BWW Interview: Brandon McCoy of OTHER LIFE FORMS at Keegan Theatre

BWW Interview: Brandon McCoy of OTHER LIFE FORMS at Keegan Theatre

Brandon McCoy is an actor, director, playwright, and professor based in Maryland. After establishing himself as an actor and director, McCoy turned to writing and is the author of three plays and one musical. "Other Life Forms" was a finalist for the Source full-length play festival, and will premier at The Keegan Theatre.

(This interview has been transcribed from written notes from the conversation.)

As someone who's pretty much local to the region, how does it feel to have your play performed in a major area theater? Especially since you have a background as a performer?

I'm originally from Huntington, West Virginia, but I moved to DC to attend Catholic University for my MFA in acting. I've written in varying mediums - I was a stand-up comedian, and I've written music for a long time, I even have a band that's starting. I actually thought I would be a writer when I was young - I wrote lots of stories and books, but plays came later. I'm lucky, I've had a great career as actor and director. I thought about what I enjoyed most, which was laughing and seeing plays that made me laugh, but most plays weren't comedies. So I decided to write a play, and got caught with the bug a little bit.

I currently have four working drafts - 3 plays, one musical - in some form of completion. It started as an exercise for myself first, but then I looked it over and thought this is worth putting it out there.

What made you decide to make that transition from interpreter (actor, director) to playwright? What was it like?

One of my many jobs is that I'm a college professor - I teach a lot of text analysis, and I teach a lot of acting. The thing that happens to you when you're living in this playwright's world is that you're able to appreciate what a playwright is able to do. I wanted to honor the people I enjoyed reading and not take myself too seriously. I'm after the joy component of going to the theatre - it's a place people can go and have a really good time.

Why does writing comedy, specifically, matter to you?

We (theater artists) lose sight of the fact that plays can be poignant and funny. Comedy gets a bad rap. Neil Simon is undervalued because he's after a joke, he's after a laugh. Someone like me takes a step back and says, "That is really hard." It's difficult to structure a joke, go after the laugh, and still make a point.

If people are laughing at something, they are immediately reflecting on it, they're participating; they may not have a conversation until later, but they will have it.

Musicals do that a lot: there's a component of magic in the theatre that is really easily accessible in a musical because of the suspension of disbelief. We can achieve that in straight plays as well, it's a matter of embracing the concept.

"Other Life Forms" is a look at relationships, though they're all human. Where did the title come from?

The play is an examination, ultimately, of love and chemistry. It examines what brings people together, but also what brings people apart.

I always wanted to write about love, but it's written about a lot - I wanted a fresh perspective, through perspective of a character who can't understand it.

We look at these couples and how they interact with each other and, ultimately, I hope, we see ourselves. We laugh at a play, but realize we're laughing at our own behaviours, and how we can get in the way of that often.

What's your biggest hope when you write a show like this? What are you hoping the audience will get out of the experience?

Expectations are things writers think about, but they're specific to each play. My ultimate hope is that audience and artists have a good time. The message is there, but expectation is for people to be able to use the theatre to have their own conversations.

Is it difficult, as a playwright, to hand over your work to a creative team? I know you're doing the lighting, so you're still involved, but what makes you comfortable letting someone else take the lead on interpreting your work?

From the very beginning, I think my experience as an actor and a director has helped me as a playwright. Rarely, if ever, do you get to talk to or interact with the playwright. They write and create the world, and then hand it off.

Shirley Serotsky [the director] is a great friend - I have the utmost trust in her, so I wanted to absent myself as much as possible, but be accessible as needed. I've seen some rehearsals, but I tried to keep out of it as much as possible. I think I better serve the play by taking a back seat to the rehearsal process; if the play is to have a life after this, it need to be able to stand without me.

When there are problems, it's important to distinguish whether it's with the writing or structure, or if it's something for the actors to work out. I think not being a large part of the rehearsal process has helped with that balance.

What's next?

Writing is sort of a bug, I have all these ideas floating around, and I'm someone who always does better with a project. I'm pursuing places and festivals, and Keegan did a reading of "West by God" last year, which opens a conversation about rural America since it's based on my experiences in West Virginia, so we might have a production coming.

I'm also working on another script - I really love the process of being the playwright; it's therapeutic. I'm getting things off my chest, and at the same time, I love what the theatre does.

Is there anything else you want readers to know about "Other Life Forms," or your experiences in theater in general?

The Keegan, being such a welcoming home for new work, is just incredible - it's a place where they really take care of artists. They've seen me through this whole process, especially Susan Rhea [artistic director]. It's great to be part of a collective of artists. It's a home base, and it's a great cross-section of the theatre world - some people have been there for 20 years, others are just getting their start.

"Other Life Forms" premieres on June 15th at the Keegan Theatre, and runs through July 7th.

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