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General Information
Robert Schenkkan on Writing and the Wonderful World of Theatre

Whether it is exploring American mythology in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Kentucky Cycle , or turning Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston into President Lyndon B. Johnson for his current, Tony award winning Broadway production All the Way, playwright Robert Schenkkan is a notable fixture in the theatrical world. Here, Schenkkan discusses By the Waters of Babylon, his latest work to be published here at Playscripts, Inc., as well as his personal writing routine, favorite writers, and why he is proud to call himself a theater geek.

Why plays, and not novels?

I love the live performer in front of a live audience. I love the immediacy of an absolutely unique community which comes together once and one time only to share a story with one another in real time.

What’s your writing schedule?

I get up early, exercise, breakfast, and am at my desk usually by 9. I work until 12 or 1 and then eat lunch. Take a short nap. Pick up where I left off and work until 5.

What writers have influenced your work the most?

O’Neil for his relentless experimentation. Miller for his social consciousness. Williams for his poetry. Becket for his sense of humor.

Tell us a little about the development of By the Waters of Babylon. What was your initial impetus to write this play?

I was very taken with two character actors in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival company who were performing in my play, Handler, and I began to dream about them in a play.

Rey Pamatmat said, “The most important thing for playwrights starting out — artistically and professionally — is to find your people. Whether that’s a writers lab, a group of actors, a theatre company, or the co-workers at your survival job, they will keep you alive and help you stay interested in your craft when no one else is.”  Who are your people?

My dramaturg and friend, Tom Bryant; my director, Bill Rauch; and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

We are huge Bryan Cranston fans.  What makes him the perfect fit to play LBJ in All the Way?

The actor playing LBJ has to have two very different skill sets. He needs to be charming and charismatic and funny. And he needs to be terrifying. Bryan has all that.

What new playwrights are you excited about?

Kirk Lynn. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Universes. La Saracho. Jacqueline Lawton. Dominique Morrisseau. Quiara Alegria Hudes.

Were you involved in theater in high school?

I was a complete theater geek, even President of my High School Theater club (The Red Dragons). I think I performed in at least ten plus plays or musicals while in High School.

What are you working on now?

I am in rehearsals for the sequel to All the Way, a new play called The Great Society. It picks up where ATW leaves off, November 1964, and carries through to March, 1968, when LBJ announces on national television that he won’t run for re-election.

–Robert Schenkkan

Robert Schenkkan was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina but grew up in Austin, Texas. As a Plan II Honors student, he received a B.A. in Drama from the University of Texas at Austin. He received an M.F.A. in Theatre Arts from Cornell University. Schenkkan is the author of 13 full-length plays, two full-length musicals, and a collection of short plays, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award nominated The Kentucky Cycle, Handler, and The Marriage of Miss Hollywood and King Neptune . His play All the Way, starring Bryan Cranston, has currently been enjoying a solid Broadway run at the Neil Simon Theatre. The play’s sequel, The Great Society, will premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and SRT this July. Schenkkan’s film work includes: The Quiet American directed by Phillip Noyce. For television, he wrote the miniseries Crazy Horse (TNT), Spartacus (USA Network) and The Andromeda Strain. He is a two-time Emmy-nominated writer/producer for Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks and HBO’s epic miniseries, The Pacific, for which he also won a WGA Award. He has written films for Sidney Pollack, Oliver Stone, Denzel Washington, Ron Howard, and Kevin Costner among others. He is currently writing Hacksaw Ridge for Randall Wallace to direct for Walden Media. Schenkkan is a recent fellow at the MacDowell Colony, where he was made the Thorton Wilder Fellow, and is the recipient of grants from New York State, the California Arts Council, and the Vogelstein and the Arthur foundations. He is a New Dramatists alumnus, a member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre and the National Theatre Conference, and is a Fellow of the American Theater.


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