David Lindsay-Abaire’s career is marked by a series of turns.
He wrote his first play in fourth grade for a Christmas pageant and wrote plays throughout high school. He considered himself an actor primarily, however. When he went to Sarah Lawrence College, he mainly focused on acting but took playwriting to fill in his course schedule.
“It wasn’t really until I got into Juilliard that I thought, ‘Maybe this playwriting thing is working,’” he says. “I was in denial about it for a long time.”
Pursing playwriting as a career seemed unrealistic, and he didn’t know any working playwrights. “Not that being an actor is more realistic,” he quips.
Lindsay-Abaire was initially influenced by the work of established writers like John Guare, Christopher Durang, Eugene Ionesco, Anton Chekhov, and even the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers. “The more absurd the better – things that influenced my absurdist comedies,” he says.
It wasn’t until he enrolled at Juilliard in the late 1990s that he found true playwriting mentorship with Durang and Marsha Norman, whose work he had admired since high school. Lindsay-Abaire was struck by the fact that the pair spoke to students as if they were peers, and he maintains relationships with both.
“To this day Marsha and I talk often about what’s going on in our respective lives. She’s been to every one of my opening nights.”
Here are tips from the playwright:
Submit often. “Put your work out there in every way possible. Take every opportunity afforded you. You will be rejected 99.9 percent of the time. I was. That’s all you can do. Keep casting the lines because you never know when you’re going to get a fish.”
Write more than one play. “Many writers write a play, have a reading, get notes, put it away for several months, then rewrite it later. This cycle can go on for years. In that time, you have changed as a person. It’s not that you’ve figured out the play. A person has a play for six or seven years because they think they’re going to crack it. Forget that play. Take those new impulses and put them in a new play. It’s better to have 10 first drafts and not one play you’ve written 12 times. You have to rewrite but not at the expense of the other great plays you can write… Every play is a stepping stone to the next play.”
Be true to the play. “In hopes of getting produced, writers are writing small plays. I do wish that the theatre was more conducive to bigger thoughts and bigger plays. The development process for playwrights encourages them to write small plays… If anyone writes a play — God forbid, with nine people in it — it will never get produced… They’re writing plays that will go over well in a reading atmosphere, which is inhibiting writers from thinking outside the box… I’m trying to shake loose of that myself.”