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BBWW Interview: Playwright Justin Tanner's Just At Home in MINNESOTA As He Is In The L.A. Theatre Community

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Justin Tanner will world premiere his latest piece MINNESOTA for Rogue Machine online June 26, 2021

BBWW Interview: Playwright Justin Tanner's Just At Home in MINNESOTA As He Is In The L.A. Theatre Community

The prolific playwright and regular denizen of the Los Angeles theatre community Justin Tanner will world premiere his latest piece MINNESOTA for Rogue Machine online June 26, 2021, with a virtual reception to follow. Justin was most quick to respond to my questions on MINNESOTA and the L.A. theatre community.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Justin!

Tell us how the pandemic influenced you in adapting Patricia Highsmith's Edith's Diary into MINNESOTA.

I should clarify here: The world premiere of is not an adaptation of Edith's Diary. I was inspired to write MINNESOTA through three sources:

1.) Joe Orton's diaries, which I wanted to adapt into a monologue back in the early 2000's but never did;

2.) My husband Kristian Hoffman's New York diaries (which are in the process of being published) and are about his time in New York in the late 70's early 80's being a part of the CBGB's music scene as a member of punk band Mumps; and which I also tried to adapt into a one-man show (with songs) but abandoned;

3.) Reading Edith's Diary, and loving the premise: A woman who dislikes the way her life is turning out and decides to create an alternate reality through the writing of a fantasy-based diary depicting the life she wished she had. (as her life falls apart, her diary gets more and more positive and hopeful.)

BBWW Interview: Playwright Justin Tanner's Just At Home in MINNESOTA As He Is In The L.A. Theatre Community When the pandemic started I thought it might be worthwhile to do something I'd never done: keep an actual diary. At the time I was also working on a totally different one-man show with Lisa James about addiction (I've been sober two years and three months), and at one point I had this sort of epiphany to pull elements from that show, filter it through a pandemic journal format, and then add the focused lens of drama in order to create a portmanteau play that pulls from both reality and fantasy.

When did you first read Patricia Highsmith's novel?

I read it about twenty years ago. She's one of my favorite authors, and it's her best book in my opinion. Since there are only four or five characters and one basic set (a living room), it seemed like an easy novel to adapt. But I decided I should start with something in the public domain.

You've been a prolific playwright. What made you want to cast yourself for MINNESOTA?

I love acting. I went to the drama program at LACC and met most of the people who were in my original company there. And when MINNESOTA ended up being so personal (part of the illusion of the play is the sense that you are watching my actual life up there onstage) it seemed like the best way to convey these emotions was first hand. Plus I'm a big old ham: I've been fortunate enough to fill in for various actors in my own plays over the years and every time, it's been a great joy. Finally: It was Lisa James who convinced me that I could actually pull this off. Without her belief in me, MINNESOTA would never have happened.

BBWW Interview: Playwright Justin Tanner's Just At Home in MINNESOTA As He Is In The L.A. Theatre Community What cosmic forces brought you and your director Lisa James together for this project?

I knew her from the old CAST Theatre days. She almost directed my play POT MOM back in 1994. Then she directed a hugely successful revival of my play BITTER WOMEN in 1999, and went on to direct OKLAHOMO! in 2004 and EL NIñO in 2018. As far as I'm concerned she can direct every play I write until I'm too old to type. We are synched up artistically, we read each other's minds. She's a bloody genius.

What is your three-line pitch for MINNESOTA?

A week after a writer finally marries his long-time boyfriend, the world goes into lockdown. Being in close quarters puts the relationship under horrific pressure and the ensuing friction threatens to end their world as they know it. Then a sudden trip to Minnesota changes everything. (something like that).

MINNESOTA will be on demand through August 1st. Would you like to perform it live on stage sometime in the unmasked future?

Oh yes. For sure, it will be done on stage. The sooner the better. It took a long time to memorize 75 minutes of material - I would hate to have to re-memorize it all over again in a year. My dream is that a theatre becomes available ASAP and Rogue Machine can just smoothly transition this to live performances in the Fall (fingers crossed). But honestly whenever and wherever: I'm dying to do it in front of a live audience.

Besides writing MINNESOTA, what else did you do to keep creative and sane in these past quarantine months? Additional episodes of your series Ave 43, possibly?

I started a company called Justin's Notes (justinsnotes.net) and began teaching Zoom classes last March, and it turned into an actual thriving business. I now coach, consult and edit - this direct contact with artists, showing them the tools for improving their work, is the most fulfilling thing I've ever done.

BBWW Interview: Playwright Justin Tanner's Just At Home in MINNESOTA As He Is In The L.A. Theatre Community You must have been in the room for many an audition. What's the worst thing an actor shouldn't do?

Please don't paraphrase or improvise. For God's sake, say the words as written, the script is right in front of you. Syllables are important - the rhythm of a line changes instantly if words are substituted, the musicality of a phrase can disappear.

What advice would you give a nervous auditioner?

Know the material. Memorize it to the point that it becomes second nature; so that no matter what the director throws at you, you can keep up, be buoyant and stay emotionally connected and alive. Nothing is lost by knowing the lines too well. It frees you so that your inner life can bubble to the surface. When I see that in an audition, it's like gold.

You've been a regular contributing denizen of the Los Angeles theatre community for years. What changes/improvements have you seen since?

No improvements, just more hurdles and obstacles. It used to be simpler to put up a play. Now the cost is so daunting, it's almost impossible. 99-seat theatre back in the 90's was a way that emerging playwrights with no connections or money could get produced, and brand-new actors with no prior credits could get their photograph in the LA Times. But Equity put a stop to that. Now you have to already be established before anyone will put up the money it takes to do the most minimal of productions. I'm fortunate that I had a chance to really cut my teeth when it was still relatively affordable. If I was trying to start a career as a newcomer right now, I wouldn't have a chance. There was an immediacy back then too: I could write a play and see it up on its feet and in front of an audience in as little as a month. Now it takes years and years between creation and production. Plus, when we had the Daily News and the LA Herald, in addition to the Times, you would be sure of three different major points of view coming from our local press. Add to that the Weekly and the Reader and Dramalogue and Backstage West and Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and you would have a huge cross section of critics weighing in. Don't get me wrong, I love all the new online critics and magazines - they're just new territory that I'm unfamiliar with, and I just miss the tactile sensation of opening a paper, seeing my name in print, clipping it out and pasting it to a scrapbook.

BBWW Interview: Playwright Justin Tanner's Just At Home in MINNESOTA As He Is In The L.A. Theatre Community What's in the near future for Justin Tanner?

LITTLE THEATRE, a play I wrote a couple of years ago that was supposed to premiere at Rogue Machine before COVID, is slotted to appear in their upcoming season. It's about 99-seat theatre in the 90's. The great Jenny O'Hara is playing (a version of) legendary CAST Theatre Producer Diana Gibson. And, of course, Lisa James is going to direct. I also have plans to start filming Ave 43 again - so stay tuned!

Thank you again, Justin! I look forward to streaming your MINNESOTA.

For viewing tickets for MINNESOTA on demand through August 1, 2021; log onto https://roguemachine.anywhereseat.com/channel.php


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