What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Josh Koenigsberg (Kay-nigs-berg), even though it’s spelled (Ko-nigs-berg). For some reason it’s pronounced Kay-nigs-berg, and I’m from New York. That’s where I was born and raised, in West Village, New York City, and now I live in Park Slope in Brooklyn.
Is this your first time at SPACE?
No, this is my… I forget if it’s my fourth or fifth time. I’ve been here a lot! I hope that I’ve become a regular now.
How did you first get involved?
I think the first time I came up was with Ars Nova. I was in the Ars Nova Play Group, and I was in it for two years because it’s a two year residency. I came up the first year [to SPACE] because I was free, got hooked, insisted I come up the second year, and then the third year they had some people from the writers’ group who couldn’t make it. They [Ars Nova] asked me if I wanted to come, knowing I loved it so much. And then, the fourth year I think I insisted that I come. I think that I got the info from someone else in the group [Play Group] and just showed up, assuming there would be room for me. And this year, Emily Simoness emailed me and said, “I assume you’re coming up when Ars Nova is coming, so we’ll keep a room for you.” I think she knew that there was nothing she could do, that I was just going to show up. Especially now that SPACE is getting bigger and you have farm-to-table dinners and some fancy people walking through, if they saw some guy sleeping on the grass out front, that would have been embarrassing for her.
Clever of her.
Yes, it was very generous of her to give me a room.
What was your impression the first time you came up?
[pause] It was a while ago, but I want to give you an authentic answer. I think my first impression was that here is this place that is kind of old and ghost-y, that here were some spirits but that they were all there to aid me in coming up with ideas about whatever it was I was writing. I felt like it was this weird nirvana that I had stumbled upon, right outside the city. I remember when we pulled in, there was a different vibe, especially walking in, going to the lake, and seeing the farm. I felt like a root vegetable that was coming back to its home. I felt like I was going back to my roots somehow, even though I had never been here before. I had this weird, ephemeral feeling that it felt like home.
I had a similar feeling, even though I didn’t grow up on a farm and I grew up in the Deep South. This is very different from any other large plot of land that I’ve been on, but I walked out of the train station and it felt somehow familiar. It’s some weird American thing.
Exactly! It’s some old-timey Americana, but I also felt immediately like I was at home. I’ve been to other retreats where it’s very nice and very beautiful, but it takes getting used to and you have to embrace a different energy and a different way of organizing your day. With SPACE, it felt immediately like I was comfortable with the time that they gave me to work and part of it was the food they provided. I think the food was way better than any other place. You are what you eat! I was eating well, so I was feeling well. Also, they usually have you come up right when lunch starts, so as soon as you get there, you eat. When you break bread, you know, you start to feel more comfortable. Again, I felt immediately at home for some reason.
What are you working on right now, on this trip?
So, I’m actually working on play that I wrote the first ten pages of two years ago when I was here, and then I stopped. I didn’t touch it again until I got back here last year, and I wrote the whole first act. I wanted to finish it last year while I was here, but I only got through the first act. We read it here and I got feedback. I was like, “Great, I’m going to go home and finish it.” I got home, got distracted by a whole bunch of other stuff, and so now I’m coming back and working on the second act. I don’t know if I’m going to finish it, but I’m not going to wait until next year to finish it. I need to finish it now, but there is a bit of pride that I started this play at SPACE and that almost all of this play has been written at SPACE. It has a SPACE energy to it, even though it’s an absurd comedy. It’s not about farming, or animals, or ghosts, or anything.
You mentioned that you felt here that you could use your time in a way that was more comfortable for you. So, what is a typical day for you? How have you been using your time here?
What’s great is that, however early you wake up, there’s always coffee that’s made thanks to you guys. Usually, I wake up kind of early and, again, there’s something nice about being on a farm that is rejuvenating and refreshing. I drink some coffee outside, listen to the sounds. I have a focus about what I’m going to do for the day, what my goals are to accomplish that day. I go off into a corner in some room somewhere and start writing until lunch. Then lunch is great, you’re outside and back with the community, talking and telling war stories about writing from that morning. And then, I go back to work in the afternoons until about 5pm. Then, I switch from coffee to some drink like wine or whiskey or something. Then, I work for a little bit longer and have dinner. I get to bounce ideas off of people. It’s great to be here with other artists because you can all unwind together. It’s the kind of thing where you can bounce ideas off of each other without really realizing you’re doing it. It’s not obligatory. You don’t have to run your project by someone or listen to someone else run their project by you, but just by being in the same space, you are feeding off of each other in a great way. There was something else that I was going to say, but I forgot.
Every time you’ve come up, has it been with other people from Ars Nova?
Yeah, it actually has, but what’s great is that there have always been other people as well, either doing The Working Farm or because they have a residency for that week or couple days. Oh, what I was going to say before was that I have two choices. I can either write in a room with other writers, which is cool because you don’t really get to do that outside of here, right? Usually you’re in your room. I guess you could go to the library, but that’s weird. Who wants to go to the library? It forces you to focus because there are other people around you and you’re like, “Oh, if they’re working hard, I need to be working hard.” But then, if you’re getting into a zone, and sometimes I like to talk to myself and mumble things as I write them, like dialogue and stuff. Then, I can go into a room and start doing that. So, it’s nice because when you’re with other people, it gives you a few different ways to get the ideas out and work on it. That’s just the mystery of writing in general. It’s so hard to do it, and every writer is interested in how other writers do it. They’re all looking for the perfect way and no one knows it. Nobody knows anything! But you hear how they conjure these things. “So, like, you drink exactly two cups of coffee and then you starve yourself until sundown and you only listen to the Creedence Clearwater version of ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’ on repeat over and over again and that’s how you write every day.”
That’s probably why people think writers are miserable.
Exactly. You’re always looking for these tips! So, it’s nice to step outside yourself and see other people writing. You can talk to them about it without seeming like a weirdo because we’re all weirdos here. We all feel comfortable with ourselves, I guess. It’s good! By the way, what I described is exactly what I do. That’s how I write, if anyone wants to know.
How’s that going?
Okay. It got me here.
Worse routines in the past?
Yeah. I’ve done some things with my life and my career and there are still other things I’d like to do. Sometimes I drink tea and I’m like, “Oh! It’s only tea. Tea, tea, tea.” And then I’ll be like, “No! Tea’s not strong enough. I need coffee.” Then, I’ll be like, “Coffee is terrible! I don’t write well when I drink coffee. I just get jittery.” So, I’m like, “I need nothing. I need water. Just water and do it naturally.” And then, I’ll be like, “No, I need a little bit of tea!” And it just goes in a cycle, nonstop.
What’s next for you and/or this project you’re working on?
Well, I need to finish this play. Once it’s done, I’ve given myself a week to finish it. I should be able to. I’m on page 74 and it should be a 90 page play, so I should be able to do that. Hopefully, I’ll have a reading and try to get it done somewhere. Try to, you know, get really famous off of it. It does really well and I’m being interviewed by American Theatre Magazine and they’re like, “How did you come up with this play?” And I’m like, “Well, I was up at SPACE on Ryder Farm and I had this idea. I wrote it at SPACE in a few years.” And they’ll be like, “That’s the best, most amazing thing we’ve ever heard and this play is the best play that’s ever been written.” Then they do a write-up of SPACE and SPACE is like, “We’ve had a lot of great artists here. Artists like Josh Koenigsberg,” and it all just feeds off of itself. It’s a big circle of positivity and life success.
Yeah, and some fame, sure. But it’s also about integrity, you know!
By the way, can you talk a little bit about Ars Nova in case people don’t know what that is?
Yeah! Ars Nova is this incredible theater company in New York City on 54th and 10th Avenue. They have this writer’s group called Play Group that basically is the crème de la crème of writers’ groups. If you’ve seen a play that you really loved in the past five years, there’s a good chance that writer went through Ars Nova at some point. They have this writers’ group full of amazing writers but they also know how to guide the conversation between playwrights in a way that is really productive and useful. You don’t just get people giving you random pieces of feedback that you need to take and somehow interpret. People at Ars Nova are there to guide the conversation. It’s very safe and protective of the people inside of it, but it also encourages bold ideas. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me, being in that writers’ group. And now, I just had a show go up at Ars Nova that I wrote with a magician! And again, I wouldn’t have done it if Ars Nova hadn’t said to me, “We have this magician who is great and we want you to work with him.” And so I wrote the show, and it was one of my favorite things I’ve ever worked on. It was nominated for a Drama Desk award. It was this amazingly incredible experience and I have Ars Nova to thank for it. As an artist, you want to find places that will encourage you to be bold and weird and challenge yourself to come up with ideas without feeling like you’re being judged for them right off the bat, or without thinking about, “How do I sell this?” Ars Nova is a place like that, and SPACE is a very much a place like that. It makes sense that Ars Nova would come here every year. As a writer, you’re just searching for these spaces you can go to where you can be free to let the creative juice take you in any direction it wants. You can treat yourself like an artist. When I’m living in New York City, sometimes feel that I’m treating myself like a business man. My business is making plays, or writing screenplays, or TV pilots, or whatever, and I need to figure out how to brand myself. Then, I have to come somewhere like SPACE to reset and to say, “Okay, now I don’t need to worry about pleasing anyone except my own impulses.” It’s pretty wonderful.
I know I have a lot of friends in the city who are artists and, when I told them about SPACE, they were like, “I need that. That’s exactly what I need,” because the city is, in so many ways, conducive to the arts but it can also be a hostile place for things that aren’t so economically viable.
The greatest feeling in the world for me is waking up the first morning after I go to sleep here, the residue of the city has been washed away, and now I’m here and I can embrace the different tone my life takes while I’m in this place. It sounds kind of new age-y and weird, but we’re also playwrights. We’re not in finance.
This may be opening a can of worms…
Can you share one of your favorite SPACE memories? Not necessarily from this year, but from any year.
Ooh. I have so many! Okay, so, there was one time when a bunch of writers from Play Group were playing Bananagrams and drinkin’ some booze after a hard day at work. I couldn’t believe it, but I finally won. I used up all of my Bananagrams and it was the best day of my life! I was like, “Oh my god. I won! I can’t believe this! I never win.” Somehow, the words were just coming to me and, you know, I was a little tipsy. I’d had a few drinks. Everyone was like, “Well done,” and then they looked at my tiles. And they were like, “You realize that seven of these aren’t words?” And I realized, I swear I didn’t know this when I was doing it, but I had written words like bex. It didn’t even occur to me that it wasn’t a word and I don’t know why. I had written one that was purdy.
It’s a word in the South, but maybe it doesn’t count here.
Yeah, and some other weird ones. Someone took a picture of it, which was very embarrassing but very funny. I couldn’t believe that. I don’t know. This isn’t going well. I think the best memory I have, this is very boring, but it’s the conversations that I have over meals. I also feel enthusiastic about that. Again, it’s all about finding likeminded artists and sharing war stories with them. It’s one of the greatest things in the world, and finding places that allow you to do that, but not in a way that you feel dirty about it. Not like when you’re at a party and you’re like, “Hey, what are you doing? What are you working on? Huh?” It feels free and honest here. Also, one time I was here and there was a huge thunderstorm and I slept right through it, but it shook the house. It was very traumatic for a lot of people and they were talking about how they were worried that the house was going to get struck by lightening. Emily told me that she has dreams that the farm is on fire and that suddenly she has to come save it. That’s a recurring nightmare for her.
Oh my god. That’s so sad.
Last question. If you were reincarnated as a farm animal, which farm animal would you be and why?
Wow. I like that lack of hesitation.
Yep. Duck. The duck, unlike the chicken, goes through different phases of being quiet and observing, and then other phases of making a racket and drawing attention to itself. A chicken seems like it’s always drawing attention to itself and it can be very annoying. A duck is a thing that can sometimes be annoying but also sometimes be a little exotic and, hopefully, a little bit adored. Hopefully. But it can also be really annoying. So, I think a duck, at least on the farm. Better than a worm.