Brian Armstrong on his career and his craft
December 24, 2016
Playwright Brian Armstrong, author of Piglet, answers questions about his career, playwriting, and the theatre.
Q: What was the play you saw or read that made you think: “this theatre thing is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
A: It wasn't a single play, but a festival of one-acts done by students at the University of Texas El Paso my freshman year. Being able to take part in that festival and watch people making theatre for themselves was truly inspiring, and I changed my major from Computer Science to Theatre after that event.
Q: What was your first job in the theatre?
A: The first thing I got paid to do (though it wasn't much) was running lights and sound for a Senior Olympics talent event held at the University Theatre.
Q: I think we find inspiration in the work of others. I often find myself wishing I had written a particular play/moment/character, and that’s when I realize I have developed a playwriting crush (these are ever changing and different from your playwright loves). Who is your playwriting crush and why?
A: There are several, but if I must choose one, it is Neil Labute. One of his plays was my first acting experience in high school, and I am fascinated by his exploration of truly dark characters that show a side of humanity that we usually prefer to ignore.
Q: What’s your favorite line of dialogue/moment/character you’ve ever written? You can share why, but you don’t have to.
A: I think my favorite thing I've written so far is my abstract piece, Le Jardin Noir, which was the culmination of a long period of very personal work for me. In it, there are the two symbolic godlike characters, Pan and Gea, that have poetic dialogue that weave in and out of each other, and, while they do not say much in a logical/realism sense, communicate a great deal. So there's a moment when they are watching the other characters, pitying them, but keeping distant and flirting with each other in these lines of poetry that I think captures something of who I am as a writer.
Q: How do you define success? What have you sacrificed for your career?
A: I don't like to define it in such a rigid sense, because success is always evolving, and once one goal is reached another looms on the horizon. I suppose success in writing for me would be to make a living entirely out of writing—my writing, not advertisements or corporate PR pieces. Perhaps it is because of what I have not been willing to sacrifice that I don't have much of a career.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? Give one piece of advice you wish you were given when you started.
A: I won't answer the first question. I would tell myself, "Gather a few pieces that you are most proud of, and start presenting yourself as if you are already a huge success now. Start behaving this way and eventually a few people will believe it, and then maybe a few more."
Q: How has your writing changed over time?
A: My writing has changed in the way that I've changed. I've grown older, my life, my circumstances have changed. Different things frighten me, anger me, bring me joy, etc. These changes come out in my writing.
Q: If, for some reason, you were suddenly forbidden to write, what would you do to fill that void?
A: I would express myself through some other art. Perhaps acting or music or film-making, least likely visual art simply because I'm no good at it. Anyone who has an inborn desire to create art will find a way. The medium is just there out of habit, really. I've expressed myself through writing most of my life, but it could easily have gone another way. I firmly refute the notion that we must all be masters of only one trade, rejecting all others. We can all be Renaissance men/women.
Q: Please take a minute to describe the journey of creating one of your plays published by YouthPLAYS in your own words (take into account impulse, writing complications, production history, discovery, what it’s about versus what it is trying to say, etc.).
A: When I wrote Piglet, I ran a small middle school drama club and I was looking for a short play that could be done with a small cast (rather than a full class of 20+ kids), and I was hard pressed to find anything like what I was looking for. The idea just struck me to do this parody and I thought surely it would have been done before so I searched all over and found to trace of anyone doing a similar play, so I wrote it up and had my drama club perform it. After meeting with my mentor, another YouthPLAYS author, Tom Smith, I decided to submit it and was pleased that it was accepted. Since then I've had the pleasure of seeing productions pop up around the globe.