Category: Gina Gionfriddo

Interview with Playwright Gina Gionfriddo

Posted December 10, 2009 - 3:28pm

How did you become a writer?
I wrote stories as a young child, but in high school and college I really wasn’t writing creatively.  I was acting in plays and studying literature.  I felt I was either going to pursue acting professionally or get on a PhD track in English.  Fortunately, I was attending college in New York City.  So I was able to see what an actor’s life is like and decide it wasn’t for me.  I interned at an Off-Off-Broadway theatre while I was in college and I sat in on auditions and rehearsals.  I found the auditions really frustrating because the actor has such limited control over the process.  At the same time, I was watching rehearsals for very new plays.  The writers were rewriting a lot and I was very turned on by that—the process by which actors and audiences show the writer what their play is and isn’t.  Obviously, you don’t want to be a slave to that kind of feedback, but I’m still really excited by the period of discovery in the rehearsal room.  I feel like there are subtexts kind of bubbling under the surfaces in my plays and a lot of times actors see them when I do not.

As a successful writer for both the stage and television, what are the challenges distinct to each medium for you and what are the strongest similarities?
I feel a play has to say something important, or really shift an audience’s consciousness in some important way.  I don’t feel that pressure in television, and that’s not to say I take it lightly, but I do think in film and TV it’s enough to entertain and I don’t feel that’s enough in theatre.  Partly that’s a function of this cultural moment.  Film and TV are increasingly accessible.  I have movies on-demand through my cable service that were in theaters last week.  The point is… There’s so much great film and TV available in my apartment, so I bring very high expectations to theatre.  It’s expensive, it’s uncomfortable.   More and more I regard plays as the place you go to hear some truth or ask some question that film and TV can’t or won’t give you.

The challenge I find writing for television is that you don’t have an audience captive from episode one to episode twenty-two (unless your audience is watching the season in order, beginning to end, on DVD, of course—but you can’t count on that).  So you really have to be thinking clarity clarity clarity when you write.  You have to make the episode accessible to a new or newish viewer, and I find that obligation somewhat limiting.   Of course, the really excellent cable dramas like “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos” assume the audience is committed to watching the whole season, so the writers can get into character arcs and nuance and ambiguity.  The shows I’ve written have been police procedurals.  That kind of show is designed to be syndication-friendly.   The episodes need to stand alone, you can run them out of order… I like those shows a lot, but they don’t accommodate character complexity very well.  The goal is entertainment. 

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