Five Questions for Isaac Butler
Name: Isaac Butler
Title/Occupation: Freelance theatre director and writer
Organization/Company: Various, but most people know me for Parabasis, my blog.
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in Washington, D.C., I lived there until college. D.C. was not a cool place to live when I was growing up, we were probably most famous for our crackhead mayor and sky high murder rate. So growing up a little white kid with a certain amount of privilege… I lead a pretty cloistered life, I’m not going to lie. But it also turns out that D.C. had– and continues to have– this incredibly vibrant theater scene that was then in the midst of its kinda 2.0 phase. 1.0 was, of course, the Arena Stage and touring shows, and then there was this second generation of theaters that came up– the Shakespeare (Where I saw my first adult play, St. Joan), The Studio, Woolly Mammoth, The Source etc. And when I was 12, I officially became part of that scene for awhile when I was cast as Jason in Falsettoland. I talk a lot about that experience on my blog in this post.
Anyway, that show ran for 100 performances and I was pretty much hooked. I took a lot of acting classes, acted at Buck’s Rock Summer Camp (honestly, if you are or have an artsy kid who doesn’t totally fit in, send that kid to Buck’s Rock!) and at Georgetown Day, where I went to school. And I thought Okay, I’m getting the leads, time to go to college and study theatre and become an actor!
But there was aproblem that developed… I couldn’t– psychologically speaking– take being an actor. I couldn’t take going to the places you have to go to in that way that actors (or at least method trained actors, which I was) have to go to. So first show in college, I get cast as the lead. I was Barry Champlain in Talk Radio. Justin Long, who does the Mac ads (he’s the Mac) he was Stu. And every night I had had to have an onstage nervous breakdown while chain smoking and drinking flat coke masquerading as coffee. And I wasn’t really directed that much. Apparently, my nervous breakdowns were really convincing. I was physically literally sick from smoking (15 cigarettes roughly, in 90 minutes) and mentally just… I’d have to go back to my dorm and stare at a wall for 2 hours before I could talk to people.
I realized this wasn’t healthy. That I couldn’t do this in a healthy way. And I had directed a couple of shows (Peter Shaffer’s Five Finger Exercise and Daniel MacIvor’s Never Swim Alone) and loved it, and started doing it more, and was totally and completely hooked.
Okay, that was long. You can edit if you want! As to being a writer, that happened by accident. I was depressed and thought about keeping a journal to talk about my thoughts and feelings and theories about art, poltiics and theatre. But being in theatre, I can’t do anything without an audience, so I started a blog instead. There were very very few theatre blogs at that point. There was like you, me, George Hunka, Dan Trujillo, Laura Axelrod and Terry Teachout. Anyway, so I just stared doing it and it was fun and I started doing it more and more.
It’s weird. I was 25 before I started calling myself an “artist”. And it was only last year that I started calling myself a “Writer” and seeking professional writing work, and now it’s the bulk of my income. It seems silly. Most people have been thinking of me primarily as a writer for years. I mean, when they think of me. Which is probably very very seldom!
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
I wish I could write plays. I can write other things, but not plays. I think it’d be cool to write plays.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.