my plays undergo giant changes through a rehearsal process, but in the case of this play, once I locked down the structure, much of the play came out very quickly, and didn’t change much. I first wrote the scenes for the younger children—ages 8, 13 and 18…. And then made a sort of arbitrary decision to always jump forward 15 years and then backwards 10 years. If I did this, and began at age 8 and then ended 30 years later, the 2nd scene and 2nd-to-last scene would be the only age that repeated—23. And I liked how that worked out.

What playwrights do you feel have been most influential to your playwriting style? Why?

Theresa Rebeck, Lynn Nottage, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Stephen Sondheim, and then some novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Milan Kundera. I don’t know why these writers have specifically been influential to me… but you find those storytellers who tell the stories you wanna hear and then you hold them close.

Do you have a childhood injury (gruesome or otherwise) you would be willing to share?

When I was 9 I accidentally hit my best friend in the head with an aluminum baseball bat. He was okay, but he still has a scar on his temple, and we’re still friends.

The play deals with a relationship over a period of about 30 years. What were the challenges of writing about such an enduring relationship?

You have to figure out how the characters voices remain the same, and also change. Clearly, an 8 year old and a 28 year old are going to sound differently, but there still has to be the DNA of each character embedded in the text.

What has surprised you the most about Gruesome Playground Injuries in actual production?

I believe the most challenging aspect of this play is the transitions between scenes, which I don’t even like calling “transitions” because they are as crucial to the storytelling as the dialogue. However, I don’t offer much in the text in terms of spelling out how these may be done… and so each production finds a new way of choreographing them. Some are stunning to me in their ingenuity, and I love seeing how different directors and design teams wrestle with these creative opportunities.

A quick google search brings up a lot of productions for GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES. Does it surprise you that your script seems to be a popular title for production across the US?

I do find it surprising, and I am very honored that so many theatres want to produce it.

As a young playwright you have been nominated for a Pulitzer, had a show on Broadway starring Robin Williams and nominated and honored with many other awards. How have these honors changed your life as a professional playwright?

I have been able to support myself as a writer, which has been a dream of mine since I graduated from college.

Kayleen and Doug seem to float around that very narrow line of friendship and love. This seems like a very clear choice by you as a playwright. What intrigues you about that line between friendship and being in love?

It’s fucked up, frustrating and heartbreaking, and that can usually make for good drama.

Whats up next for you?

I am the book writer and co-lyricist for a new musical based on the novel “Peter Pan” called FLY which will open in Dallas this summer. Also,my play THE NORTH POOL will be produced at the Vineyard Theatre in New York next month.

Rajiv Joseph

Broadway: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, and also awarded a grant for Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts. Joseph’s New York productions include Gruesome Playground Injuries, Second Stage Theatre, 2011; Animals Out of Paper, Second Stage Theatre, summer 2008; The Leopard and the Fox (adaptation), Alter Ego, fall 2007; Huck & Holden, Cherry Lane Theatre, 2006; All This Intimacy, Second Stage Theatre, 2006. World premieres of new plays this year, include The North Pool at Theatre Works in Palo Alto; The Lake Effect at Crossroads Theatre in New Jersey; and The Medusa Body at the Alley Theatre. He received his BA in Creative Writing from Miami University and his MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Senegal.