Updated: Nov 17, 2021
I was just interviewed a moment ago. The interviewer, Nat Nichols, asked me about my artistic statement on NPX. I read it and found I no longer agreed with its thesis. Here's an update:
My name is John Patrick Bray and I am a playwright. I write theatre and I write life! In grad school, one of my teachers said “every play is either a killing or a healing.” For some time I believed this to be the case, as I felt that the world must exist in a state of binaries: good vs. evil, life vs. death, light vs. dark. As I’ve gotten a bit older, I no longer believe this to be true. There are forests that only through the tragedy of fire can rejuvenate, can regrow. After a period of mourning the loss of a loved one, we are able to reflect, with joy, about all of the wonderful things we did while our loved one was still with us. Perhaps, it could be said that every play demonstrates both the impulse to kill and the impulse to heal, and the negotiation that ensues is the desire for peace. In my play Friendly’s Fire, we watch a character who is processing some truly horrific events: his brother died in front of him in battle; he has driven off his wife; and, at the start of the play, he has been assaulted and lost a tooth. His friend enters his fevered dream, and together, they try to put the pieces of Friendly’s puzzle back together. In Tracks - which is inspired by my teenage years in upstate, New York - we meet a bunch of young hooligans who are living in an economic disaster zone caused both by the disappearance of IBM and the shadier aspects of NAFTA. As the characters negotiate the very real ramifications of political ideologies, they share opioids, candy, and the belief that the myths that surround the Hudson Valley – from Johnny Appleseed to the Headless Horseman – must be in some ways true. By believing, such characters manifest. I mention these examples because as I have gotten older I find that I enjoy plays that are essentially fairy tales for adults, in which we watch characters face great obstacles by using humor and magic; for me, these moments of magic speak to a great Truth about the human condition. I believe there is a sense of play in childhood that is violently torn from us as we grow into so-called mature human beings, and that sense of play includes creative ways to perform conflict/resolution that include imagination, wonder, hurt, and reconciliation. Playwrights are lifelong learners, and each writer comes to find a human Truth via a different path, and that the human Truth we all find is paradoxical, complicated, and does not rest easy with any one answer. Because our voices are each unique, I thrive in communities of playwrights and other theatre artists dedicated to new works. We write theatre. We write life. We experience theatre. We experience life. Maybe we’ll answer the great mysteries. Or, perhaps, by creating stories where characters may overcome great obstacles using humor and magic, perhaps we can find a way to do the same for ourselves.
I've also slowly been changing the way I write plays, and the ways in which I teach playwriting students. I used to say "a play is a writer's letter to a world," but I recently saw this quote and it has sent me into some new space:
"It's not about what you want to say to the world. It's about what you want to whisper to your friend who understands you." - Maria Irene Fornes, a quote from the makers of the documentary "The Rest I Make Up - A Film About Maria Irene Fornes.
Fornes's remark here is profound. It's an invitation. A permission. Write who you are to someone who already knows. I've been heading in this direction for awhile, but the path has been murky; it now feels suddenly tangible.
I will be in NYC May 3-4 for Friendly's Fire, my own whisper to a friend. I hope to see you there!