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Interview: Brian Watkins Talks New Play EPIPHANY, OUTER RANGE on Amazon Prime Video & Writing for TV Vs. Theatre

Interview: Brian Watkins Talks New Play EPIPHANY, OUTER RANGE on Amazon Prime Video & Writing for TV Vs. Theatre

Watkins shared his hope that Epiphany is a play that speaks to people after the pandemic.

Writer Brian Watkins is conquering theatre, television and more! Watkins is the writer of Epiphany, starring Marylouise Burke, Omar Metwally and Heather Burns, which just opened at Lincoln Center Theater. He is also the creator, and showrunner, and executive producer of Outer Range on Amazon Prime Video, starring Josh Brolin, Noah Reid and Lili Taylor, and has a film project in the works.

BroadwayWorld spoke with Watkins about the journey of Epiphany, the differences in writing for theatre vs. television, and more.

Your play Epiphany is now open Lincoln Center Theater. Can you tell me about the journey that this play has made from its creation to its premiere?

Sure! I first started writing the play when I was in a Playwriting Fellowship at Juilliard and was also workshopping another play of mine with Druid Theatre Company in Ireland. I came back from Ireland, and the idea for the play just really struck me in a powerful way. I had been reading a lot of Joyce and was sort of haunted by his story The Dead, and kept re-reading it, and re-reading it. And I got a group of people together to ask them a few questions about things like togetherness, and holidays, and "If you were to create a holiday, what would that holiday be?" and used those conversations as clay for the play itself. And thankfully, pretty soon after that it was produced by Druid Theatre Company in Ireland, and then Lincoln Center Theater said, "Hey, we'd love to produce it here in New York." So, it was a very special thing to bring the play back home to New York where I had conceived it, at Lincoln Center in the library there, and at Juilliard. It's been a humbling and special journey to bring the play back to where it started.

What can people expect to see with Epiphany?

At face value it might seem like a dinner party play. But it ends up being something much different. The play is about a woman who is trying to throw a party in celebration of a holiday she knows nothing about. And she has invited her nephew, Gabriel, as the guest of honor, who is this intellectual, who is a writer, who is going to explain and give meaning to the whole evening, and everyone is sort of there to see him. And a wrench is thrown into things when they learn that Gabriel is actually not coming. So, certain questions start to percolate for each of them, and then have to figure out why, in fact, they are, and what, in fact, they are celebrating. And it starts to unearth some darker, or forgotten, questions that have lived inside of each of them for a long time. At the end of the day, it's a play about togetherness, it's a play about why we gather. And in that way, we hope that it's a play that really speaks to people after the pandemic.

In addition to Epiphany, you also created Outer Range, which premiered on Amazon. Can you tell me a little bit about what the experience of working on that like?

Absolutely! That was a nice long journey. I probably wrote the first episode of Outer Range something like five years ago now. And through the course of a couple of writers rooms, and going into production, it was really sort of the main project that I tackled over the last two or three years as creator, and showrunner, and executive producer. Wearing all the hats was just a joy, it was so amazing to have a group of people supporting this story about where I'm from. I grew up out west, and I always wanted to write something that bore the strangeness and the mystery of the places I grew up in. And so, Outer Range became a sort of investigation of this wild and weird fabric of the West that becomes a repository for our dreams in a lot of ways, and a narrative of America in general. From soup to nuts it was really a labor of love, and a huge project that involved hundreds of different people in making it. I'm thrilled that it's now finally in the world and that people are responding the way they are.

What are the differences for you in writing for TV vs writing for theatre?

Theatre is really about the ideas, TV is really about the characters, and film is really about the story. And I was given that advice years ago, and I think that really holds true. I think the investigation of characters is what makes TV so fun. For me, theatre is really an exploration of language and ideas, and leaning into the fact that theatre is written in water. It is a very impermanent event. And TV, being something that will live in perpetuity on your TV screen, and you can just click it at any time, becomes a lot different. So, the approach into writing TV for me was about two things. It was about the opportunity to write something that was deeply cinematic and visual in nature, and really be able to stretch my legs in that way, which was very exciting. But also, there's the really cool fact that TV is about connecting with people in their living rooms, and it's a very intimate form for that reason. And so, you're afforded these opportunities that are much different than theatre.

I approach them in those different ways, and knowing that one form is taking place in your living room, and one form is taking place in this public, yet impermanent event of the theatre, definitely alters how you think about language, how you think about character, and story, and all of that. For Outer Range, it was just fun to write about these sweeping landscapes, and deep mysteries I've always wanted to explore. And for Epiphany, it was really a joy to examine this idea of why people get together, and examine the fabric of togetherness. They both kind of serve their own purposes.

Can you share what you are working on next?

There's a film that's based on one of my earliest plays, called My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer. And that play was produced at the Flea Theater, and I've adapted it into a screenplay. It is about two sisters and their mother's sheep, and it sort of all goes down hill from there!

Do you have anything else you'd like to share? Anything you'd like to say to audience members coming to Epiphany?

The play is a really great time. It's hopefully a play that will make you laugh until it makes you think about deeper, quieter, harder things in life. It's one of those plays where all of the characters are trying to cast certain spells, and we hope that it casts a spell over our audience as well. We'd love for everyone to see it, especially during this time when theatre is getting on its feet again and we're re-exploring who we are after this big pandemic. We are excited to share it with audiences.

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