Interview with Michael Warner, Playwright and Performer of HOW. WHAT. NOW.

Posted by MB - September 23, 2011

Our New York New Playwright Festival begins on Monday, October 10th. HOW. WHAT. NOW. written and performed by Michael Warner will kick off the festival. Recently, our Co-Artistic Director Michole Biancosino got a chance to talk to Michael about the project.

MB: What was the impulse/idea that made you begin writing HOW. WHAT. NOW.?

MW: The genesis of the play happened very early in my recovery.  When I was maybe 20 or 25 days sober I saw a group of artists that did what I affectionately call “addict theater”-they would create plays about drug and alcohol recovery and perform them at colleges.  I saw them and realized that my ambitions to be an actor, even if I never pursued it as career, could be satisfied by doing that kind of work.  I joined them soon after.

I kept hearing these amazing stories and wondered if there was some way that I could incorporate those stories into a piece of theater. It seemed to me a great way to be of service in a way that could be useful and entertaining. So I filed these stories in my brain and waited for them to take shape.

The next part that was influential was going to Edinburgh for the Fringe and seeing these amazing, and also, not so amazing, solo plays and being inspired by the form.  I just had no idea how to put this together in a way that felt right.  Also, I’m an actor by training, not a playwright, so I guess was intimidated by the process of
creating in a way that wouldn’t suck.  Honestly.

I came back and eventually wrote a monologue of an event from my life and did a solo play workshop with the amazing Seth Barrish at The Barrow Group.  The response was good but it wasn’t a show.  It was one story that was interesting, kind of, but it was just not a show. So I shelved it and moved on.

The final part was during a slooooooow period of my acting life I decided to take some improv classes at The Upright Citizens Brigade, just for fun.  I ended up studying there for a year.  In that time I saw these amazing performers create these multi-character shows.  It finally hit me.  Maybe I can combine those early stories that moved me
with my story.

So I wrote some monologues, invited 5 friends, including Campbell, my director, and told them to tell me if they sucked.  They were very supportive.  And, so, two and half years later, here we are.

MB: You are an awesome actor, and now we’re going to get to see you act in something you wrote yourself. I think I would find that terrifying (hah!) and exciting.  How is that going so far? What are your experiences with other readings/rehearsals of the play, and what are you hoping to get from this production?

MW: You know, it’s very interesting the idea of writing for yourself.  I, like so many of us, have always been told to create something for yourself, whatever that is, to bring yourself some artistic (and hopefully financial) life while you pursue this very challenging career.  It’s always inspired me to see people I know or friends “make work”, you know? This play does indeed terrify me.  Thanks for bringing that up.  It’s terrifying because these types of plays
have great traps.  As I alluded earlier, the worst solo plays are the ones that you see the narcissism of the performer and not the story. Some of these stories are real people, some are inspired by real people, and all contain aspects of recovery that are inspiring and real.  My main aim is to tell these stories in a way to convey those aspects while entertaining you.  It’s a daunting task that I hopefully can do.

This is the first time we have performed this-all prevous incarnations were readings. So, I’m eager to see how it plays as a play.

MB: What is your relationship with your director, Campbell Scott, and the development of this piece? What has it been like to develop the play with another collaborator vs. when you were writing it alone?

MW: Campbell and I met at my wedding.  My wife and his future wife met him while doing a play in Boston.  It was random to go, oh, there’s Campbell Scott, one of my favorite actors, and he’s watching me walk down the aisle.

He’s truly a warm, humane and generous person. One of the best I know. We became fast friends and I had the honor of being asked to perform he and his amazing wife Kathleen’s wedding ceremony.

He was one the “original 5” to hear me read and has always been a huge supporter of me.  When it came time to ask someone to direct a reading he was my First choice but I figured he would say no, so I asked someone else.  I was turned down, so I thought, “screw it”, I’m going to try get the best person I can.  So I asked him and he said that he
was going to ask me If I wanted him to do it. He’s an unbelievable writer and director and truly SMART.

I can honestly say without his support and guidance this play would be much much worse and you probably would not be doing it.

MB: Who do you want to come see this show?  Who do you think would enjoy the experience of HOW. WHAT. NOW.?

MW: I’m hoping everyone will come see it.  This play is about Recovery. It’s told through the prism of Drug and Alcohol Recovery but everyone is recovering from something.  It’s a universal struggle that we all deal with.  I’ve seen so much courage, laughter, hope, faith, humanity, humility, and community in my sober life. If I can convey a fraction of that with this play, I’ll have done my job.

HOW. WHAT. NOW. will be performed Oct 10th at 7:30pm, Oct 12th at 8pm & Oct 15th at 7pm

Purchase Tickets for HOW. WHAT. NOW.


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