Saturday, August 17, 2013

Spotlight On...Colin Crowley

Name: Colin Crowley

Hometown: Osterville, MA

Education: Neither of them theater-related - but Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science (Northwestern University) and Masters of Arts in Security Studies (Georgetown University)

Favorite Credits: I have always “played” one part in my theatrical ventures – playwright… but, of my experience, I’m most proud of Harriman-Baines and my first musical Hail and Reign (for which I wrote the book and the lyrics).

Why theater?: I love theater because theater is both democratic and oligarchic insofar as the performing arts is concerned. Theater is oligarchic to the extent that it lacks the mass appeal of Hollywood and it therefore tends to be specialized. This restriction helps to make theater unique and also helps to maintain certain artistic standards. Theater is democratic in that it is easily accessible to people in their communities and something which everyone can widely experience. Not everyone can be in a movie, even a small-budget movie, but anyone can audition for a local play and be on the stage. I also love theater because theater has limitations that force artists to be more creative than they normally would have to be. In screenwriting, for instance, you can write a movie without any regard for the number of characters or the number of locations or the extravaganza associated with the special effects. In theater, you have to be more realistic and you have to be conscious of the people you use and the space you use, often for pure economic reasons. The upside, though, is that theater forces artists to squeeze every ounce they can out of a character or a set or a scene - and, in all that, you find a depth to theater that is lacking in other art forms.

Tell us about Harriman-Baines: Harriman-Baines is a tragedy about human loneliness that explores the fantasies we invent to prevent ourselves from recognizing and feeling the inherent loneliness in our lives.

What inspired you to create Harriman-Baines?: I tend to be a cerebral person and I enjoy writing plays that begin with a theme rather than with characters or a plot. I consciously wanted to write a play that would deal with the theme of “loneliness” and how human beings handle the loneliness in their own lives. I was also drawn – albeit vaguely – to the concept of loneliness in the modern world and the lonely nature of many human relationships. This theme is epitomized by the rise of “manufactured relationships” (for instance: vague connections formed over cyberspace and divorced from real contact) and the fact that human relationships now tend to be less dedicated than they have been in the past. We live in an age where people are more likely to stay connected via Facebook than by actually talking with someone or seeing them in person – so, while it seems we are more connected than even before, our bonds are increasingly artificial. I think many people feel this subtle loneliness in their lives, which partly explains the rise of “humanization” campaigns in marketing – ie: giving a friendly, human face to businesses as a way to engage customers.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:
I tend to run the gamut in regards to my artistic preferences – but I generally coalesce around loving two main types of theater: First, I love traditional musical theater, because I see that as being a seminal part of the American theatrical tradition and the most collaborative branch of the performing arts. Second, I love simple, but complex, character plays (dramas) – especially ones that are very word-heavy, thoughtful, and subtle. I have been heavily influenced by “classical” writers like Tennessee Williams (I’m a Night of the Iguana person) – sometimes, but less so, Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill. I also have been greatly influenced by the British playwright Peter Shaffer, especially because he also tends to create plays around themes (sometimes using historical backdrops, which I also enjoy) and because his plays are heavily character-based. I enjoy musical theater very much, too, especially the playwriting and lyrical work of Alan Jay Lerner (mainly his later shows – the ones no one knows about) and the intriguing composer and lyricist Bob Merrill. Lerner and Merrill influence my everyday playwriting in regards to how they were (and are) able to present simple and straightforward concepts in artistically heightened, but not melodramatic, ways. (Case in point: a lyric by Merrill, about confronting our own self-delusions, which would be great for Harriman-Baines – “life is frightening when the orchestra is gone.”)

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
I will take a generic route and I will say that I’d love to work more closely with a choreographer – because, even with the musicals I’ve written, I’ve never really authored anything with “dance numbers” and I’d like to explore that side of theater and its relation to storyline and character development.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
I have recommended Annie on Broadway, traditional as it is, because traditional can be really nice when the economy is bad and isn’t much getting better.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I think that Matthew Broderick would do a good job and we’d call it “The Sesquipedalian” because I inadvertently like long words.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:
The British gadfly Paul Johnson – which isn’t necessarily guilty in my book, but would be considered very guilty among the theatrical community. (…plus Peppermint Mocha coffee creamer…)

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Honestly, I’d probably be working right where I am now – as an Associate Vice President in an e-commerce business – BUT I’d be having a lot less fun.

What’s up next?: I have recently completed another play that I am going to start shopping around, about Dorothy Parker and how we sometimes can become trapped in our public personas – and, of course, I am going to shop around Harriman-Baines some more. I’m also going to work on revising an older play of mine that has received quite some attention but has always been two inches away from “wonderful.”