BWW Interviews: Playwright Denise O'Neal Talks Shop- JUST A FEW FEET AWAY

Denise O'Neal

Denise O'Neal is a Houston gem: A writer, director, and producer who's not afraid to try something new or push back the boundaries of the norm. Her latest play, JUST A FEW FEET AWAY, opens at The Obsidian Art Space September 4, and I was able to grab this very busy artist and talk about inspiration, writing, and a path leading to the center of the earth.

BWW: I recently read an article that said if we want to know what we should do with our lives we should look at what we were good at in 2nd grade. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Denise O'Neal: According to my mom, I was winning essay contests by 2nd grade! I have always loved to write as far back as I(and my mother) can remember. When I discovered a thesaurus, I am sure I died and went to Heaven. But when I came back to Earth, I thought for a long time I would want to be a fashion designer one day. So funny to me now; being fashion savvy is the absolute last thing on my mind; if it's black I will probably be wearing it, if it happens to coincide with something you saw during "fashion week", great! Aside from that, the only other thing I can think I wanted to be was the owner of my own company; I guess I'm living out that childhood dream now.

BWW: You wear a lot of hats- producer, playwright, director...Which one gives you the most fulfillment?

Denise O'Neal: Producing definitely requires the most sacrifice, but it is by far, the most rewarding. I never cry tears of joy after writing or directing a play, but producing does it every time. The rush of a seeing the work come to life before your eyes is just as exhilarating as it is humbling! Seeing an audience moved by something I wrote leaves me speechless. What is ironic is that even when I am writing and directing I am still in a state of "producing"; it's all one big package deal! I've been doing the three for so long, it's hard to imagine them separated. But recently, after becoming a first time published playwright and having several pieces of my work selected for production, the writing of plays has brought me the most satisfaction spiritually; it centers me in a way no other task does and feels like the most natural thing for me to do as I exist here on Earth. I always know when I've been away from it for too long because waves of restlessness and discontentment creep in. I plan to do a lot more writing in 2015 than producing.

BWW: "Just A Few Feet Away" is about a mad scientist who has discovered a path to the earth's core. What a fantastic idea for a play! How did this idea come to you?

Denise O'Neal: Most people that really "know" me, know that I find great fascination in the "appointment of beginnings": the split-second of time when what is known as the present becomes the past. I am captivated by how many things happen within such a brief moment. I am also intrigued by how things end, after all the intricate twist and turns have unfolded, how did the dust settle? Is everyone still breathing -with or without assistance? This was the philosophical springboard from which Just A Few Feet Away was created. The twelve character play started as one monologue. The first monologue came to mind after I saw a homeless man sitting alone looking aimlessly into space. He was lost in his thoughts and I wondered - how did he get to this place? When was the moment in time when only a second ago, he had a home? The second monologue was inspired by a date I had with a geologist from Africa. He was happily rambling on about the logistics of drilling into the Earth, I was thinking about how his "beginning and end" would make a great play! Since I love the process of uncovering dirt anyway (pun intended), this was right up my alley! From there ten other monologues (and scenes with connecting dialogue) came along. Each new monologue somehow linked the first two together. The way the performance plays out reminds most of the plot lines they would see from the movies Crash and Six Degrees of Separation. It is a chilling story to behold.

BWW: What inspires you in your work as a playwright? Do you have any muses?

Denise O'Neal: The opportunity to see if my writing can reveal the "intent" of the character's heart rather than their deed. This is a challenge I find most inspiring. I've never had a specific muse, never been inspired by one person or a thing. Concepts, the idiosyncrasies of the fallen man and the perplexing behavior of our wayward society provide enough material for me to write for years to come.

JUST A FEW FEET AWAY runs September 4 - Sept.20 at The Obsidian Art Space. For Tickets, go to:

Photo Credit courtesy of Denise O'Neal.

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