BWW Interviews: Richard W. Strand - Playwright for BUTLER at NJ Rep
Butler, a World Premiere play by Richard Strand will be on stage at New Jersey Repertory Company from June 12th through July 13th. Directed by Joseph Discher, the play stars Ames Adamson, John G. Williams, David Sitler and Benjamin Sterling. Broadwayworld.com had an opportunity to interview playwright, Richard Strand about Butler and his writing career.
Strand wrote his first play in 1976, a one act entitled Harry and Sylvia. It won two national awards and was published by Hunter Press. A full length version of the same play, entitled Clown, premiered at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. Since then, he has had many successes with his other works which include The Bug that has been translated into five languages and continues to be performed in the United States and Europe.
Strand now lives in California with his wife, Mary Lynn. He is the chairman of the theater department, technical director and set designer at Mt. San Antonio College where he also teaches History of Theater and Playwriting.
Strand does have some good advice for up and coming writers. "The only thing I know to do as a writer is to keep writing. I've never been very good at promoting my career. If I had inside information about how to get productions, I would tell everyone about it, really I would. It's still a mystery to me."
Stand has had many professional mentors. He spoke about a few of them. "I hesitate to start naming them because, inevitably, I will leave people out. A wonderful and somewhat scary woman named Jan Stolarevsky made me think theater was important when I was in Junior High School. Bob McElya, a now retired professor from Eastern Michigan University, got my writing off to a good start. Dennis Zacek at Victory Gardens introduced me to the professional world. Michael Dixon, when he was at Actors Theatre of Louisville, was about the best advocate and mentor a playwright could ask for. For decades, my mom was also my editor."
We asked Strand about his inspiration for Butler. He said, "I first became aware of the events depicted in my play by way of a footnote in a Lincoln biography. The information was tantalizing because it didn't make logical sense. I couldn't understand why an anti-abolitionist supporter of Jefferson Davis would take such a personally risky stand against slavery. Doing more reading about Benjamin Butler didn't really answer that question. Writing the play was my attempt to find a plausible explanation for something that seemed inexplicable."
Strand feels that New Jersey Repertory Company is a great place to stage his work. He stated, "There aren't very many theaters as dedicated to doing new work as New Jersey Repertory. I can't quantify this, but I feel like there are fewer places to send a new script now than there were when I started writing plays. Gabe and SuzAnne have been encouraging of my work since I did a reading there in 2001. Any place dedicated to doing new work is a wonderful place to be produced." In fact, Strand trusted Gabe and SuzAnne to select the director and creative team for Butler.
Stand would like metropolitan area audiences to come out this month to NJ Rep to see Butler. And, he said, "I hope they will like it."
Butler at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch is showing from June 12th through July 13th . For tickets call 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org.
Photo: Courtesy of Mr. Strand