Playwright Dori Appel has published, produced and performed her original theatrical works for decades. Her plays have won international acclaim and numerous awards (including the Oregon Book Award in drama). Appel will perform in April at The Dance Space in Ashland. We met over coffee and scripts at The Coffee Place above Bloomsbury Books.
EH: What kinds of plays do you write?
DA: I tend to be a somewhat quirky playwright. I am often funny, but even with the humorous pieces, there’s often a serious undercurrent. I write comedies about serious things. I’d like it always to be a mix of those things. Any funny piece that I write has a human quality to it, where there are real people. I’m not really interested in farce. My work is character-driven. I like there to be people who deserve some sympathetic response. I’m interested in characters who have something that is important to them, that needs to be worked out.
I’m not someone who endorses the notion that conflict is at the heart of it. Engagement is, and it has to mean a lot to the characters involved in it. If we start writing with the idea of, “Where are my conflicts?” it produces a certain kind of result. That’s not the way I do it.
EH: Are you a therapist?
DA: I’m a psychologist.
EH: Is that where you find your material?
DA: It’s a mode of thought rather than drawing upon specific material. It’s a focus, or a way of being, a way of relating or interacting. Writing requires the same skills of listening, and attending and trying to understand what that person is trying to do.
EH: Do you act out your characters as you write them?
DA: Without even thinking about it, I do. You have to hear the dialogue, and I’m constantly either thinking it or saying it.
EH: Why is there this compelling interest in theater?
DA: It is a basic human impulse. Just going back to the way children play; they all assume roles. The kid games we remember involve fantasy, role-playing or drama of some kind that is improvised. All the play-house things and all the warfare stuff are all dramas that get enacted this way. As adults, we also have internal dramas all the time: Doing over again that conversation that didn’t go so well. We all do that.
Movies technically have it over theater any day of the week. But still, something happens between what goes on on-stage and the audience. That is one of those relationship things that you don’t get at the movies.
EH: How does family figure into theater for you?
DA: I have a very patient husband. He is extremely accepting of my absences and my involvement. He fortunately has his own compelling work.
EH: You act in a lot of your own plays. What makes a good actress?
DA: I think truthfulness. I think it’s the same thing that makes good writing. Even if it’s very light, if humor is a part of it, or if it’s even farcical, being truthful to the material, and not commenting on it, is very important.
EH: What makes a good director?
DA: It’s being in tune with the text, and the playwright’s intention, and seeing the possibilities of how it can be developed. It happens in staging; it happens from the actors too. Directors certainly have taken my work beyond what I understood about it.
Dori Appel and Carolyn Myers will celebrate 28 years of collaboration with “Saturn Return,” readings of new work and greatest hits April 16-17 at The Dance Space. For information contact:www.doriappel.com.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.