Wednesday I went to Midtown to take care of my membership dues for the Dramatist Guild. While I was there I stopped in to pitch a story idea to the magazine editor and get in an interview for The Pop Cycle.
Who: Robert Ross Parker
Where: The Dramatist Guild Offices, NYC
Occupation: Editorial Director, The Dramatist, Theater Director, Co-Creator of The Vampire Cowboys.
Oddly enough, a month before I met Robert, it was Sonya who was singing the praises of his theater company The Vampire Cowboys. She said “you have to see this!” I don’t even know if Robert and Sonya know each other, but see – that’s the NY Theater scene.
I’ve gotten to know Robert as my editor for the Dramatist, (The Dramatist Guild’s magazine devoted to playwrights and lyricists) and he’s gotten to know me as a “busy reporter,” which is how he referred to me during our meeting. It’s funny to me that Robert and I have similar sensibilities and yet I haven’t seen his theatrical creations and he hasn’t seen mine – yet.
I’ve only written one article so far for the Dramatist, but it was a success and I’m hoping to write more.
Earlier this year, I turned my experience of working as an assistant on the 24 Hour Plays on Broadway into an intimate behind-the-scenes portrait. I interviewed a gaggle of playwrights: Adam Rapp, Adam Bock, Theresa Rebeck, Tina Howe and several others about what it was like to create a play in 24 hours for Broadway, which is what they did for the 24 Hour Plays on Broadway, a process I’ve been a part of for the past couple of years.
Robert was new on the job when I first proposed my article back in February, but he quickly got to know how determined I can be, and I found out how down to earth he is. I like him. Now, many months later, he seems to be more comfortable with his duties and skills.
Robert juggles two careers – surprise. Theater artists often juggle many jobs at once in order to do the one that they love. In this case, both of Robert’s jobs fit together nicely.
He’s both the editor of the Dramatist, spending his day interacting with both the writers (who are playwrights like me) and heeding to the wants and desires of the famous playwrights on the Board of Directors, like David Ives. In the evenings, he’s a director, creating new work with Qui Nguyen for their theater company, The Vampire Cowboys.
Today we are at his day job and David Ives, one of the greatest American living playwrights happens to knock on the door while I am sitting in Robert’s office.
David knows of me because of the article I wrote and because we worked together on the 24 Hour Plays on Broadway in 2006.
“What are you two doing?” David says inquisitively.
I tell him about my interviews for The Pop Cycle and remind him of his not being included in my interviews earlier in the year.
Then I say, “you know, David, I’m going to have to ask you a question too.”
“Okay, he says.”
Great! I’m going to interview David Ives! Super cool!
“So, David, what are you reading?” I say. I always think what a playwright is reading is very informative.
He throws two books down in front of me and I write them down. The books are:
Something by T.S. Eliot that I guess I forgot to write down and “The Nigger of the Narcissus and other stories” by Joseph Conrad.
Then the three of us broke into a discussion of “The Heart of Darkness.”
“I just couldn’t get through it at first,” says Robert.
“The Heart of Darkness is one of the greatest war stories ever written,” says David.
“I missed out on the classics because I’m from Canada,” says Robert.
Hmm. We will have to get back to this Canada thing later, I’m thinking.
“I read it in college as part of my major,” I say “I loved it.”
“I just read it for the 5th time,” says David.
“I don’t read books a second time,” I say. “I’ve considered it, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Truth is, there are still so many books I am getting to for the first time.
“I only read books the second time, I skip the first time,” says David.
He makes sure that I write his quote down correctly before he departs.
After he leaves, Robert and I laugh.
“So that’s part of my day,” he says with a grin.
Robert has an awesome job and I think he knows it. He seems to take it all in stride because he has so much going on.
“So tell me about your theater company “The Vampire Cowboys,” I see from your face book profile that you are rehearsing,” I say.
“Yes, we have a show coming up in the spring,” he smiles.
“It’s so much fun,” he says.
“We are interested in pop-culture, in creating a theatrical experience that is explored in comic books and television.”
“That’s interesting,” I say. “So why do you think you are creating theater and not working in film?”
“Money,” he says, but he thinks about it more.
“Actually, I am looking to create these experiences that can only happen on stage, but that are very theatrical.”
“You can get away with so much for on the stage,” he says.
“For example,” I say.
“If your story has an elephant attack, there is a way to do that on stage – you can hear it, people can talk about it, but if it’s a movie, you sort of need to show that elephant attack.”
“Yes, you are right,” I say.
“So many plays are two guys sitting there on the back porch talking, I’m not interested in that.”
“Me neither,” I say.
Robert grew up in Canada, was a child actor who went to a high school for the arts before meeting his “Vampire” partner Qui Nguyen at Ohio University.
It’s worth mentioning that The Vampire Cowboys just won a NYITA award for Best Choreography, Best Costumes and Best Ensemble, so I am really excited to see their next production.
Before I leave, Robert shows me what he’s reading, it’s a book about the Commodore 64.
“Do you remember it?” he says grinning. “I’m a techie geek,” he says.
I suggest that the next Vampire show should be a musical about the rise and fall of the Commodore. Of course, in his world, Ninjas will fight with elephants and I’m sure a computer will get smashed. As I leave, I can tell he’s toying with the idea.