Steven Dietz is one of America’s most widely-produced and published contemporary playwrights. Since 1983, his thirty-plus plays have been seen at over one hundred regional theatres in the United States, as well as Off-Broadway.
Mr. Dietz is a two-time winner of the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays Award, for Fiction (produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, Off-Broadway), and Still Life with Iris; as well as a two-time finalist for the Steinberg New Play Award, for Last of the Boys (produced by Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago), and Becky’s New Car (which was recently produced at Austin’s own Zach Scott Theatre).
Mr. Dietz’s work as a director has been seen at many of America’s leading regional theatres. He has directed premiere productions of new plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Denver Center Theatre Company, Northlight Theatre (Chicago), ACT Theatre (Seattle), San Jose Repertory Theatre, City Theatre Company (Pittsburgh), Westside Arts (Off-Broadway), and the Sundance Institute, among many others. He was a resident director for ten years at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, where he also served as artistic director of Midwest PlayLabs. In Austin, he regularly directs at ZACH Theatre.
Austin Entertainment Weekly’s editor Olin Meadows recently spent some time with Mr. Deitz on the eve of the premier of his new play, Mad, Hip, Beat, and Gone which he wrote and directed specially for Austin’s premier theatre Zachary Scott Theatre. They talked about inspirations, starting points, and future projects.
AEW: You said in an article recently that you need Zach Scott and that the new Topher Theatre helped to inspire Mads Hip Beat and Gone, can you expand on that for us?
SD: The ambition and scope of this new theatre fueled my desire to write an expansive and hopefully ecstatic play. This does not necessarily mean larger in scale — but wider and deeper in scope, using a broader palette of theatrical vocabulary: imagery, poetry, jazz, etc.
AEW: You have been compared to Williams and Albee as a top produced playwright, what do you feel makes your work so produced? how do you feel that your work is like or different from Williams or Albee?
SD: You can’t compare me to Williams and Albee. They are giants and they changed the field. I’ve had some fortunate years where my plays landed at a lot of theaters — and over time (30+ years) I’ve come to believe that is because I tend to write in a wide array of styles, and the work tends to find a wide sampling of audiences. I don’t do this consciously – I try to just write the play that’s in front of me, whatever my current interest/obsession is. Luckily, my interests in certain stories have dovetailed with similar interests in my audiences.
AEW: You have been writing plays for over 25 years, does what inspired you in the early days still inspire you now?
SD: Certain fundamental things don’t change, I suppose: my fascination with the magic of a proximate, one-time, live event … my belief in the power of language and metaphor … my love of the collaborative theatre-making process. I’ve been lucky to do this for this long and I try never to take that for granted.
AEW: When you start a new work where do you begin?
SD:It varies quite a bit, but there is always something Known that intrigues me (2 young guys follow Jack and Neal “on the road”) AND something Unknown that hovers (okay – after they follow them, what happens?). Too many Knowns can kill my plays early on. I work to cultivate some mystery for myself.
AEW: What is your next project? Can you talk about it?
SD:I am working on a play called FAUX PARIS – a strange and hopefully somewhat magical love story set during WWII; and I have notes for a small, intimate play about loss and gratitude – as yet unnamed.
AEW: What advice do you give to new up and coming theatre artist about being successful?
SD: Seek expertise: if you are the best writer/director/actor in your group, then you are in the wrong group. Play in the bracket above you.
Invite scrutiny: don’t just “take” feedback/criticism — seek it out — welcome it and sharpen yourself against it. This is not for the feint of heart.
Diligence and Patience: do today’s work, do the next day’s work. Keep showing up – whether the muse (or whatever) shows up or not. Take the long view.