Your name?

Robert Askins

Where are you from?

I am from Cypress, TX

And you live in NYC right now?

Kinda… I don’t really have a house right now.

And why is that?

I was in LA for a lot of the summer and I was in China for a while visiting my brother. So now I have to find a place to live when I go back to New York!

What were you doing in LA?

In LA, I was taking meetings and trying to sell pieces of film and television and then I went to the Ojai Playwrights Conference for two weeks. But, I’ve been New York based for about 10 years now. I started working with a man named Curt Dempster before I moved to New York and Curt ran EST; he is the founding Artistic Director and he invited me to be part of the artistic ensemble there, an artistic associate. So, I was living in Waco and was bartending and I wanted to write plays, so I moved up to NY, to a closet in Spanish Harlem.

Did you go to school to study theatre?

I did, I went to Baylor University and I studied performance, I was an acting major, an acting major that got no time onstage. And so, at some point, I decided that, it wasn’t even a decision, a lot of it was pure anger, pure rage: “you can’t keep me off the stage.” And so I started writing. Theatre and playwriting specifically has been so good for me in dealing with the live-wire raw anger in my life. It is one of the few places you can do it without getting prosecuted or kicked out of the village. And some of the folks in NY responded to that.

So you would say you started writing plays in college?

Yes. In high school, I started off as a painter and then transitioned to acting because painting was so isolating for me, and then in college, I started to write for the stage instead of acting on it.

What have you been working on at SPACE?

We’ve been working on two of my plays: an older play called “Everything is Ruthless, Everything is Cruel,” and that is a white-trash murder comedy. It’s got heavy Texas noir roots and a lot of laugh lines. And then we’ve been working on an entirely new play of mine called, “The Carpenter.” And that’s the twin one, two brothers, different classes, lots of laughs.

So you have been writing by yourself and have you also been working with the group here?

Yeah, so last year, we worked on Permission and that was a little more intense because the second half of Permission was such an awful mess. And “Carpenter” is by no means perfect but at least the basic structural beats are there, so this year has been more, after the initial reads, people responded and then throughout the past five days I’ve addressed the big issues, because I wanted to get “Carpenter” ready so I could send it out for a first read to my inner circle of agents and managers…and we’ve got it there.

Cool! Because of this week?

Yeah!

So the group that you came here with, how are you a group, how do you all know each other?

Well, it is sort of informal. I got involved with these guys because of Serials at The Flea. I’ve worked with Danya before, and John directed a one act of mine at the EST marathon about four or five years ago. And Eric came into EST Youngblood the year that I left, so small world. And then we also just talked about the needs of the play and whom we would bring up, and so it’s informal, but it is primarily because of the collision of EST Youngblood and The Flea’s The Bats.

Cool. Awesome. You were talking a little bit before about the anger that spurs your writing and also about Texas and familial ideas. Would you say that that is what you write about typically, or that is what comes out in your writing? What do you like to write about?

Well, I don’t know anyone who had a perfect childhood, right? I didn’t have what we think about as the traditional white-trash southern classic childhood, but it was by no means perfect. My father passed when I was young, and we were lower middle class. All of those things were sort of on the periphery of our world, and it was interesting knowing that it wasn’t us, but it was the people next door, or it was one generation away, or it was the cousins. So there was this sense that everything looks pretty normal and then you take the wrong road and everything becomes a more primitive draft of itself. The coexistence of these things was difficult to square in the notions of the modern world, and so some of my anger was from the inability for people to act right. It was the basic, “Why can’t we have nice things?”—this class in general, this neighborhood, this family in general.  So when I first started to write about Texas, it was a way for me to take out a lot of that anger, of what was my imperfect and failed childhood, or the world of my youth. And as I’ve gotten older, it is much easier to use humor rather than violence in my plays. There was a turn about three plays ago, and I think one of the journeys of adulthood is to find what is “the gun that is not the gun,” what is the word that destroys a person onstage, because I think violence on stage does not act as actual violence; it always functions as symbolic violence. And also as I’ve aged and mellowed a bit, the circumstances are not as dire as they appeared when I was 25. I have all my fingers and toes, and it is all about accepting where you come from and learning how to love it, and that goes along with my transition from violent comedies to more pure comedies. Right now, I think one of things that is more useful is to get in a laugh, even if just to expurgate and reset some of the negativity we feel.

So this is not your first time here at SPACE?

No, I’ve been here once before, with this same group, and we worked on my play, Permission, which is going up at MCC next season.

Yeah! I’ve hear it’s sort of taken off?

Yeah, we’ve had a lot of fun. Actually when I was out in Ojai we were workshopping it, and it’s just a fun… it’s not just a fun… it’s about Christians who spank each other.

One more question, have you found a favorite spot on the farm?

I really like the area around the Gazebo and the front fields. I’m not a big sitter. I’m more of a walker. Today I got off the property and walked up Starr Ridge road, to one of the neighborhoods, and I like walking, and it’s important for the mind to walk. But when I came back I sat in the Gazebo and I looked at one of the fields and I looked at the wind before the rain started and it was… There is this great notion in Chinese architecture, about the building’s placement with the environment. Through each place that the wood meets in a Gazebo, you should have the landscape arranged almost like a painting. So I was sitting in the Gazebo and I was thinking about that perspective and I was thinking about how beautiful every panel of space between the wood was. And so I sat there and just watched the flowers move in small ways and I was just very happy, peaceful, in a way that I’m not usually. So the gazebo is sort of my place.

Any last words?

Well, I hope these are not my last words, but I like it here, and the food is great, and thank you!

Ok, thank you!

Interviewed by Julia Schonberg.