Bruce Walsh is Housing a Play
It’s a long way to get your head out of your own ass, and that’s what writing and doing collaborative theater are for. These days, playwright and journalist Bruce Walsh, 36, makes a habit out of not taking himself too seriously.
“I think I was the reverse, I was up my ass when I was younger, and somehow I got old and I just didn’t give a shit anymore.”
From Yardley, Bucks County, PA, Walsh has been writing theater for nearly twenty years while realizing that his more esteemed contributions seem to come from a spontaneous place.
“The theater-going public seems to be much more interested in an idea I just had than some deeper thing, like Lego Robot vs. Julia Child.”
The actual play that Walsh, Chris Davis, and Douglas Williams are writing together won’t involve going to a theater. “It’s my house. I probably wrote the piece [my part] like ten feet from where it’s being done.”
Walsh’s last two plays have focused on re-contextualizing charged spectacles into domestic situations to interesting and disarming results, mostly due to the intimate setting and the hilarious manipulation of language. Their upcoming play Holly’s Dead Soldiers is in Walsh’s Northern Liberties rowhome and Williams’s Manayunk abode, where ten feet is everything. “We like the idea of playwrights cooking for the audience and presenting their scenes, because there’s some sort of relationship between cooking for people and writing for people.”
When one playwright had to drop out, his friend Chris chipped in.”But we didn’t want to be three straight guys writing a love triangle from this point of view. So we had beers, we talked and talked . . . and it just clicked. Breakfast at Tiffany’s: we’ll make you breakfast, and we’ll funnel it into our voices and our living rooms.” As opposed to other breakfast titles—”Vonnegut’s stuff is all about his own voice”—the more blithe Breakfast at Tiffany’s served the ideal framework for the semi-improvisational play.
Walsh had a regional play done in 2009, Whiskey Neat. “It was also in some ways the culmination of the head up my own ass thing. There’s some beautiful things in there, but ultimately I wasn’t so concerned with communicating with an audience, or looking back on it that’s what I think. The headline for the review on the front page of The Inquirer had the word ‘pretentious’ in it. It was really a tough one.”
Bruce took a break. “I started to reinvent the way I wrote plays, and I started getting interested in things I was never interested in before, like talking to people.”
Walsh started taking stock of what was around him, got a couple friends, and produced Chomsky vs. Buckley, a reenactment of the famous debates through a frustrated couple, in the 2012 Philly Fringe. “It’s strange having theater critics in your living room, but having some friends who are great playwrights and great directors is great. I like being a team with this than having everyone looking at me.
“My initial idea was this conceptual art thing where people were just gonna rant on these lines, just speak the language, not the content, as written in the transcript in the debate. What I discovered is that it puts actors in a really unsupported unsafe place, so it had to be theater, it had to be in my living room so we had to tighten it up and make it shorter.”
He mentions Tony and Tina’s Wedding as a good example of what he doesn’t want to do. “If you’re gonna do site-specific work, you’re gonna have to be totally transparent about it because you are trying to establish some world. It needs to be exactly like, ‘Hi, this is my house and a scene I wrote.'” If the audience feels like asking questions during the play, he’s open to it. “Why we did this here, what our process is, why we decided to make Holly a man.”
A self-professed rehearsal junkie, Walsh finds the real guts of theater when “about the third day, the actors know their lines but the piece is just starting to ignite and come alive.”
“I’m worried about my work being about cheap tricks, which is why I write deeper, full length places that are not at all about that. But there’s another part of me that wants that fun, that recognizes how a good idea suggests a great story or some great possibilities, and can be a lot of fun.”
Catch Holly’s Dead Soldiers at Bruce’s House in Northern Liberties, (address disclosed after tickets are bought) September 7th and 8th, and at Doug’s House in Manayunk, September 14, 11pm and 2pm on all days. Click here for tickets!