BWW Interviews: Playwright Dean Poynor

BWW Interviews: Playwright Dean Poynor

Tennessee Repertory Theatre begins their Ingram New Works Festival on May 7th. In preparation for the big event, Tennessee Repertory let their playwrights interview each other on their blog. We are sharing those interviews with our readers here at with the permission of Tennessee Repertory Theatre.

This is the final in a series of four interviews. In this interview Dean Poynor is interviewed by fellow playwright Nate Eppler. The original post can be found HERE.

For our last interview we've asked our Ingram New Works Playwright Nate Eppler to interview Dean Poynor to give you a deeper insight into Dean's life with only TENN (10) questions.

NATE EPPLER: How is Nashville so far?

DEAN POYNOR: Dude, Nashville is awesome. From great food at Mad Hatter, to karaoke at Blue Jean's, to a premo cup of coffee at Eighth and Roast, I have been treated so well and everyone has been so generous. Not to mention the amazing plays I've seen and the work that we have done with the actors, artists and producers at Tennessee Rep. I hope to experience more Nashville hot spots in the coming weeks, and I can't wait for our readings this Spring.

NATE EPPLER: I stole this question from Jeremy Sony's interview with me: In five words, describe what makes a Dean Poynor play.

DEAN POYNOR: Sparse poetry, searching immediate holy.

NATE EPPLER: You describe your work as taking place at the crossroads between the mundane and the divine; What led you to explore that intersection?

DEAN POYNOR: I grew up as a son of missionaries and was raised in a decidedly Evangelical culture, and as a result I bring a particular worldview to all my work. Even as religion plays an important role in my life, I find I'm constantly examining the place of religious experience in the lives of my characters. I am constantly challenged as an artist and as a person to be more articulate about what I believe. As I do, I'm less interested in thinking about the sacred and the mundane opposites, and I'm more interested in understanding their interdependence.

NATE EPPLER: Who is your role model as a writer? Or, you know, your literary hero? And why?

DEAN POYNOR: My favorite writers have always been Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and probably Italo Calvino. They all are able to spin intricate tales out of the most ephemeral of matter. Walker Percy had a natural, easy style that, like the best drama, acts on the sly. And I had an Ibsen phase, too, where I carried around one of these watermolded paperbacks that I found in some antique store somewhere with three of his plays in it. I think I was drawn to his high melodrama. I can see how I strive to be influenced by them all.

NATE EPPLER: What is the single most important valuable life lesson you learned from a television sitcom?

DEAN POYNOR: Comedy takes timing, drama takes time.

NATE EPPLER: How has being a parent changed your work?

DEAN POYNOR: See the quote on "time" above. Having a wonderful, effervescent young boy has been a blessing in so many ways. And it has drastically reduced my free time. A good friend of mine said that having a kid meant he didn't have any more time to get in his own way. I think I'll steal that.

NATE EPPLER: When do you know you have a good idea for a play?

DEAN POYNOR: Man, I don't know. Usually because I can't stop thinking about it. Something clicks as a dramatic moment - a character, a line, a stage image, something theatrical - that would have an impact on an audience. And from that kernel, a play grows and grows until it's ready for harvest. But of course it's usually only one moment at a time, so there's a ton of work to do. I guess the kernel, the scent of drama, has to be enough to sustain you during the process of uncovering the rest.

NATE EPPLER: How do you work? Is it a set time each day? A set number of pages? What's the typical Dean Poynor writing day?

DEAN POYNOR: I work in the cracks. With a one-year-old, it's hard to find any time alone. I used to write more consistently in the mornings, but now I'm able to squeeze in time over lunch, or at night. On the Subway I'll write down notes on my phone and then build out scenes when I get to wherever I'm going.

NATE EPPLER: When you're working through a rewrite, how do you decide what to keep and what to throw out?

DEAN POYNOR: Anytime things drag us down, either in terms of pace or in terms of taking us off course - wasting our time and attention - then it has to go. I wish I could always see this clearly when I'm writing it, but that's what reading and rehearsal is for. Very often it is something important that goes - either something that I like or that I think says something that should be said - so it's always hard to tease out the underlying function from the words themselves. But the act of making drama is managing attention and casting a spell, so any extra ingredient may spin the whole thing off in the wrong direction.

NATE EPPLER: If you had a chance to rewrite a moment from your life, which moment would you rewrite?

DEAN POYNOR: I have a hard time saying that any one moment needs to be rewritten, because I can't say where I would be without that experience. There have been moments that I've not enjoyed, you know, but I'm on this side of them now. I would probably hate middle school again. Sitting in a desk for a long time. But then again, now I know how to do algebra, so it would probably be a lot easier.

We hope you'll join us for Dean's new play Together We Are Making A Poem In Honor Of Life, May 10 and 13. Check out the Ingram New Works Festival schedule and make your reservations early here.

Again, thanks to Tennessee Repertory Theatre for allowing us to repost their interviews with their playwrights. The Ingram New Works Festival begins May 7th at Tennessee Repertory Theatre.

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Cara Richardson Cara Richardson is an avid theatre fanatic that grew up on movie musicals and showtunes. Participation onstage and off through high school and her first trip to New York City lit her theater fire, but now she prefers to hang out in the audience rather than backstage. She seeks out any chance to see live theatre.

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