A Dangerous Dance: Playwright Carter W. Lewis discusses his newest play, Evie's Waltz

Next week the St. Louis Rep will stage the world premiere of Carter W. Lewis' Evie's Waltz — the fourth new play by the Washington University playwright-in-residence to be staged at the Rep. Before viewers begin to weigh in on this topical piece, we gave Lewis the opportunity to talk about it.

Dennis Brown: Where did Evie's Waltz come from?

Carter Lewis: Out of a little bit of a fury about school-shooting incidents. Trying to sort them out. Whenever there's an emotional crisis like a shooting, there's a knee-jerk reaction to place blame. A school shooting is the government's fault for being in bed with the NRA. It's the parents' fault for being overindulgent. It's the school's fault for not having proper discipline and our teachers not being paid enough. It's the kids' fault because they're a little more wicked and aggressive today. I think that pointing fingers is a small-brained way of looking at a problem. So I tried to figure it out a little bit on paper. Which is usually what I do as a writer. I take an issue that's annoying me or angering me, and I put it down on a page. I try to make the people who I think are on the wrong side of the issue as positive as I can, in the hope of finding out why they behave as they do.

Washington University's playwright-in-residence, Carter W. Lewis, in 2007.
Dave Kilper/Washington University
Washington University's playwright-in-residence, Carter W. Lewis, in 2007.

Details

Evie's Waltz
Through November 9 at the Emerson Studio in the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves.
Tickets are $34 to $52. Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.

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How long was the gestation period?

Zero. Instead of trying to think ahead of time, I just start writing. I usually reject three or four attempts, and then something catches my fancy. At the time of writing Evie's Waltz, there were probably several things in my head, not just the issue of school shootings. But this is the one that caught on.

When would that have been?

June of last year. I wrote the opening barbecue dialogue between the two parents. I knew that their son had done something wrong, but I didn't know what he had done. Then as I went forward and the plot became clear, I was able to go back and layer in the events.

You started this play in June. When was the first time you let someone read it?

This play wrote itself very fast. I wrote it in three weeks. A week after I finished it, I had coffee with Steve Woolf. I told him about it, and he was very interested. So much so that he committed to producing it right there, even before he read it. This is not the normal circumstance. This is the one a playwright wishes he had all the time, where you write very fast and someone picks it up very fast.

With the various rewrites, would you label the finished play as the third draft, fourth draft?

I'd call it the first draft with small changes. Despite three workshops, it really hasn't changed a lot.

Do you expect the play to change during rehearsals?

Some, though not drastically. But I've been writing plays for too long to think that any script is set, because you're constantly on a learning curve. The one thing you quickly learn as a playwright is that although people always assume that you know a lot about your play, you really only know about 50 or 60 percent. Even though you wrote it, a lot of the reason for having written it is subconscious. Then in workshops and rehearsals, other people point things out to you. Actors are great truth monitors. They get to a certain point, and they just stop. Then they look at you and say, "I can't go past this line, because I don't know what's happening. This doesn't make sense." And you have to look at that.

Evie's Waltz is a one-set play with three characters. When you sit down to write, how important is it to confine yourself within those parameters?

It's not the be-all or end-all, but it's important. If what I want to write about fits into that restriction, then that's fine. If it doesn't, then I'll expand out. Ordinary Nation [which the Rep staged in 2006] had multiple locations and six characters, because that's what it needed. This didn't need that. But a playwright is always facing constraints, and not just cast size and singular location. Some regional theaters balk at the idea of harsh language. Some theaters balk at the idea of nudity.

This play has no intermission. What is film's influence on new plays?

I see that influence a great deal in my students at Washington U., because they've all seen more film and TV than they have theater. So they write filmically. They write in short scenes that they hope stack up to what older writers used to do with character development and progress-of-idea. So film is a huge influence today.

Do you go to movies?

I go to a lot of movies, but I also read a lot of novels. You learn patience from reading novels. You learn that a journey is more rewarding if it's earned in some way.

This is a three-character play, but the object of the play, Danny, is constantly hovering just out of sight. The viewer never meets Danny. What are the risks for a writer when an offstage character is integral to the plot?

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