Familiar to theater mavens as an editor for Show People and Time Out New York magazines, Erik Jackson has also written three plays: Charlie! (Performance Space 122 and the HERE Theater); Tell-Tale (Cherry Lane Theater, GLAAD nomination for Best Play); and Doll (PS 122). He co-wrote the book for Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, a musical featuring the songs of Neil Sedaka. Jackson is a staff writer and story editor for Dantes Cove on the Here cable network. He penned the screen adaptation of his play Charlie!, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. Jacksons poems appeared in the Showtime film The Escape, starring Patrick Dempsey. An essential part of Theatre Couture, he has written the brand-new adaptation of Carrie, opening December 9, 2006 at P.S.122. Culturebot’s Mike Dressel asked him these five questions.
Given that Carrie received a successful screen adaptation and a not-so-successful Broadway production, what made you want to put your unique stamp on the material? How did you persuade Stephen King to give you the rights?
I’ve been a Stephen King fan all my life. I grew up on his novels and his scary and funny sensibility really shaped my macabre sense of the world. Carrie, both as a book and as a film, made a particular imprint on me. Although I think it was more unconscious at the time, I have come to realize that I identified with this idea of the “other,” and how society reacts to the “freak.” My company, Theatre Couture, has always put a degree of freakishness at its core, so we thought it was a perfect marriage of artists and material. Somehow, I think King saw this, too, and trusted us to give it a go. And the history of the big flop musical version looming out there just added fuel to our camp fire…
As resident playwright for Theatre Couture, how has your writing process changed as the company has grown?
Our first shows were deliberately slapdash affairs. Often, we’d set our opening date as little as three months out, and only then would we come up with an idea and a script! Carrie has been in the works for four years, so it has been a much more extensive development process. We see this production as the first in what will hopefully be many steps toward a final product. It takes time to work out the kinks, especially with such a technically demanding staging (all those special effects!). But we’re always trying to find ways to grow and stretch the boundaries of the form.
What are the inherent difficulties in writing a piece that is considered “camp” and still having it resonate with the audience?
For me, it’s about locating the heart of the story. You can have outrageous jokes and wild characters and situations, but if you don’t create characters people can care about, it’s all for naught. The key here is Carrie herself, and thank goodness we have an actor like Keith Levy (aka Sherry Vine) to bring her to life. He’s this amazing combination of Carol Burnett and Jerry Lewis and, in this role, just the right pinch of Sissy Spacek. And you just can’t help but fall in love. I think there’s a little Carrie in everyone–that feeling of being the outcast, the freak, the person who hides their true selves from everyone else. And that makes for a powerful connection for the audience with the character.
Theatre Couture’s production of Tell-Tale had a successful Off-Broadway run at the Cherry Lane. Do you have hopes that Carrie will have a life after the run at P.S.122?
For now, we’re just having a ball with the current production, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want the show to have a future life. Carrie is so iconic: Even folks who have never read the book or seen the movie know the story. It’s like a modern fairy tale, albeit a very dark one. And with Stephen King’s worldwide reach, I think a lot of people would enjoy this brand-new take on the book!
What’s next for you?
I have my fingers in lots of diverse pots. I cowrote the book to a musical featuring the songs of Neil Sedaka, which has played around the country, and I’m collaborating with Tom Kitt (Broadway’s High Fidelity) and Ben Winters (Off Broadway’s Slut) on a new musical about superheroes. I’m also developing a new TV series and working on a horror movie. That’s my goal: Just keep working!