Words with Rajiv

Fri, 10/21/2011

An excerpt from the Alley Theater's interview with Rajiv Joseph, writer of Gruesome Playground Injuries.

An Interview with Rajiv Joseph
By Mark Bly

Rajiv, what inspired you to write Gruesome Playground Injuries?

Rajiv: I was in a bar with a friend of mine who was retelling me the variety of calamitous accidents that had befallen him over the course of his life, from the time he was very little until the time he was an adult and each of the accidents were equally bizarre. In the course of telling the story to me, he was, in a strange way, charting his own life. I thought, as he was telling me all these crazy stories, how the accidents and the scars that cover one’s body can be a map of one’s existence. That led me to a different line of thinking: What if those same scars and markings not only charted your existence but charted your relationship with someone else? My friend got up to go to the restroom and I took out a piece of paper and wrote down the title of the play. I thought, I don’t know what this play is, but I do know I have an interesting title for it and I do know the idea behind that title. So that’s where it initially came from, and after that it slowly evolved into the story we have now which is this relationship between Kayleen and Doug.

When I first read the play, I was drawn to the two characters Kayleen and Doug, and I was reminded of a few lines from a poem Lovers by Stephen Dunn: “Who is not vulnerable to a stronger magic...the terrible power of the one less in love.” Rajiv, could you talk about about the play for a moment in light of those lines?

Rajiv: This play is, at its core, the charting of two lives using scars, injuries, and calamity as the mile markers. The play on a certain level explores why people hurt themselves to gain another’s love and the cumulative effect of such damage, of such demands.

As part of the Alley Theatre’s New Play Initiative’s Program you did a workshop of Gruesome Playground Injuries in August of 2009. How was that experience? What did you learn from that workshop? How was that experience distinctive from previous new play workshops you have had?

Rajiv: We all gathered here in Houston for a week at the Alley and had this incredible open time to explore the play, read through it, discover moments in it and actually get on our feet in the space and answer questions we all had. Rebecca and I, in our careers, have never encountered an opportunity quite like this, in this unique way. I would say that in a perfect world any new play getting its world premiere should have this kind of opportunity and that the players involved should have this kind of experience. We got a week of rehearsal – and by rehearsal, I mean not just a rehearsal with the text, but that we got to know each other as individuals and as actors, designers, dramaturg, writer and director. We had this week together to explore the material and then we left for a month and now we’ve reconvened and the workshop set so many things in motion and got us to a point with the play that we’re really hitting the ground running right now. Speaking for myself, that was such a great opportunity for me to think about the play and to have some additional time by myself with it to reconsider some of the key scenes, moments within it. In my experience as a dramaturg, it’s rare getting to have designers be part of a new play workshop. Can you talk a little bit about having designers in the workshop and how that helped you to develop your play?

Rajiv: That was incredible because we had, for example, Jill DuBoff, our sound designer, with us the entire time. She is kind of a mad genius scientist who was able to sit in the back there and just accumulate sound effects, music, and sound bytes that were just being thrown into the mix as we explored each scene. As audiences will see, one of the really crucial aspects of this piece is the transitions between scenes. These transitions become scenes in themselves and represent the passage of time and I think in some ways represent the subconscious or ‘id’ desires of these two characters. So sound design becomes extremely important particularly in these moments, and so having Jill and our amazing costume designer, Miranda Hoffman, in the room was kind of extraordinary. What that workshop really allowed us to do was to not be afraid to experiment because we had the time and the freedom to make mistakes.