Hey y’all! Who is getting excited for the Seabury Quinn Playfest this April!! Our last interview in our series is one of everyone’s favorite OU Second-Year Playwrights, Ryan Patrick Dolan! Ryan has become well known in the playwriting program for his honest and realll humor, his improv background and of course his love of Chicago! Read my full interview with him below and learn more about him and his awesome new play at Seabury Quinn, BAIT SHOP.
What was your inspiration for “Bait Shop”? Did you start off with an image, a person you know etc…
I used to spend my summers in Northern Michigan at a cabin with my family. There was a hardware story in a small, little town called Cedar. We used to buy worms from there to go fishing when I was young boy. I spent every summer there from the age of 3 to 18. My parents got divorced and I didn’t go back for twenty years. Then two summers ago, my dad rented a house, and my big sister and her family, and my little sis, my step-mom, and even my mom all went back to spend a week there. Some stuff had changed, but I was blown away by how much was the same. Some of the same locals still worked the same jobs. Some of our favorite restaurants looked exactly the same. We went on a charter boat once a year fishing on Lake Michigan. The guy who take us, Bob, was this real character. He’s kind of the inspiration for John, although Bobs life is nothing like his. Bob is married and had kids. I remember though as a kid when Bob would talk about partying with the other charter captains and their assistants and sometimes sleep on their boats since they had to go out at 6am the next day. They would drink at a bar called the Bluebird my big sister used to waitress at in college. My sis said she made a ton of money there. The Bluebird hasn’t changed at all. It looks exactly the same. The fishing town is the same. Bob is the same except he’s grayer, but so am I.
Also, the play kicks off with a friend of John’s dying. It’s a real shock to John cause he’s 40. I’ve lost two friends from the improv community in the last couple of years. Both in their 40s. Improv comedians tend to drink and party more than a normal adult. That suspended sense of adolescence smashing into the reality of getting older, and starting to lose friends and realizing life wasn’t going to last forever was something I wanted to explore. I thought the setting in Michigan would be a good place to do it. Nobody ever thinks they’re old. Everyone thinks they are the same person they were at 22 or 25. Younger people expect older adults to know more things or have things figure out or to have a sense of wisdom. There is wisdom in getting older, but nobody has anything figured out.
You started off in the Chicago Improv scene! What is a quality/skill you learned from improvisation that has helped your playwriting?
There are so many ways that improvisation has made me a better writer. Writing is really about editing, and doing and watching a ton of improv has made me a good editor when it comes to pacing, and knowing when stuff is too wordy, or the audience is not engaged. When I’m hearing my words in front of an audience, it’s become second nature to me to know when the audience is with the piece and when stuff isn’t clicking. That is a huge advantage when I’m rewriting my work.
It’s made me better with dialogue. I’ve improvised thousands of scenes that started with nothing. It taught me how to build a scene by two characters having to react to the last thing said. Or if someone makes a tangent or changes the course of the conversation in a scene, there’s usually a reason why that change has made, a tactic for the character and the actor playing that character. Also, people bounce around topics sometimes when talking. So you can go on a tangent, and then bounce it back to what someone was originally talking about. Being superfamiliar on how people talk and listen to each other in a way that the audience finds engaging is vitally important to me.
Obviously, I’ve made people laugh a ton, and failed at making people laugh a ton, and watched others do the same. You get to have an innate sense of what is funny on the page, and how it might translate to the stage. If something doesn’t work on stage, however, sometimes it might just be the wait it’s set up in the writing or how it’s delivered. So, having all that background in humor helps me figure out how to fix things much more efficiently, or to know when something isn’t working and know it’s better to cut it and move on.
Some writers are really married to their words and push against changes or suggestions by directors or actors or dramaturgs. I’ve improvised for over ten years. Every show that is successful was because I had to constantly collaborate with everyone else on stage with you. Afterward, we’d always try to figure why things worked and didn’t work. I learned pretty quickly that someone else is always going to have a really good instinct or idea that’s just as good as mine. You have to constantly figure out when to push your thing in improv or know when to give over or learn how to do both. I use that when I collaborate on my script. There are no bad ideas in the rehearsal room. If I know what I’m doing and trust my talent and voice, I always know that the words are going to be mine and I can always come up with something else that’s funny if a scene or a joke needs to go.
Finally, (this much longer than you thought, isn’t it?) the type of improvisation I do in Chicago is called “long form.” Usually, a show will start with three or more different “threads” or scenes that are completely distinct from each other, where the characters do not know each other or share the same world. Then as the show goes along, you start mixing these worlds, and their ideas, characters and themes together. Some of my plays, like “Moraine,” my first year play, jumped back and forth in time in what seemed to be unconnected ways. As the play pushed towards the climax, the audience could figure out how they all connected to tell one cohesive story. This is a real pain in the ass way to create a play, and I don’t always want to create something that way, but it’s cool when I’m able to pull it off.
Word on the street is you are a major Katy Perry fan! If your play was a Katy Perry Song, which would it be and why?
She hasn’t written it yet. She’s waiting to collaborate with me on it.
What is a fun fact most people don’t know about you?
I have a real stupid tattoo that I got when I was 19. It doesn’t bother me, but it’s dumb. Don’t get a tattoo. At some point, you realize they’re not worth it. It doesn’t make you any more original than when you don’t have one.
You’ve read about and now are supa into RYANNNN! Now Come check out the reading of his play “BAIT SHOP” at the 21st Annual Seabury Quinn PlayFest at 8pm SATURDAY, APRIL 25th at 4pm in Baker Theater!
Here is the blurb for it:
More about Ryan
Ryan Patrick Dolan is a second year MFA Candidate in the Ohio University Playwriting Program under Charles Smith and Erik Ramsey. He has a B.A. in playwriting from Columbia College Chicago where he studied under playwright, Lisa Schlesinger. He writes dark, comedic plays that explore love and loss, passion and destruction. Stylistically influenced by his years of improvisation, acting, and the Chicago Storefront aesthetic, he challenges the American stereotypes of gender, race, and sexuality.
Dolan’s play, “Daddy’s Little Girls,” was named a National Semifinalist for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s 10-minute play competition, the THE GARY GARRISON AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING TEN-MINUTE PLAY. In conjunction with KCACTF, “Daddy’s Little Girls” also garnered him one of the eight, nationwide nominations for the National Partners of American Theatre Playwriting Award which recognizes “best-written, best-crafted script with the strongest writer’s “voice.”” His full-length play,“Moraine,” had a reading at the 2014 Seabury Quinn Jr. Playwrights Festival at Ohio University, and at the Trellis Reading Series at the Greenhouse Theater Center. Moraine is being produced at CIC Theater this March and April in Chicago, and is being directed by Mary Rose O’Connor.
Dolan produced four one-act plays written by three other Ohio University playwrights and himself called “10-4: The Truck Stop Plays” at CIC Theater in Chicago in the Summer of 2014. Dolan’s one-act “Burger King,” was directed by Ashley Neal. Ryan’s play “The Peace of Westphalia” was awarded the first-ever workshop production in the playwriting program at Columbia College. His ten-minute plays have been produced by American Theater Company, and Brown Couch Theater. Ryan was the dramaturg at RedTwist theater for Kimberly Senior’s production of “The Pillowman,” and Keira Fromm’s production of “The Lobby Hero.” Both were nominated for Jeff Awards for “Best Play” and “Best Director.” Ryan is also a 12-year veteran of the Chicago improv scene. He has primarily improvised at iO and Annoyance Theaters, but also has performed and taught workshops at numerous festivals and universities around the country with his groups Revolver and Pudding-Thank-You. He also teaches workshops to Ohio University’s improv group, “Black Sheep.” His acting credits include productions at Steppenwolf Theater’s “Next Up” series, TimeLine Theater, Collaboraction, Strawdog, and Wildclaw Theater.