Playwright Steven Dietz has proved over his 30-plus year career his talent and love for the medium. He has over 30 plays underneath his belt, such as his off-Broadway show “Fiction” and now splits his time between Seattle, Wash and Austin, Texas, where he began shaping new minds teaching directing and playwriting at The University of Texas. Though his numerous accomplishments may place him among great playwrights, Dietz doesn’t let that seep into his approachable personality—he still makes a point of remembering the names of those that he talks to as he greets you with his beaming smile. The Art + Entertainment Writing class at St. Edward’s University had the pleasure of interviewing Dietz during his visit to the classroom.
Below is an edited transcript:
For both directing and writing what is your first step when you begin a project?
It’s different for every play, but if there’s a unifier for those I would say it’s something that I don’t know, or something I have a question about, or something that troubles me. When I started to write a play to say something I knew or to make a point about something I felt, those plays didn’t go very far or they went off the rails. That question [I ask] manifests maybe as a couple of characters, a setting, or a title.
Why Austin and Seattle?
I was living in Minneapolis for a long time and a theater in Seattle had never commissioned a new play, which is a fancy word for hiring a playwright to write a play for them. I knew some of the directors there and they brought me out. Austin was because UT wanted to put a professional working playwright on faculty and I was the fortunate recipient of that in 2006.
I saw that you went to school at the University of Northern Colorado for theatre arts so I know your passion for theater was present there, but what about before then? Did you grow up immersed in the thespian world?
I didn’t see a play until I was in a play. My parents didn’t see a play until I wrote a play. I was a kid playing baseball and horsing around. I got put in plays in high school because I had a loud voice. I fell in love with it.
How would you describe being on the other end of criticism? How do you deal with it?
There seems to be a hard and fast understanding that you don’t personally follow up with the critic. I just always try to remember that my play is not as bad as she [critic] says. I’m not writing a play for the critic. I’m imagining an audience member. I want to entertain you but I want to disrupt you.
You teach at UT Austin. What's the first tip or lesson you give to your students when they take your playwriting or directing classes?
I have writing students essentially write five line plays. Try to make little units of energy; these little artificially constructed bursts. Little narrative explosions. It’s to disabuse them [students] of an idea and a leisurely approach of welcoming the audience in. The main thing for directors are two characters are in the same scene but not in the same story. Too often when we direct plays we have the actors agree on what the scene is about.
What do you find more enjoyable now playwriting or directing?
In the rehearsal room I find directing the most enjoyable but I feel that I am lucky to be able to do them both.