Q&A with 2013 Directors Salon “McRib” playwright Chad Beckim

Welcome to the first Q&A of the 2013 Directors Salon Season!

Each year we strive to bring in a group of NYC-based playwrights to the Directors Salon whose work is both exciting and timely.  They write short plays based on a prompt, and at the Salon’s opening night kick-off party, any director can drop their name in a basket for the chance to direct one of them.  The directors are then given rehearsal space and a pre-cast ensemble of actors to work with, and the plays are performed before an always sold-out crowd on the final night of the Salon.

This year’s playwrights are Keith Josef Adkins, Chad Beckim, Michael Lew, Halley Feiffer, Cándido Tirado, Mfoniso Udofia, and Alladin Ullah.  The 2013 Directors Salon prompt is inspired by our 2011 Salon in which the chosen directors each received a scene from Clifford Odets’ Waiting for Lefty, and the final event was the play in its entirety with each scene directed by a different director.  This year, we wanted to see how our playwrights responded to Waiting for Lefty, a play that’s still relevant today with strong themes that not only explore the labor movement but also relationships, religion, and discrimination.

Check out our Q&A with playwright Chad Beckim to see how Lefty inspired his short play “McRib” and his thoughts on the playwright/director relationship.

2013 Salon Playwright Chad Beckim, whose play "McRib" will be performed on Sunday, June 23rd at 7:30pm.

2013 Salon Playwright Chad Beckim, whose play “McRib” will be performed on Sunday, June 23rd at 7:30pm.

WORKING THEATER: Tell us about your play in the Salon.  How did Waiting for Lefty inspire your play?

CHAD BECKIM: I hadn’t read “Lefty” in years, so going back through it to see what might click for me was a treat.  While this isn’t necessarily a protest play, that’s kind of what I latched on to as a starting point – the soap boxing, if you will.  I kind of used some of the husband/wife melodrama as well, as I found that both interesting and amusing, but it started with the protest stuff.

We’re in an era of protest now, particularly with the advent of the online protest (“Click to sign your name for gun control!” “Click to protest genetically modified food!” “Click to bring back “Arrested Development!”)  Between those and the OWS folks, it’s a LOT.

I’m not sure how I feel about protests any more…I’m not sure that they really work.  That sounds horrible, but I remember being super amped up for the whole Bush Iraq War thing in the early 00’s, and thinking, “This matters!  I’m making a difference!” and then it really didn’t.  And now, these folks are super into their myriad causes, and I respect the hell out of them for it, but what has it really changed?  It might be cynicism or pessimism or any of a thousand different isms, but of the few I listed above, the only thing that worked was the return of “Arrested Development.”

I stumbled upon someone’s crazy blog about the abolishment of the “McRib” sandwich, and the protest idea married the McRib, and now you have a silly, crazy little play that I hope makes folks laugh seeing it nearly as much as I did during the writing of it.  And if not, I still had fun.

WT: What do you look for in a director?  What are some key elements of a successful playwright/director relationship?

CB: Patience. Someone who is willing to do a ton of work in the room – I tend to rewrite more during the table work/rehearsal process than most playwrights, and I need to be able to duck out for 10 minutes, bring back in new pages, and hear them on the spot.  For that reason, I also want a smart dramaturg.

I don’t tend to work well with pushy people.  At all.  I generally prefer working with folks who are smarter than me but not smug about it, if that make sense?  But primarily, I am all about collaboration and discussion and workshopping, and anyone I work with needs to a) honor that and b) contribute.  And laughter.  It’s important to have fun and laugh in the room.

WT: Tell us about your worst experience working with a director.

CB: I had a play done regionally, a year removed from the NYC premiere, which I LOVED.  One of my favorite productions of all time.  And I went into it open – at least I think I did – but showed up the week the final week of rehearsals, just before final dress, and they had massacred my play. Just killed it.  The actors were a nightmare (one actor who couldn’t remember his lines literally asked about whether or not he would wear a hat in the curtain call, when he didn’t wear a hat all play).  And when I spoke to the director, he was upset at me, annoyed that I wasn’t being supportive.  And I’m thinking, I’m supportive if you do the work that’s on the page but when you start inventing activities and things for the actors to do like some third rate Meisner class instead of figuring out why things aren’t working, that’s a problem.  I ended up seeing one preview and then forfeiting the rest of my contract so I could fly home early.  It was that dreadful.

WT: How can emerging directors meet and develop a relationship with a playwright?  What has been your experience?

CB: Um, this one’s tricky, because I think folks like to feel safe and comfortable, and most of the writers I use tend to work with the same folks over and over, e.g. Baker/Gold, Hunter/McCallum.  Once you find something that works you’re like, okay, that’s one less thing to worry about.

For aspiring directors, I’d say you need to be bold. Reach out to writers and tell them you admire their work.  See about getting a reading or workshop together, if you have the resources or capabilities.  Don’t just go blindly into it hoping – plan and prove.  I mean, writers want to get their plays done.  Period.  It just is what it is, you know?  And if you can help make that happen – even in some small way, demonstrate some progress, that is absolutely huge.

Also, try to get involved with writer’s groups and make friends with the powers that be at some development organizations.  I met Shelley Butler – a director that I now adore –  after being paired with her at The Playwrights Realm.  That stuff really does work.

And if all else fails, intern, if you have to.

WT: What’s next for you?

CB: I just finished my year as a Playwrights’ Realm Fellow, which is awesome.  I’m applying to some other writing programs and been working on a play for my company, Partial Comfort Productions, that I’m pretty excited about.  But mostly, I’m geared up for July 9: that’s the due date for my baby boy, and my wife and I cannot wait to meet him.

Chad Beckim’s “McRib” will be performed on Sunday, June 23rd at 7:30pm at the June Havoc Theatre at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex (312 W. 36th St., 1st Floor) along with short plays by Keith Josef Adkins, Michael Lew, Halley Feiffer, Cándido Tirado, Mfoniso Udofia, and Alladin Ullah.  Tickets are free with a suggested donation either online or at the door, but reservations are strongly encouraged due to all prior Salon performance nights being sold-out!   Click here to RSVP to the show.

For a chance to direct “McRib” or one of the other plays, make sure to attend our Opening Night Kick-Off Party on Monday, June 17th at 7pm!  Visit us on Facebook or go to our website for more information and RSVP to the party here.  Feel free to e-mail wtdirectors@gmail.com with any questions.

Chad Beckim is a New York City based playwright whose writing credits include …a matter of choice, `namiLights Rise on Grace (Winner, Outstanding Play, 2007 NY Inti’l. Fringe Festival; Finalist for the 2007 Princess Grace Award; Finalist for Ojai Playwrights’ Conference), The Main(e) Play (Semi-Finalist, The O’Neill Festival), That Men Do (Member of The Lark’s 2009 “Playwright’s Week” and Naked Angels “Out Loud” Series), Mercy and most recently the critically and audience acclaimed After (currently receiving it’s Midwest Premiere with Profiles Theater Company in Chicago).  He has also authored a number of shorts and one-acts, including The Coach, (part of Partial Comfort Production’s “TEN for TEN” play fest); The Fluffer and Marvel Super Hero Squad (both produced at Ars Nova), Tha Bess Shit, Alexander Pays a Visit,Blac(c)ident, and Last First Kiss, which was adapted into a Columbia Grad film and produced in July, 2008. Chad holds an MFA in Playwrighting from Mac Wellman’s Brooklyn College’s Program, and in July of 2007 was named one of “50 Playwrights to Watch” by the Dramatists Guild. His work has been published by Samuel French, Playscripts, Smith & Krauss, and in the Plays and Playwrights 2007 collection by NYTE.  He is a former member of Ars Nova’s acclaimed “Play Group,” and was recently named a 2012-13 Playwrights’ Realm Fellow.  Chad is a co-Founder and co-Artistic Director of Partial Comfort Productions. 

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