BWW Interview: Playwright Tony Glazer and SUBSTANCE OF BLISS at NJ Rep
New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present the World Premiere of Substance of Bliss written by Tony Glazer from January 14th to February 14th. In the play, Paul and Donna nervously await the return on their troubled teen late one night. The couple finds themselves questioning their renovation choices, the political and religious persuasions of their neighbors, the feral cats running amok in their yard and even their decision to marry and have the child that causes them so much angst. Directed by Evan Bergman, Substance of Bliss stars Christopher Daftsios and Susan Maris. Broadwayworld.com interviewed writer, director and producer, Tony Glazer about his career and the show.
What were some of your earliest interests in film/theatre?
One of my earliest memories - something that got me very interested - was when my Mom took me to see a musical revue when I was around six. One of the actors onstage got violently sick and eventually they had to stop the show right in the middle of a song. When they did, and they turned on the house lights, there was this initial moment of chaos in the room - shouting, people in the aisles, exit doors swinging open - and I remember turning around in my seat, on my knees, and just looking around - at the other audience members, ushers - swept up in it all. I remembered immediately connecting the show on stage with the community of the audience - feeling that exchange, sometimes heated and fraught, between the two. I didn't have the sophistication to understand it fully (certainly not articulate it the way I am now) but I was enthralled. It was this exciting, confusing, scary feeling and I knew I wanted be a part of it - a part of that alchemy.
Tell us about some of your mentors.
There are so many - I can probably only name a few here. First and foremost it was my parents - all the good qualities I have are rooted in their guidance in my developing stages as a person. I had great teachers when I went to school at Boston University. (I was an Acting Major at the time). Their influence, their guidance still echoes through my process now. I still draw on my experiences from that period - both personal and academic. But during my time there I also became quite restless - about being an actor, about the idea that there may be something else for me as a vocation. I knew I wanted a life in the arts but I became increasingly uncertain about my place in it. When I graduated, I came to New York (as many actors do) and studied acting with Maggie Flanigan. That's when the lights really came on for me. My entire life opened up as an artist (not just an actor). Maggie opened the pathways of thinking in me that ultimately led me to writing, directing and producing. My producing partner, Summer Crockett Moore, has been someone I look up to greatly. While ours is a partnership, I've learned quite a lot from her over the last fifteen years. Lastly, New York City is its own mentor. For me, it was love at first sight but it was always a tough love, an unforgiving one. If New York taught me one thing it was that: You can do anything you want and, by the way everything is here, but you're going to have to toughen up and work for it.
What are a few of your favorite shows or performances?
I watch (and love) quite a lot of movies and television. It's a little torturous for me to name just a few. I just watched ROOM and SICARIO loved them both. Personal favorites are WITHNAIL AND I, FIGHT CLUB and EMPIRE OF THE SUN. On the television front, I'm a fan of THE KNICK and BETTER CALL SAUL.
How does your work in film compliment your work in live theater?
They are both fundamentally different but I find when I toggle back and forth between the two, I am very aware of structure - how a story unfolds, which character drives it, the cause and effect along the way - so the compliment comes in the form of a reminder about stories, how each one is different. It has also helped me pinpoint what I love so much about both. What I love about theatre is the same thing that I love about the challenge of film: intimacy and the volatility of a moment. Theatre can be so wonderfully intimate because we're all in the same room, breathing the same air and we feel, when it's done right, that it can all change in a flash. In film it's, of course, not the same set-up but I love the challenge of communicating something intimate, something immediate and alive while being separated from your audience by a screen.
Tell us a little about your inspiration for "Substance of Bliss."
Years ago (I don't think I've ever told this story) when I was about 14, I snuck out of the house at night with a friend and just ran around the neighborhood, met up with some other friends, met a girl (ultimately got in an argument with her) - nothing illicit: just an unsanctioned night out. I was not very sophisticated about the whole ruse, though. I made a "person" out of pillows in my bed just in case, in the middle of the night, my Mom popped her head in to check on me (which looked amazingly convincing in the dark of night.) Of course, in the light of day it looked absolutely ridiculous and my Mom figured it out pretty quickly. When I finally wandered in, late morning, I found out that my parents had spent the entire morning cleaning all the window screens in our house while they were waiting for me to return. They did it just to get their minds off where I might have been, to occupy their time instead of panicking. That one act of theirs always stayed with me. In some ways, it's not only the inspiration for Substance of Bliss but also an apology of sorts.
How do you like working at NJ Rep?
This is my second time working at NJ Rep and I love it. Both Gabor and Suzanne are wonderful to work with and have such a great passion and love for new plays. I can't say enough about how honored I am to be back and how important it is for playwrights to have a theatre like this. This is a very special place.
What advice do you have for people wishing to enter the profession?
There are the basics that you will hear again and again - on the artistic side you'll hear: "once you've learned your craft, say something personal, say something true." On the professional side you'll hear: "it's a business but it's a social business so get out there and network, learn how to get out there and keep yourself out there." All this is true and valuable (which is why you'll hear it from different sources) but if I could say one thing that doesn't diminish those pieces of advice but something that meant the most to me, certainly got me through (continues to get me through) tough times when I find myself in them and that is to enjoy the work. In the end that is what you have control of - so make sure the work (not just what you want to gain from it but the act of creating something itself) makes you happy, feeds you as a person and an artist. If you do that, you'll be successful regardless of the outcome.
For the future?
I'm finishing rewrites on a new play and am currently in prep for my next feature film that I co-wrote and am set to direct.
Substance of Bliss will be performed at New Jersey Company from January 14th through February 14th. The theatre is located at 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740. Tickets may be purchased by calling 732.229.3166 or by visiting www.njrep.org.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tony Glazer