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Interview with Hunter Gatherers Playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb

31 October 2010

Hunter Gatherers director Mark Pickell got to fire off some serious and not so serious questions at award winning playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. He was kind enough to answer them. Here is their conversation.

Mark Pickell: I was corrected recently after mispronouncing your name in public several times. I too enjoy a last name that is invariably mispronounced more often than it is pronounced correctly, so please set the record straight: how do you pronounce Nachtrieb?

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb:

germans pronounce the second vowel long

so it’s essentialy KNOCK TREEB

MP: In the preface to HUNTER GATHERERS you talk about the original version of your script “which included about fifty other characters”. What was the inspiration for the original script and tell us about the journey of the script to its present state.

PSN: The archaic version centered around Pam becoming overwhelmed with premonitions of her own death and continuously encountering perilous situations around her. There were lots of other characters (including Richard Wendy and Tom, a german narrator named Bernd who took over the play) and I lost control of the play. So i took the four characters that had the tightest relation and forced myself to contain them into a single dinner party play, but still trying to retain the same scope of the original version. I was also reading a book by EO Wilson called “on human nature” about the evolutionary history of human behavior which also informed the new rewrite, a desire to get the big primal urges that drive us as a species and push that through a comedy of manners.

MP: HUNTER GATHERERS brilliantly weaves together two fields that you hold degrees in, Biology and Theatre. Most actors and writers can remember a critical moment when they became passionate about theatre. When was the moment you became passionate about Biology (assuming you are passionate about Biology) and how has that interest grown over the years.

PSN: Kind of silly but it was really from snorkeling in the Caribbean I think. Being really into identifying fish and being excited about weird looking creatures. And then my mom was a docent at a nature preserve and would quiz us on plants and birds. And I was always into experiments in science class in school, really dug the biology classes and I think naturally gravitated towards looking at the world from the lens of being part of a wondrous assemblage of creatures. I hadn’t committed to being a biology major in college but then the intro bio course at Brown was incredible (I’ve never studied so hard) and my theatre advisor suggested I double major, because what can you do with a theater major, really. At this point, I think the lens and scope of biology and geology and history of the earth colors my worldview and perception of humanity.

MP: You seem to explore the complex nature of sex and sexuality in all of your published work. What draws you to these themes?

PSN: I think I’m just a little pervy.

MP: People have compared your work to, among other things, Edward Albee and South Park. How do you feel about these comparisons? Who would you claim as your major influences?

PSN: Erm. Those are very nice comparisons of course. Everyone likes to compare things to other things. I love Albee and his theatricality and absurdity and simultaneous groundedness and reality. And I love South Park’s fearlessness (as is Albee) Other inspirations are Thorton Wilder, Christopher Durang, Caryl Churchill, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Beckett, and many many living writing playwrights.

MP: In HUNTER GATHERERS you have some interesting stage directions that seem impossible to stage and very difficult to produce ( In every instance you kindly make sure to let the reader know it is optional).  Why do you think it is important as a playwright to ask the almost
impossible in your plays?

PSN: I actually try to think fairly practical when I write stage directions (with a few exceptions). I don’t believe in stage directions that you really can’t execute. BUT in the cases where I’ve put those in and they are budgetarily restrictive, I hope they at least suggest what I’m going far in terms of the scope or bigness of the moment. And then, since we’re all creative and smart, people can come up with their own version of that kind of moment.

MP: Your play BOOM was named by the Theatre Communications Group as themost produced play of 2009-2010 edging out Sarah Ruhl, Tennessee Williams, and Thorton Wilder. How has this affected your career as a playwright and why do you think the your work is popular across the country?

PSN: Well, practically, it’s supported me financially for the last year, which is amazing to be at a place where my theatre work is actually paying my rent (for about 4 years now). And it’s allowed me to write some new plays! Emotionally, it’s an amazing feeling and honor to have work that has resonated with so many people. I am beyond thrilled. And it motivates me to keep working and keep writing plays. I think I can continue to be a better writer and playwright with each play and have lots more to explore.

MP: Did you feel like you had to work hard as a playwright to develop relationships and promote your writing to make this happen or did it just blow up?

PSN: I worked hard at developing relationships and promoting my writing. It may seem like there was just a blowup but there’s a lot of groundwork and energy and effort behind that, which continues. That being said, now that the ball is rolling, there is an inertia behind my plays and writing which is wonderful and weird and amazing where people I don’t know (like you guys) find my play and dig it and want to do it. It’s a little surreal and wonderful, so thanks!

MP: You list on your resume under Relevant Experience “Very Tall Person”. How tall are you?

PSN: 6’6″

MP: What is on the horizon for you and your writing?

PSN: I’ve got two plays opening up in March next year, Ack!

One is called BOB, which is premiering at the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and is an epic journey of one man’s search for greatness against all odds. It’s a really really fun play and I’ve been loving writing it. This is the play with about 50 characters in it (5 actors). It took a few plays under my belt to feel like I could handle it. You should totally see it. I also have a play called LITTER, which I’m writing for the ACT Conservatory’s class of 2011. It’s a play about a grown set of dodecutuplets, (in the spirit of octomom), who are struggling with figuring out who they are as individuals and a family. A play for twelve actors. Boo yah!