BWW Interview: Debra Whitfield Talks TECH SUPPORT at 59E59
Debra Whitfield's delightful new play "Tech Support" is currently running at 59E59th Theater to full houses and ecstatic audiences. See BroadwayWorld's review of Sept 6th. In between performances, BWW sat down with Ms. Whitfield to discuss her play.
Why this play, and why now? Why will people want to see this play?
I actually wrote the first version of this play about 10 years ago. The genesis was a very frustrating conversation with-you guessed it-the tech support guy. The time travel element emerged from my subconscious. It had occurred to me, for some time, that technology was interfering, in a very existential way, with our interpersonal relationships. I thought it would be interesting to explore that theme.
What came first, the plot or characters?
They were really simultaneous. When I sat down to write the play, it originally was just to vent about the unpleasant experience I'd had on the phone- everything else flowed from that.
I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say the play deals with time travel - how did you settle on those particular years to visit?
Since I had a female protagonist, I thought it would be interesting to explore the ways in which women's roles in society have changed throughout the last 100 years or so. I chose 1919 because it was the dawn of women's suffrage. 1946 was fascinating because of how during WW2, women had taken on so many of the traditional male roles, but were forced to resume more conventional positions, after their husbands and boyfriends returned home. 1978 was because of the July march on Washington for the ERA amendment-which has still never passed.
Elliott Forrest did some beautiful and clever projections for the play to suggest the time travel.
I've actually known Elliott for quite a long time. We worked together a long time ago at the Apple Core Theater. I initially reached out to him to work as a producer on the project, and during that conversation he offered to design the projections for the play, and he did a fabulous job!
Would you consider yourself an "early-adopter" of technology?
I actually took a long time to get a computer, a cell phone, etc. But now I've embraced it all whole-heartedly. If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em.
What was the most difficult part of your artistic process in creating this play?
I might be the opposite of most writers-I tend to underwrite rather than overwrite. When I sat down to write this, I thought it would be 10 minutes long. Also, a challenge for me is making exposition organic. It's a necessary evil but I hate when it sounds like what it is.
Was there anything that you edited out of the play?
Not really. Of course, the script has changed quite a lot since its first iteration-especially where technology is concerned. I had to update everything before I submitted it to 59E59 Theaters. But that was fun!
Was it hard to direct your own work?
No, I love it! I direct a lot of new plays, written by other people, and in order to change anything, one has to get permission from the author, of course. In this case, it's very streamlined-if I don't think something's working, I just cut or change it. I did hire a dramaturg, to take a look at the revised script, before we started rehearsals, to make sure I hadn't missed anything important structurally or from a character's viewpoint. That was very helpful.
Not to be a spoiler but... seems you left yourself a perfect opportunity for a sequel? What happened to our lovers?
You are not the first one to bring up the idea of a sequel. I don't have any specific ideas but I think any sequel would have to involve them getting separated again-the course of true love never did run smooth. Maybe Chip is the one who travels this time...? The poet Glyn Maxwell wrote that, "Whoever masters form masters time."
When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?
Well, I was alone a lot, as a child and I've always felt because of that, it almost forced the creative side of my brain to develop-if, for no other reason, than to entertain myself. So I always wrote, directed, acted, etc. However, I really started focusing on playwriting, probably about 20 years ago.
What play changed your life?
I was really taken with "The Crucible." I loved how Miller took a real phenomenon in the past and used it as an allegory for the crazy political climate in his own time. Miller is my favorite American playwright. • What are you binge-watching? I LOVE Babylon Berlin. It's about the Weimar Republic in 1929 and the attention to detail is amazing. I became totally immersed and can't wait for the 3rd season, which I believe is due some time this year. I usually don't like subtitles but I wouldn't watch it any other way.
What's your next creative project?
I've started a play loosely based on some murders that took place in NYC in 1916 (I keep coming back to that time period). I had to put it aside, to focus on TECH SUPPORT, but will happily return to it, in a few weeks.
TECH SUPPORT by Debra Whitfield
Produced by: Chatillion Stage Company
Dates: August 29 - September 21, 2019
Tickets Available online or at the box office.