A FREE staged reading of ANY DAY NOW as part of ESPA Drills at Primary Stages
An Interview with Nat Cassidy

Indie Theater Now asked Nat Cassidy a few questions about his play Any Day Now.

What has been the development process for this play? How many drafts? Has the play changed incrementally, bit by bit, through collaboration/rehearsal/workshops – or do you write a draft, mount it, and then go away and rewrite?

This is, I would say, the fourth major draft of the script. There have been little changes here and there throughout its history, but as far as major changes went, there was the first draft (which was also the production draft, because I'm very impulsive), the publication draft (available here on ITN), the draft I went into ESPA Drills with (after seeing a production of the script in Oklahoma, and also taking a rewrite class at ESPA), and the draft I'm coming out of ESPA Drills with. This latter draft is definitely the most significantly different from the first three.

What do you as a playwright learn from collaborators, such as actors, directors, designers, and stage managers? What do you learn from reviewers and critics?

So much that, to attempt to answer this question with the examples it deserves, I'd be here all day. But any playwright who tries to write in a vacuum is really in the wrong medium. I will say, though, that the relationship between play and reviewer is a fascinating one to me, and my most recently-produced play (OLD FAMILIAR FACES) wound up cementing something I'd always known intellectually but maybe not emotionally: namely, that any review, no matter how prestigious, really is just one person's opinion. More so than any other production of mine, that show got such contradicting reviews (most of them ultimately quite positive, thankfully, but focusing on contradictory elements) that I couldn't help but finally realize that all you can do is hope your play finds its audience - and if that includes someone who is compelled to write about it in an articulate and considerate way, all the better. And another facet of that dynamic that fascinates me is, in this world of comment threads and blog reviews, is it a bad thing to engage in dialogue with a reviewer who (sometimes objectively) "got it wrong?"

Are readings helpful? If this production is a staged reading—what do you hope to get from the process? If this is a full production, has the play had staged readings, and if so, were they beneficial (and how)?

Readings are probably the most integral part of the playwriting process. At least for me. I mean, an actual production is incredibly important, too, and certainly the end goal of the whole thing, but the main difference is that usually once you're in the rehearsal room, you start shaping your script for that particular production and its realities and constraints. A reading, you're really just there for the script and making it whatever it truly wants to be. Not to mention the fact that I probably wouldn't have a single finished script if it weren't for readings: I usually book a room and a bunch of actors for a table read and THEN write the friggin' script for that deadline.

What has been the biggest change in this script since you started writing it?

My original mission statement with the script was to create a kind of Franzenesque panoramic of one family's many crises set against the backdrop of the beginning of a global one. It resonated with a fair amount of people and attracted some supportive, passionate fans who kept trying to shop it around. The resultant feedback was pretty much always the same: "We really love this story, but it's waaaaay too long." So FINALLY I've done something about it! The current draft as it stands is almost 40 pages shorter, which translates to about an hour of run time, and is far more focused. It's still written with a three act structure, but could easily be done with just one intermission now. Two characters have been not removed, but changed so that their absence is as important as their moments onstage (and they still have some really fun, important scenes, so they're still justified). And one particular character's arc has been clarified and massaged throughout. Because the first draft of the script was also its production draft (which I was directing--again: impulsive), and subsequent productions/readings of the script were usually done by other people than me, I never really got the chance to sit down with the material and actually work it over and over again. It's one of the many things I'm so grateful to ESPA (and particularly Tessa LaNeve and her superb dramaturgical insights) for, the chance to revisit this script that's already been produced but which I knew many aspects that could be stronger.

Do you ever hate any of the characters you write? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What do you do about it when it happens?

No way! What I have done is hated what some characters have DONE to other characters. But hate is such a blinding word. I don't think an author should ever hate one of their characters, unless s/he is looking at it from the point of view of someone else in the text. If you find yourself hating someone you're writing, that probably means you're writing from another character's point of view and that you've got another draft coming where you can fix that. But that's also part of the fun! A fascinating thing happened with ANY DAY NOW, actually, where the originally intended "villain" (so to speak) of the piece, who I loved as a character but thought some of what she did was detestable, has grown exponentially sympathetic in my eyes with every rewrite. It took some really examining the central mystery of the play to realize that it was actually all the result of manipulations consciously designed by the character I had thought was one of the most innocent characters I'd ever written! It blew my mind! And opened a whole new side of the story that I find to be incredibly resonant. So, read the older version published on ITN and then come to ESPA Drills and let me know how you think it's changed!

posted August 14, 2014