Renowned playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright ’85 spoke about the highs and lows of playwriting to a room full of aspiring playwrights, screenwriters and theater lovers at a Berkeley College Master’s Tea on Wednesday.
“If you are going to sacrifice health insurance and a decent wage, then you damn well better write something theatrical,” he said.
Wright has worked with several media, including theatre, film and television. Some of his most widely known works include “I Am My Own Wife” and “Quills,” which was turned into a feature film.
Wright’s most recent play, “I Am My Own Wife,” won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama this year. The play is a dramatic portrait of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transvestite who survived the Nazi and communist eras in Germany.
The sole actor, Jefferson Mays, portrays 40 different characters in the show, including Wright himself. Wright said he often writes about characters like von Mahlsdorf who demonstrate rebellion against status quo institutions.
He said such rebellious characters reflect his growing up “as a sort of repressed Presbyterian gay guy in Texas.”
“Quills,” a play about the Marquis de Sade and his fight for free speech, won Wright the Kesselring Award. When he transformed “Quills” into a screenplay, The National Board of Review nominated it for three Academy Awards.
These well-known works brought more than aspiring playwrights to the tea. Students like Justin Hatchimonji ’06, the Dramat’s historian, also came to hear Wright speak. Hatchimonji said he was curious about Wright’s involvement with the Dramat.
“[It] turns out he was on the executive board,” Hatchimonji said.
Throughout his career, Wright has explored both screenwriting and playwriting. He said if he relied solely on his income from “I Am My Own Wife,” he would have a hard time getting by, but film has allowed him more financial freedom. Despite this, Wright said he is most dedicated to theatre.
“I will always find myself coming back to stage,” he said.
Wright’s current projects include a screen adaptation of Arthur Golden’s novel, “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and a musical based on a 1975 documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Of the latter project, Wright said, “It’s either going to be a work of unparalleled genius or an absolute train wreck.”
After Wright finished speaking, students swarmed around him, asking for autographs.
Jessica Rivkin ’05 stayed after the talk to personally thank Wright. She said she admired his candid discussion of his creative life.
“What he says about theatre is what everyone feels but no one says,” Rivkin said.
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