Playwright and Fort Greene resident Jason Grote’s New York debut, 1001, is playing now through November 17th at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Described by the Village Voice as “a poignant, sometimes goofy riff on a post-modern paradox,” the play reinterprets classic stories from the East, intermixing them with ideas, events, and people of the West. He recently spoke with Easy Being Greene about his writing and about living in Fort Greene…
Tell us a little bit about your career as a playwright.
1001 is my big New York City debut, even though I’ve done dozens of workshops and readings here. Most new plays premiere regionally throughout the US before coming to NYC, and 1001 is no exception; it had its world premiere in Denver and a second production in West Virginia. In 2008, it will receive productions in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Locally, I have staged readings coming up at Playwrights’ Horizons and The Fire Dept. and a short Christmas play at The Brick in Brooklyn. Currently, I’m working on commissions for Ensemble Studio Theater, Clubbed Thumb, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and am contributing to Comedy Central’s “Indecision 2008” blog. I was also just named to the artistic advisory committee of Soho Rep. Upcoming projects include productions of other plays in Austin and Washington DC.
How did this play come to be?
Around 2003-04, I kept having weird little synchronicities with The Arabian Nights stories – references to the Thousand and One Nights or Scheherezade kept popping up in weird places. I thought the universe was trying to tell me something. I decided to do a version of the Arabian Nights that had weird anachronisms in it, as if the traditional tales (which most people know as stories like Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves) had modern things like cars and computers in them. Eventually I was led to Edward Said’s book Orientalism, which is about the creation of the Arab “Other” over
centuries of European art and literature, and I thought the play might be an interesting way to approach the topic. On the way, I did quite a bit of research that made its way into the play. Scheherezade’s tales in the play include appearances from Gustave Flaubert, Jorge Luis Borges, and Alan Dershowitz; a love story between a Jew and a Palestinian; a parody of Hitchcock’s Vertigo; and a dirty bomb attack on Manhattan, among many other things.
This strikes me as a quintessentially post-9/11 work. How did events unfolding in the world today inform 1001?
I definitely wouldn’t have written the play if not for 9/11. Previously, I was always very interested in globalization (which plays a large role in 1001), but not necessarily about the Middle East. In many ways, the play is a response to the events of 9/11 and what came after, much of which was and is equally traumatic. The big event in the play is the nightmare attack that everyone in New York is living in fear of, even in small ways. I don’t want to give away too much, but the values of the play really encapsulate my own personal response to 9/11 – joy and grief instead of fear and violence, even in the face of the most horrible events.
How did you end up in Fort Greene, and long have you lived in here?
I moved here in 2002. I was previously living in a weird but cheap arrangement in Williamsburg, and my now-wife was in Murray Hill, in Manhattan. I got into the graduate Dramatic Writing Program at NYU, and decided to take advantage of their housing service and my student loan money and find a place where we could both live. Our landladies are both NYU alums. I had been to Fort Greene a few times, but didn’t know it well; we both loved the apartment and the neighborhood.
Do you work in the neighborhood?
I write at home all of the time, but my commute is very far! I am a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
What’s your favorite spot in Fort Greene?
My stoop! I love my block and have some great neighbors.
Written by Jason Grote, Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Running now through November 17, 2007
Baruch Performing Arts Center
55 Lexington Avenue (entrance on 25th St)
Mon-Sat 8pm, Sat at 3pm
$25 General Admission, $35 Reserved Seating