Proscenium interviews Simon Fill, writer of “Night Visits,” the third play to be published in the fourth issue of Proscenium Journal.
“Night Visits” won the Heideman Award from Actors Theatre of Louisville, where the play premiered in the Wintermezzo Festival. “Night Visits” received its New York premiere at HERE Arts Center, produced by Circle East Theatre Company. Simon was originally a member of the Playwrights Project, a small group of young playwrights nurtured by Circle Repertory Theatre. His plays have been produced in New York City, regionally, and internationally. “The Gift” was recently published by Vintage Books in the anthology Plays For Two. He was an A.S.K. American exchange playwright at the Royal Court Theatre, and his full-length play Post Punk Life received a month-long developmental production by Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab. He was awarded a playwriting residency and fellowship by Yaddo, where he began his full-length play Burning Cities. Burning Cities won an international competition, the BETC Generations Award, in 2015, and Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) workshopped the play at the Denver Center.
Simon has an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence, and taught playwriting Off-Broadway for years at the Women’s Project Theater, then at The New American Theatre School and the Boulder International Fringe Festival. He is a playwright member of Circle East Theatre Company, and a member of the Dramatists Guild.
What was your inspiration for the play?
I completed a year of medical school, then left to become a playwright—I had to make a choice between the two careers because my full-length play Post Punk Life was offered a month long developmental production by Lincoln Center Theatre Directors Lab, and there would have been no way for me to participate while in medical school. The doctor in “Night Visits,” Tom, was inspired by doctors and doctors-in-training I knew and admired, and the grief I experienced losing family members, something that started to happen at the time I wrote the play.
What do you want the audience to come away with?
I want the audience and readers to come away from “Night Visits” with an honest sense of hope in the midst of tragedy. The hope doesn’t erase the tragedy, but gives a way to go on. The character of Emily embodies that hope.
What projects are you working on now?
My agent Susan Schulman and I are beginning to market my new full-length play Burning Cities, which recently won an international competition, the BETC Generations Award, was workshopped by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) at the Denver Center, and is ready for its world premiere. The workshop with BETC was enormously helpful in developing the play. I cannot praise them and the actors enough. Their public staged reading of Burning Cities received a tremendous, wonderful audience response—it couldn’t have been better. I sat in the last row studying the reactions of the large audience at every moment of the staged reading, and afterwards I did a half hour audience talkback along with the director and head of the company, Stephen Weitz. I’ll always be grateful to BETC. It was a privilege to see the play come to life.
I’m writing the second draft of another full-length, Visitations, which just had an illuminating reading with terrific actors. Experienced actors can be so giving, and are essential to the development process of my plays.
What playwrights inspire you?
Those who take risks, show artistic and emotional courage, playwrights who push the art form forward, like Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Martin Crimp, Sarah Ruhl, Will Eno. Among earlier playwrights, O’Neill, Williams, Beckett. The list could go on and on.
Why did you start writing plays?
I began writing as a poet, while an undergraduate at Cornell University, studying with wonderful poets there, who taught me a great deal. Then I wrote a novel. When I went to Sarah Lawrence for graduate school in fiction writing, I was required to take two electives and chose playwriting and theatre directing. Those electives changed my life. I realized I had the ability to write dialogue, as well as, from being a poet, heightened language. I could hear characters speaking as I wrote, and I came to understand my storytelling has a dramatic sensibility. I switched in my second semester to a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre.
What kind of theatre excites you?
Theatre that is honest, unsentimental, and breaks new ground. All great plays do this, and a part of it is the playwright’s original voice. A directing teacher from graduate school, Paul Austin, told me any groundbreaking play will get mixed reviews initially. This is true for plays as different as The Glass Menagerie, Waiting for Godot, and Plenty.
What advice do you have for playwrights starting out?
Write, write, write. Be honest in your writing. Read and reread Kenneth Thorpe Rowe’s book, Write That Play, and devour Aristotle’s Poetics. Break or bend dramatic principles only for good reason, and after you know how to use them. Kenneth Thorpe Rowe taught Arthur Miller and Milan Stitt, among others.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
In O’Neill’s time his plays were national bestsellers. I believe good plays deserve to be widely read as well as produced. Thank you, Proscenium Journal, for continuing this tradition.