Talking Theatre with Samuel D. Hunter and Brandon Woolley

Director/Co-producer Brandon Woolley chatted with The Few playwright Samuel D. Hunter about inspiration, process, interstates and Idaho as rehearsals for CoHo’s upcoming production were just underway.  Read the first part of their conversation here, and check back for more next week.

Samuel Hunter, Photographed in Chicago, Illinois, September 10th, 2014. Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Photo Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Brandon Woolley
Brandon Woolley









What was the inspiration for this play [ The Few ], where’s the seed where it begins?


I should say, while this is my shortest play, both in terms of its word count and run time, I had to do the most work on this play of any play I’ve ever written to get it to the current draft. I think some of that had to do with the fact that my entry point shifted a few times. The concrete entry point was always these trucker personal ads. I went to graduate school in Iowa, it was right by I-80, and not far from Iowa City is the world’s largest truckstop. I became really fascinated with these trucker newspapers, one of them that I found fascinating was called Country Singles. And it is mostly personal ads, with a few business ads as well. But the process of reading them was crazy because at first they’re weird, the language is so specific, they talk about 7,000 mile runs and all that. And then they become kinda funny, so idiosyncratic and odd, written so strangely. Then they become utterly heartbreaking, because you realize that these people who are sort of living in their trucks, some doing cross country runs, they are sending these flares up into the night, hoping someone can see it. One heartbreaking thing, I remember a specific ad, I think some of the language made its way into the play, it started with “Hey there, hi there, whoa there!” I remember that ad I had seen in grad school in 2006, I came back John and I visited Iowa to do workshops in 2011 or 2012, and that same ad was still running six years later, which was just so heartbreaking.


Yeah, oh that’s sad.


So I wanted to structure the play around that as an entry point. Also trucker culture is so interesting. They like to say they keep America running, and they are right. The only way we can continue living in this geographically unreasonable country is because of trucking – for better and for worse. The play doesn’t get into this, but there’s what’s going on right now with smaller companies being swallowed by mammoth conglomerates with control centers directing 10,000 trucks…They are like the last American cowboys. When I started writing the play I thought it was about community and free speech; I had political ideas about it, I thought it was going to be fundamentally a political play. I remember 30 or 40 pages into the first draft, I felt, I looked at it and suddenly didn’t know what I was writing about. I put it in a drawer for a while. Then I had an opportunity to work at Playwrights Center with Kip Fagen – (at this time I was in rehearsals for the first production of The Whale in Denver) so I sort of slapped together a first draft around that time and went to Playwrights Center. It was tenuous, weighed down by the backstory which was circuitous and complicated, with long monologues and tons of exposition. We did a reading and it felt like there was something there, but I wasn’t sure what it was.  I workshopped it maybe a couple other times before landing in JAW. The big thing I realized there was that the play was essentially about loneliness, about the need for human connection. It seems so obvious to say that but I had been lost in the weeds of the play, I had forgotten what it was about. Then the big thing at JAW was to simplify the backstories . . . so once I simplified that, the simple human need of the play rose to the surface. After JAW, it had another workshop before the first production in San Diego. In San Diego I thought Davis McCallum gave it a beautiful production, the cast was amazing, but it really wasn’t until New York at Rattlestick that some of the final gestures landed in place. By final gestures, I mean making sure Bryan constantly has this active line of trying to reach out to QZ, like trying to tell her how he feels but the weight of his history is blocking him. The essential dynamic of the play is here’s this guy who comes back to reconnect with the person he loves, and he almost does it in the first scene, over then, but before he can bring himself to do it, here comes Matthew, who fans the flames of this paper that Bryan would like to go away forever. Once I understood that to be the central dramaturgical conflict of the play, it took its last step. It’s been such a long journey for the play, as you can tell!



It’s fascinating to hear about the process, how it worked out. You said most plays for you don’t take quite as much in terms of the process of getting there?


You know, I’m a big re-writer; I change a lot. All of my plays, their strength is derived completely from the talents of my collaborators. Like John, my husband, who is a dramaturg and reads everything I write. And Davis, who directs nearly all of my premieres. And the actors themselves, throughout all of these workshops. At a certain point it becomes me conducting, aggregating things, sculpting. And because I’m that kind of writer, all of my plays take a while and go through many drafts. This play is particular is one of my most heavily re-conceptualized. Often I write a first draft and the basic shape of the play will remain, the fundamental gestures of the play and what it is doing remain the same. But this the basic shape changed several times.

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