Checking In With… Smash Creator Theresa Rebeck, Playwright of Dead Accounts, Seminar, Omnium Gatherum, More

Interview   Checking In With… Smash Creator Theresa Rebeck, Playwright of Dead Accounts, Seminar, Omnium Gatherum, More
 
Smith & Kraus recently published a new collection of Rebeck's plays, Theresa Rebeck: Complete Plays Volume 5.
Theresa Rebeck
Theresa Rebeck Bryce Boyer, courtesy of Old Mill Road Media

As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to some of our favorite artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.

The series continues with playwright Theresa Rebeck, whose plays include Bernhardt/Hamlet, Dead Accounts, Seminar, Mauritius, all on Broadway; Omnium Gatherum (co-written), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The Understudy; What We’re Up Against; The Scene; The Water’s Edge; Loose Knit; The Family of Mann; Spike Heels; Bad Dates; The Butterfly Collection; Our House; and View of the Dome. She has also written three novels—Three Girls and Their Brother, Twelve Rooms with A View, and I’m Glad About You—along with Free Fire Zone, a book of comedic essays about writing and show business. Rebeck created the NBC showbiz drama Smash, and her films include Trouble (writer/director), Harriet the Spy, Gossip, and the independent features Sunday on the Rocks and Seducing Charlie Barker, an adaptation of her play, The Scene. Smith & Kraus recently published a new book of collected plays from the OCC Award-winning playwright, Theresa Rebeck: Complete Plays Volume 5, which covers the prolific writer’s 2011–2019 works.

READ: Checking In With… Polkadots Playwright and Beautiful Actor Douglas Lyons

Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes in <i>Dead Accounts</i>
Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holmes in Dead Accounts Joan Marcus

What is your typical day like now?
My day begins with some pretty serious negotiations with myself on how to get out of bed. Luckily I have two dogs, and they are insistent that I feed them. So that helps with that. Then I do some writing, if I'm lucky, and I have a little gym area attached to my house that I sometimes get around to. I've been studying Spanish with a wonderful teacher, we meet online, so sometimes I do that. I'm trying to stay away from Zoom meetings if possible. Those were driving me crazy. I don't get out and see people much, but I like to talk on the telephone.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
I'm in love with the Duolingo Spanish Podcast, which is half in Spanish and half English, about the lives of Spanish-speaking people all over the world. It's very humane and inspiring, frankly.

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
I think that telling people to not pay attention to the news is a mistake—how can we not pay attention? But I think that all of us need to protect ourselves from too much of it. That includes Twitter and Facebook, and newspapers and the evening news. Sometimes it's overwhelming, and too often I consume it like an addict. That doesn't help me or anyone.

I also think that working on something specific, with simple goals—for me, it's Spanish, but it could be gardening or baking or playing the piano, knitting hats maybe—is really helpful. Some days when I have trouble getting out of bed in spite of my insistent dogs, reading a little article in Spanish makes me feel better about myself, and that gets me moving.

I also think that getting out of the house is important. Most places, you do have to wear a mask, but everything seems a bit better when I get some fresh air.

Also, I do think that we have to not be afraid to ask for help. Ask for help. Also, not to sound like Pollyanna, but I also think that reaching out to other people and saying, "How are you doing?" is important. These things are hard to do when you are isolated and afraid, but I haven't come up with a better solution. I think it's important to keep trying to build community without getting upset. There's so much hostility in the air right now, and it's contributing to everyone's fear and anxiety. I think we all need to position ourselves as the antidote to that.

F. Murray Abraham, Bobby Cannavale, Alison Pill, Dylan Baker and Katie Finneran in Theresa Rebeck's <i>Mauritius</i>.
F. Murray Abraham, Bobby Cannavale, Alison Pill, Dylan Baker and Katie Finneran in Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius. Photo by Joan Marcus

How are you keeping your creative juices flowing?
I'm trying not to push myself too hard, or judge myself. I've always been someone who writes a lot, and I have enough practice and technique that I can make myself sit down and do it. Let's face it, writers have to learn that skill and live on it. So in many ways this isolation isn't all that new to us. But the massive uncertainty about what is going to happen to the theatre and film and television production can be a big obstacle to one's imagination. Also this is going on considerably longer than anyone thought it would, and the country has massive issues, and my personal life does as well. So I think taking a break is actually an appropriate position, on days when that is what it is.

I will say practicing Spanish is doing my brain a world of good, and I am thinking about language in entirely new ways. Por supuesto! So that's keeping my brain alert.

What organization (s) would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I'm worried about so many ways individuals in so many communities have become terribly vulnerable during this time. Vox put together an amazing article about a lot of organizations who provide different kinds of support.


READ: Checking In With… Hamilton Star Sydney James Harcourt


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