Sunday, July 10, 2011

Spotlight On...Steven Dykes

Name: Steven Dykes

Hometown: London, England

Education: Trained at Goldsmiths College, University of London

Select Credits (Show, Role, Theater): Playwright- Homestead (Courtyard Theatre), Kolonists (Bridge Lane, Pelican Studio), The Happiness Compartment (Soho Rep, Greenwich Playhouse), The Swing Left (Unlimited Theatre), English translations of Cold Come, Cranes Gone (Bridge Lane, Traverse Theatre) and La Boheme (ENO)

Why theater?: My father was in the Royal Navy so we moved around a lot when I was growing up. He instilled in me (and my brothers) a military sense of team spirit and self-discipline, so I've always enjoyed travelling, meeting new people and working in a tight unit to take on a challenge (though without the danger of being shot at, of course!). But I guess the main reason I ended up in theatre was that, although I was pretty ok at sports at school, I knew that even the best guys on our team would never make it professionally. Happily, I seemed to be able to read plays and understand how they worked on stage like athletes "read plays" and execute or intercept them on the field. I was never going to be a successful football (soccer) player, but I had a decent shot at making a competent actor ... And while the best moments of a playing career in sports are over in a few years, acting is something you can get better and better at as you age, so I guess things worked out.

Tell us about Territories? Two plays - written ten years apart, brought together very wittily by the director-producer, Cheryl Faraone. I wrote The Spoils with the terrific composer, Paul Englishby, and I would urge people to attend just to hear his wonderfully edgy score. Your interview with Cori Hundt contains quite a detailed analysis of the play's themes (just don't expect a drama set in Iraq!). I would just add that the music is absolutely integral to the plot and that the male character's struggle to 'explain' the composer's intentions is as doomed as his attempts to effectively interrogate and 'save' his female prisoners.

A light gathering of dust is another short one act, this one a 'memory play' about a love triangle revisited. Again it has an implicit political setting, but the main attraction, I think, is the very human interplay between the flawed characters.

I'm told the TERRORITIES double bill is quite a challenging evening, but I'm always amused that audiences will sit in the cinema and comfortably watch something as structurally demanding as INCEPTION or MOMENTO and yet be apparently flummoxed by relatively simple non-chronological story-telling in the theatre. What I admire about PTP/NYC is their determination not to give their audiences an easy ride. Isn't that much more fun for all concerned?

What is it like to be pulling double duty as playwright and actor in Victory?: Great, because I have something else to do rather than drive everyone crazy by hanging around rehearsals of my own plays. They should really speak for themselves, so I don't need to be there and it's wonderful to be able to engage with the genius of Howard Barker, knowing that across the hall my work is being treated with equal respect. That's incredibly humbling. I still think of myself as an actor first (although nowadays I spend more time writing), so I'm a kid in a candy store right now, indulging myself rotten! And VICTORY is a masterpiece, with rewarding roles for all twelve members of the company. Audiences have a treat in store.

Which do you prefer doing more, acting or writing?: Acting is a social activity. You can not do it alone. To be in rehearsal with the impressive cast Richard Romagnoli has assembled for VICTORY is stimulating, exhausting and never dull. What better way to spend the summer? But there's another side of me that loves to be alone. Hours fly by like seconds when writing alone and it would appear I (selfishly) need that level of intense self-absorption at regular intervals. I enjoy directing my own work too. The only thing I don't really relish is "being the playwright", because once the play is written you are simply not essential to the fun, collaborative process in which the director, cast and design team are engaged.

What kind of theater speaks to you?: Anything that is not televisual. I have little interest in realism, introspection or domestic drama that can be better served on the small screen. I want to hear robust, lyrical, visceral language that unashamedly draws attention to the perverse ways in which we communicate (or fail to) with each other. And for me, nothing beats the simple but exquisite visual images that can be created by picking out the the human form in light on a dark stage. I have never lost the thrill of sitting in a hushed theatre as the lights go down and giving myself over to a few hours of collective concentration and suspension of disbelief with my fellow theatre-goers.

What or who inspires you as an artist?: Inspiration for most playwrights (whether we know it or not) begins with Ibsen. To anyone who wants to write a play, my advice would be: start with him. It's ALL in there in his work. Others who have inspired me would be: Mamet and Pinter for their sheer craft; Martin Crimp for taking on and innovating their legacy in the last decade or so; and Debbie Tucker Green, whose 'Stoning Mary' is for my money the best play of the last ten years (though I haven't seen JERUSALEM yet). Towering over all these are, of course, Caryl Churchill and Howard Barker. Both combine a prolific output with an awesome refusal to compromise. As actor or director, they won't let you cheat. They keep us theatre practitioners honest, don't you think?

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Anyone in New York should try and get along to punchdrunk's Sleep No More. I have seen most of this extraordinary company's work in London and I promise you that nothing can prepare you for the experience. And to prove that I am not limited to an appreciation of all things British, my favourite recent production was ONE FLEA SPARE by the superb Kentucky-born playwright NOAMI WALLACE. I'd have given anything to have written her wonderful play, SLAUGHTER CITY.

What’s up next?: After a marvellous time with PTP, back to London. I have a curious little piece, BLUE ON BLUE, which had a beautiful first production by the director, Nesta Jones, a few years ago - but a very short run, sadly. I'm hoping to revive it with a group of amazing actor-musicians I had the pleasure to work with recently. As someone of no musical talent myself (certainly not when it comes to an instrument), I find working with musicians and composers genuinely thrilling.