Five Questions for Adriano Shaplin

Name: Adriano Shaplin
Title/Occupation: Playwright
Organization/Company: The Riot Group

Adriano Shaplin is the writer of Freedom Club (directed by Whit McLaughlin of New Paradise Laboratories) which runs from January 6 – 15 at the Connelly Theater (220 East 4 St.) in NYC. The play officially opens January 6. (Photo by Duska Radosavljevic)

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in Burlington, Vermont in the 80s when Bernie Sanders was the mayor. It was basically a socialist utopia that I did not appreciate because I had nothing to compare it to. My parents were hippies and there was a lot of art-making and music and reading in the house. I got involved in community theatre when I was a teenager and got the opportunity to go to Sarah Lawrence College in New York. I started making performances there with my friends and we called ourselves The Riot Group. We were all, like, 18 when we came up with that name. 14 years later we’re still making work together.

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

It is the collision of two works of art that had the biggest influence on me. The first was Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My mother read it to us when we were very young and it inaugurated my imagination into America and into art. The other was a water-color portrait of the Ayatollah Khomeni, painted by my father, which hung on the wall next to the dining room table. I think all of my plays have flowed out of the crack between those two works of art.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I would like to be able to direct. In the early days of The Riot Group we were all in the shows and there was no director. We didn’t have an outside eye. Later on I stepped outside the cast and tried to direct a couple of my plays and I wasn’t happy with the results. Somehow I just couldn’t understand the plays by sitting in the audience, I felt like I needed to be on stage to understand them. Now I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some really awesome directors and I have a hankering to try it again and test what I’ve learned from them. I’m becoming more collaborative as a theater artist, less interested in executing my “vision” and more interested in what the people in the room bring to a project.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

I make a third of my living off of play commissions, a third from adjunct teaching, and a third from wages that come from rehearsal or performance. Technically, according to the 2009 numbers, I live above the poverty line, but just barely.

I have no routine. If I don’t feel like being creative I’ll send some emails. If I don’t feel like sending emails, I’ll write in my notebook. I always have a writing project, but I don’t force myself to be creative. I might go on a long walk or do some drugs. If it was a good day and I got something done, I’ll party with my wife. If it was a bad day I’ll wash it off by partying with my wife. Things will change when we have kids, I presume.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?

The last job I had other than teaching was being a bouncer and I really liked it. I would take bribes all the time from people that wanted to cut in line. Making art to make money can be its own kind of compromise. Sometimes I fantasize about getting a job as a librarian or a full-time teacher so that I could completely insulate my creative work from the need to pay the rent. My work is not commericial at all, but I still wonder “Am I playing it safe just to get by?” In my heart of hearts, I’m an amateur. I do this because I love it and I love playing with my friends. I don’t want to be a professional. I don’t want this to be a job. I know there are a lot of artists out there that would like nothing more than to earn their entire living from making art, but I think they should be careful what they wish for.

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