Friday, October 9, 2009

The Play Is the Thing: An Interview with Mark Snyder

One of the greatest compliments I have been paid in the last few months has been the gift of being approached by amazing local artists that are interested in sharing their work with me and with my readers. From Charlie Vazquez to Yamaneika Saunders, I have been tickled to interview some amazing human beings that are doing so much, through their individual artistic forms, to bring a new, deeper, and broader understanding of life to the world.

My editor at Summerfolk Press once told me that artists take experiences outside of time and bring them into a temporal state in order to help those around us see everyday things in a different way, and Mark Snyder, is doing that through his play Lila Cante. I plan on seeing this play myself this weekend, but I had the opportunity to interview this gifted man for My Feet Only Walk Forward.

I haven't yet had the honor of meeting Mr. Snyder in person, though we have many connections. Plus, he loves Minneapolis, which makes me adore him without even having met him.

It also doesn't hurt that he is scrumptiously adorable.

Here's my interview with Mark. Do yourself a favor, and go and check out his play.

Tell me about Lila Cante, what is the story about?

LILA CANTE is a dark and sexy play about two siblings - both trying to pursue their artistic inclinations - who must come together and battle over their elusive mother’s legacy with the corporate music industry. It is also a funny and dangerous play about loneliness and forging new connections in spite of ourselves. I think our production burns from a white-hot center of love and compassion.

Who is Lila Cante, and why this play important at this particular moment?

Lila Cante is a reclusive singer-songwriter who produced one masterpiece solo album in the pre-grunge early 1990s, just before bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Liz Phair were entering the mainstream media. She releases one album of ten songs, followed by almost twenty years of silence (though she raises her two kids while touring the country and performing). The play is as much about how her choices and behaviors have impacted her children as it is about what they will do about her.

The play examines the backlash of the relationship between art and commerce, and about how those two entities are now trying to feed on each other in order to survive. It’s a play that uses modern culture (blogs, file-sharing, downloads, etc) as forms of communication. It is interesting, because I first started working on this play in 2001, and now the music industry’s total descent into irrelevance has really been the play’s blessing! It’s almost like the play caught up with the rest of the world and is ready to engage with it.

As a queer playwright, how does your sexuality influence what you bring to the stage?

I grapple with the label game all the time, because I don’t really appreciate being ghettoized, just like everyone else. I think my queerness certainly provides a filter through which I experience the world and tell the stories I want to tell. Without being conscious of it, queer is a given circumstance. As a writer, being more emphatic and less black-and-white about human nature and our motivations to do good and bad deeds is directly-connected to my sexuality and the world I inhabit in my plays. I work very hard to remain open and available to all kinds of experiences, without judgment, and then processing them later - via the plays.

What is it you hope to achieve through your production?

At Hand Theatre approached me about doing a staged reading and subsequent production late last winter; I’ve been working on new drafts and rewrites up through the day of first preview (where I gave one of our actors two new lines!). I think the play is in the best possible shape, and I feel like the months of workshops and rehearsals with some fantastic and sensitive actors was instrumental in transforming LILA CANTE into its current form. Our director Sara Sahin has given the play such a vibrancy and sensitivity that I think really gives the writing its true pulse. The audiences have been quite enthusiastic and jazzed by the play - the highest compliments I receive are when people ask me if Lila’s album is still in print and if they can purchase it at their local record store!

I’ve been very wishy-washy about getting a full-length play of mine onto a New York stage for some time now; this production, with these actors, and with this company is about as good as the “debut” could get. I’m very proud of it.

If folks leave the theater with one thought, idea, or notion, what would you like it to be?

True human connection is difficult to trust and hard to sustain, but we must continue attempting it in order to stay alive.

Also, I would love for people to appreciate the world of indie rock and how hard it is to forge a living making music - perhaps they would hesitate more before they click the “free download” button on their computers.

Why playwriting? Why not write a novel or compose free verse that you can shout in Union Square?

I started writing and staging plays when I was five years old; my personality is hard-wired towards the dramatic. Just last night I saw the new revival of “The Royal Family” on Broadway and I nearly burst into tears over this family’s sheer love and the thirst for the stage. I am a creature of the theater, pure and simple. It’s my language and my instincts.

Working with a director and actors and designers also creates a tribe-mentality that I find very stimulating and inspiring. I relish nothing more than sitting down to work knowing that a bunch of other artists are waiting for the new pages so they can give them life. It helps the writing process quite a bit. You’re not so lonely as if I were writing a novel or poems. And I save my voice by sitting in a chair taking notes during a performance instead of shouting in a square!

What does the vehicle of the theater give you that other literary forms do not?

Being a playwright is the best of both worlds - I get to indulge my literary impulses while at the same time being engaged directly with the public during performance. Conversing with the director, the designers, and those marvelous actors about the play as I’m continuing to write it. Returning to the play in performance, and learning from each of the different audiences. Theater is alive and vibrant and never truly finished - because the play will be done again, in a different city with a different cast for different people. It’s ever-changing and forces you to remain in the “now” of it (to get all Eckhart Tolle on you, Brandon!).

Finally, if folks want to catch Lila Cante or find out more about the super sexy Mark Snyder, how can they do that?

For tickets to LILA CANTE (through October 18, with a just-added matinee performance on Saturday, October 17!):

At Hand Theatre’s website is:

I can be found at:

Thank you, Brandon - this was fun!!

Thank you Mark, for letting me promote your work on my little corner of the web.

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