Wednesday, April 5, 2017

2017 Interview with Gordon Bressack

Writer/Director/Producer Gordon Bressack is a veteran of the NY Off-Off Broadway scene as a member of The Playhouse of the Ridiculous. He toured Europe three times with that group and was with them in 1971 when they were all arrested for obscenity in Brussels. He came to Los Angeles in 1983 and was soon hired at Hanna-Barbera writing such shows as "Scooby- Doo" and "The Smurfs". He went on to Warner Bros. Animation and won three Emmys for his work on "Animaniacs" and "Pinky & the Brain." His two previous plays in LA, "Fuggedaboudit" and "Missing Dick" were audience and critical favorites.

 by Steve Peterson

When did you first become interested in working in theater and what was it about live theater that drew you into the fold?

I was in college and decided to take a summer job. I went around to all the Off-Off-Broadway theaters hoping to get a job as an assistant stage manager or something. I had always been attracted to the theater. My mother took me to see Broadway plays at a very early age. At one theater the director, John Vaccaro (Playhouse of the Ridiculous) offered me a job... in the play. The play was The Moke Eater by Ken Bernard and was totally weird and dangerous, The summer job turned into a decade and three European tours. And the first play I directed in L.A. was The Moke Eater.

According to an interview I read about you, you stated that were you an actor in an underground theater company. If you would, please share with us a little about what that experience was like for you and how, if at all, it influenced your future as a writer and/or director.

It's very hard to determine what influences me. Yes, I was in The Playhouse of the Ridiculous and was exposed to extreme types like Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, Penny Arcade and many others. These were personalities more than actors or actresses. It taught me that bold choices are the way to go in the theater. Go big or go home. And I suppose the stories I tell are about extreme types. As the character George says in this play, "It's the job of art to be far-fetched. You don't plop down a hundred buck or even twelve dollars and fifty cents to see something that's um, fetched."

You are best known for your television (Three Emmys and the first-ever Writer's Guild of America's Award for Animation Writing) and film writing. What got you started writing plays?  

Um, that's three Emmys and yes, I was the first recipient of the Writers Guild Award for Animation Writing. I never stopped writing plays. I only recently tried to get them produced. I write plays and do theater in L.A. precisely because it is a futile exercise.

How does writing plays differ from writing for TV and/or film?

Writing for mass media pays. Theater does not unless you capture lightning in a bottle. Writing for theater affords the writer total freedom. I sink or swim based solely on my personal choices and ability.

When writing for TV there might be writers on staff to bounce ideas off of. If you are both writer and director on any project and particularly on this new play - - who do you bounce your ideas off of?

I mostly work alone or with a writing partner in TV and film. I only work alone in theater. It's a Zen thing. I enter the world of the play and write unconsciously for hours at a time. I almost never know what I am about to write. I just follow my nose and stop when the play is over. I don't bounce things off anybody. I ask people I trust to read the play and give me notes. Sometimes the notes are extreme, sometimes helpful. Sometimes painful. I have ripped up plays and started over again more than once.

Tell us a bit about the play

As a writer I often have no distance from what it is I am writing. I've been on TV shows that I knew sucked but you have to get into the spirit of the thing so temporarily you lose your critical thinking ability. You have to. Murder, Anyone? is about two writers engaged in writing what seems to be a pretty terrible play but in the spirit of healthy collaboration, working together with precision teamwork, it gets much much worse. The play is about the futility of creating art, how hard it is to create even bad art and the wondrous magical world of theater. Something to be avoided at all costs in Los Angeles.

Are you currently working on projects for TV and film? 

I am writing a horror/adventure film currently called “Rio Muerte” with my son, James Cullen Bressack, who coat tails I am clinging to. He’s quite a successful film director/writer/producer. He and I also collaborated on two films, “Oliver Storm” which is currently in pre-production and “Cargo”, an animated film due out this spring.

Do you have another play in the works lined up to be produced after MURDER, ANYONE?

Yes, I've begun writing a new play, Lightning in a Bottle. I think it's a comedy.

Giving you the last word…is there anything you wished we had asked about you or about your new play MURDER, ANYONE?

I wish you had asked, "How can I give you thousands of dollars to produce this play all over the world?" Or "How is it someone as clever and handsome as you is currently single?" But seriously, I would have liked to talk more about the play itself and its similarity to the work of Karl Farbman. I could have spent minutes extolling the virtues of Farbman's use of negative space to create comedy. But you didn't ask me any of that. No, you just wanted all the celebrity gossip. And I was all too happy to comply. Thank you.

MURDER, ANYONE? Runs Wednesdays at 8:00 pm, April 5 – June 7. Tickets: $25. Senior/Student/Groups $21. Buy tickets: The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks 91423.

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