Playwright Adam Szymkowicz may be as well known for his popular “I Interview Playwrights” blog, begun in 2009, as for his own growing roster of plays, though that balance is changing, in part thanks to a recent uptick in productions, as well as to an unlikely Off-Broadway hit with a catchy concept that’s more or less summed up by its title: Clown Bar. Originally written as a lark, this immersive noir/burlesque/clown play resurfaced in a pair of popular New York runs over the past few years. It’s now in an immersive nightclub production at the Pasadena Playhouse-adjacent jazz club redwhite+bluezz through Jan. 29; reviews have been mostly positive.
In the spirit of his popular e-interview format (popular enough to have been parodied), we checked in with the busy writer, father of many plays and recent father of an actual human.
So everyone hates clowns, don’t they? Do you?
There are a lot of people who are terrified of clowns. A lot more than I had thought before we put this show out. A good number of adults still have problems with clowns. The clowns in my play are not actually scary. At least I don’t think they are. But it’s like mask work: It’s visually compelling and theatrical before they even open their clown mouths.
Have you been to clown college?
I went to Juilliard.
Did you conceive the play as a bar play? Could it be done in a proscenium or a regular theatre?
It was written for the back room of Jimmy’s Number 43 in New York. It was one of Rising Phoenix Rep’s Cino Nights commissions. So it was always supposed to be in a bar. Then Pipeline Theater did a showcase at the Parkside Lounge, and then a year later they remounted at the Box. You know the Box? Crazy things happen at the Box, much crazier than clown violence. (So I’ve heard.) And now it’s at redwhite+bluezz at Pasadena Playhouse, which I think has a different reputation from the Box but is still a bar/restaurant space. The play could be done in a proscenium but that wouldn’t be as much fun. The idea is you get a clown nose and you’re part of the action for the night.
The play seems to be getting done all over the place. Is it your most popular work? If so, why do you think that is?
The fanciest productions are coming from this play. I have no idea why. It’s a 10-character, hour-long play with songs and it’s about gangster clowns. It’s kind of silly. I wrote it on a lark. For fun. I think the energy around the play is about the immersion. Sleep No More made immersion popular and I’m lucky enough to ride that wave because I have this play that sort of does that, too. I think people need a reason to leave their home where they can watch pretty much every TV show and any movie on demand. Clown Bar is not like anything on TV, and not just because of the tone. It’s because two feet away from you a clown is doing burlesque, and 10 minutes later there’s gunshots going off right next to your head.
So is a hit L.A. production going to get you TV work? Obviously, an immersive play about clowns is an ideal entrée to Hollywood.
Did I tell you I wrote TV for Tyler Perry? That is not a joke. I am very white and from Connecticut but somehow that happened. Who can say why things happen the way they do? The world is a crazy place. For argument’s sake, let’s say, yes, this clown play will make me rich and famous beyond my wildest dreams. That’s usually the way these things go.
Did you pick the Pasadena venue? Was Jumbo’s Clown Room not available?
Jaime Robledo, the director, knew the Pasadena people. He doesn’t know the Jumbo people.
What else are you working on?
I just finished writing a play that’s like my version of Our Town. I’m pretty excited about that. And I have a couple dramas, one about a guy trying to raise a baby while grieving, another about a teenager bullied to the brink of suicide. And I have a large cast, multi-room play in which the audience is divided into groups so that the play is seen in three different orders and the main character is played by a volunteer from the audience.
I’m not sure what the next play I’m writing is. It might be about a unicorn who works in an office.
Are you going to keep up the interviewing-playwrights thing?
It’s slowed down but it’s still going. I hit over 700 last year, and I also hit over 1 million page views with my blog. People like it. I like it. I have a kid now, so everything’s harder, but it will probably keep going at this slower pace.
How’m I doing?
You’ll go far in this business.