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BWW Interviews: Liz Duffy Adams Talks DOG ACT, Writing & Art

Main Street Theater's next production is the regional premiere of Liz Duffy Adams' DOG ACT, which is a post-apocalyptic comedy. The plot follows Zetta Stone and her companion Dog, who is voluntarily undergoing a species demotion, as the travel across The Remains of the United States with their vaudeville troupe. In preparation for this fantastic production, Liz Duffy Adams took a few moments of her time to talk to me abut the genesis of DOG ACT, her writing process, advice for other artists, and women artists in general.

Houston's Main Street Theater is producing DOG ACT as part of their season this summer. What was the inspiration behind this show that seamlessly blends raucous vaudevillian and Shakespearean traditions together?

There were many sparks for this play. The one before had ended with the characters – train passengers – stranded on the far side of apocalypse, and in a way DOG picked up where that left off. I knew there would be a sacrificial act, because I was thinking about the world's long history of dying gods, and about betrayal, forgiveness, and history. And I thought that it would end by the sea, because that's where I wrote most of it, on a New England barrier island down the coast from a nuclear power plant; on the road that leads to the island's narrow bridge, there was still a faded old protest sign from the 1970s that says No Evacuation Possible. That was part of the genesis of the play. Other inspirations: Shakespeare, yeah, in a lot of ways. And a bit of Peter Pan, science fiction in general, and thousands of years of the history of the traveling player, from the Greeks to the 20th century vaudeville circuits. Also, dogs.

What was your writing process for DOG ACT like?

I wrote it slowly and obsessively, day and night over the course of a summer, with a lot of long walks in between. I was incredibly lucky that summer and didn't have to do almost anything else, and I was alone except on weekends. So I could wake up and write by moonlight in the hot summer night, with the sound of waves booming in the distance, then sleep in and spend the rest of the day writing at the dining room table. For example. I really had the most terrific time working on it.

What, if any, unique rituals do you have when writing?

None, really, except nowadays I use this software called Freedom that disables internet and email access on your computer for as long as you chose. It's such a relief not to rely on will-power alone! Other than that, I just try to get on with it, first thing in the morning, at a small bare worktable in my bedroom or in a café, to get out of the house.

At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be a writer professionally?

It was never a real decision. I'd always written but never thought of it as something you do. I started out as an actor, studied experimental theater and Shakespearean acting, which was a LOT of fun, but it became clear it wasn't going anywhere. Finally when I was well out of my 20s, after a lot of false starts and weird detours, I wrote a play, and doors that had been shut began to open. So I realized, Oh… this is what I do.

Did you train in any other profession so you could have a viable back-up plan if needed?

Well, as I said, I trained as an actor, but that was less a back-up plan than a gateway drug. I never seriously thought that I'd make a living as a writer, I just couldn't stop doing it. In the meantime I had 50 different kinds of jobs, at least, from restaurant work to making erotic phone recordings to editing a theater bookclub. And now I teach playwriting. No playwright makes a living on their royalties; they all teach or doctor screenplays or write for TV. (See Outrageous Fortune, a book by Todd London.)

What advice do you have for other aspiring playwrights?

For young people just starting to write: Don't waste time pursuing a "career"; put the work first and when the work deserves good things, good things will come. Act too if you possibly can; it's invaluable training for a playwright. Self-produce at first, working with your friends for free. Do it your own way, make your own mistakes, write grandiose manifestos, write big bad messy plays. Then go to grad school if you're serious. And (as I repeatedly advised myself): Don't get bitter if you don't get what you want right away. Love the struggle, or go get a real job.

Women's Project, a New York City non-profit organization that promotes and produces theater created by women, has embraced you as an artist. How does it feel to have a place in their sisterhood of acclaimed artists including Ann Bogart, Eve Ensler, and Sarah Jessica Parker?

Wow, when you put it that way, I'd have to say, very proud. I love Women's Project and I'm grateful to have been involved with their valuable mission.

It is extremely hard for women artists to garner attention, let alone acclaim, no matter what genre they create in. What advice can you offer to any female artist trying to obtain even the smallest foothold in the arts community?

The best piece of advice I never took was from a brilliant playwright who told our grad school group of both men and women to marry stockbrokers or doctors if they wanted to write. My advice to a woman wouldn't be much different than that to a man: work ferociously hard, and if you keep it up long enough – years, probably – you'll be rewarded. The difference for a woman is that you have to earn every half-step and no one helps you until you've already proven yourself, so you have to be twice as committed. Ultimately, recognition as an artist is about perseverance, or stubbornness, however you want to look at it. Play the long game. And don't burn out – take time once in a while to refill the well.

If you had to name one piece of art created by a woman (or a team of women) as your absolute favorite, what would it be and why?

This is a hard question! I don't think of the creator's gender so much in the art I love, and if no one cared about that, women artists would be better off. But given that, I can say that of all the singers, songwriters, artists, actors, and writers I love and who are also women – and they are legion! – I owe a particular debt to Restoration playwright Aphra Behn and her many works, especially THE ROVER. Her work is fearless, funny, sexy, brilliant, heartfelt, poetic and wild, and her life, what we know of it, was all that too, and inspiring as hell.

Can you tell me anything about any new pieces you are currently working on?

My newest play, A DISCOURSE ON THE WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD, is set 10 years after the Salem witch crisis, in 1702, with the (fictional) return of (historical) witch-accuser Abigail Williams to New England. It will have a workshop at the PlayPenn new works festival in July. And my children's musical The Buccaneers, about an indomitable girl who is kidnapped by a wicked pirate king and his crew of child-pirates, is premiering in September at CTC in Minneapolis.

DOG ACT runs at Main Street Theater's Rice Village location on Times Boulevard from July 13 to July 29, 2012. It has a preview on July 12, 2012. For more information and tickets please visit http://mainstreettheater.com/mainstage/dogact.html or call (713) 524 – 6706.

Photo of Liz Duffy Adams courtesy of Liz Duffy Adams. All other photos courtesy of Kaitlyn Walker.


Liz Duffy Adams


Pictured L-R are Bud (Ross Bautsch), Jo-Jo (Beth Lazarou), and Coke (David Wald).


Pictured L-R are Bud (Ross Bautsch), Zetta (Tamara Siler), and Coke (David Wald).


Pictured L-R are Jo-Jo (Beth Lazarou) and Zetta (Tamara Siler).


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