Playwright Bert Anderson conducts the Atelier, the popular Playwright Actor Workshop that provides a free venue for dramatic readings of new plays by local playwrights in Ashland. An Episcopal minister and retired marriage and family counselor, Anderson began writing plays in 2005 while attending local writing workshops. We met at Boulevard Coffee one bright winter afternoon to talk about the Atelier and his most recent play, “Mr. Brightside and the Bonfire Nights.”
EH: Your play had so many bizarre incidents and characters; where did they come from?
BA: Some of it comes from the fact that I was a therapist in a residential treatment program where I met a lot of boys who were mentally disturbed, delinquent kinds of kids. The idea for the play came from a New York Times article that describes the boys from Texas who had burned twenty churches. These boys have good people as parents. There was a lot of detail about family, but not about the boys’ motivation. It all came together in my right brain and put it down on paper. The play is totally fictional.
There’s this very vulnerable age that seems to be repeated over and over again, of nineteen to twenty year old kids: The Texas tower shooting, the Columbine shooting…It’s a very vulnerable age. The main character in my play is a damaged human being. I put in possible things that could have damaged him. The play is about his emotional arc.
This play has nine different characters, and you carry all of those characters in your head as you’re writing the play: all of their personalities, all of their quirks, and hopefully all of the arcs that they’re going to make in the play. It’s an amazing process.
EH: You’ve created this marvelous forum for playwrights, the Atelier.
BA: I belong to the Ashland Playwrights’ Project, and I kept hearing people say, “When we write a play there’s no place to hear it”. There just wasn’t a forum.
EH: Where does the name come from?
BA: It’s simply French for workshop. There are all kinds of workshops. In our country the word is implied with an artistic idea.
We want plays by local playwrights. And we want fresh material. Some people in this community can open a file drawer and pull out plays from the ‘50s. Basically we’ll take any full length or full one-act play that is current that is fresh for the writer. It can be a monologue. We prefer not having screenplays because they don’t read well; there’s too much description and not enough dialogue.
EH: Why do you write plays?
BA: It’s a creative outlet that’s always been missing in my life. I got very interested in the right brain thing. It’s a fulfillment of my own need to be creative.
EH: Why do you like to write plays rather than memoirs or novels?
BA: I think a novel has a lot more latitude. There’s so much emotional dynamic in a play. One of the ways that I judge the plays that I see is: “How much energy is coming off the stage from the actors? Am I waiting for something to happen, or am I sitting on the edge of my seat?” It’s that energy that you write into a play. There’s a discipline to it: getting the message across in a limited amount of time. You really create life with a play.
The Playwright Actor Atelier brings together Rogue Valley writers and actors to read and analyze new plays written by local writers. Readings take place the last Monday of each month in the Gresham Room of the Ashland Library. For information contact: http://playwrightsatelier.org.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.