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I really appreciate Playscripts and their work toward creating better theater and theater experiences for all. Jay Muldoon Theater Teacher, Fairfield, OH
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An Interview with Jonathan Dorf, Author of 4 A.M.

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We caught up with Playscripts author, Jonathan Dorf, at Florida Thespians! Learn about Jonathan’s path to becoming a writer, about his work, and what aspiring writers can take away from his success.

Q1: Tell us about your writing career- what inspired you to begin writing?

As a kid, I read a lot. And by a lot, I mean, for example, that we’d be on a cross-country trip and have to stop at a bookstore because I had already read everything we’d brought. My dad was a librarian, and my mom was very active in journalism in college (though she ended up becoming a social worker), so reading was something that came naturally. I started writing in elementary school—short stories—but the real catalyst for my writing was meeting Tom Williams as a sophomore in high school.  Tom was an English teacher, but more important (at least for me), he was the school newspaper advisor. At the end of that year I became the editor, a position I held until graduation. Tom grew to become a close friend, and as a writer himself, he encouraged me. In addition to my newspaper writing, I wrote poetry (Tom’s specialty), and he and I wrote songs together (Tom was also a great musician). In my junior year, he suggested that since I’d done everything else, I should try writing a play (he was a playwright too). So I did—The Storm—and Tom helped connect me to Phil Charron, who directed it as part of the school’s senior one-act festival. It was pretty derivative of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, but sitting there watching the performers—and watching the audience watch it and react—I was hooked on that feeling. The next year, I wrote another play for the festival, and when I graduated and went off to Harvard, I wrote many more plays—some good, some not so good, but I kept going, and here we are.

 

Q2: 4 A.M. is your most produced show with Playscripts. What about this particular story do you think is so marketable and appealing to produce?”

I’ve been fortunate that 4 A.M. has resonated with so many people.  It’s hard to say definitively “this is why you connect to it,” because everyone is different. For some, it may be simply having lived that moment of being awake at 4 A.M. and, when they see the characters trying to navigate what I sometimes call “the magic hour” (it feels like it’s not quite night and not quite morning), seeing a bit of their own experience. But I’ve also heard from those for whom one of the play’s themes or a character’s experience really hit home for them. The play’s refrain, “is anybody out there?” is emblematic of the struggle that many people, particularly young people, face as they search for connection with others, particularly in this world of increasingly isolating technology. For this reason, the Fire Kid monologue, about a teen who calls 9-1-1 after a car catches on fire across the street but then feels completely shut out of the subsequent emergency, speaks to many. Also, because many teens have struggled with depression, they connect to the journey of Jake (or Jane), the teen who has attempted suicide but finds solace in the words of Frankie, the short-wave radio DJ who isn’t sure anyone else is even listening.  Finally, for still others, it may be the play’s exploration of the connection between our fears and our dreams—most of us have had a Monster Under the Bed at one time or another.

 

Q3: If you could live the life of any character that you have created, which would it be and why?

While I’d be happy to spend time with my characters—I’ve always wanted to give Jake a hug and tell him it’s going to be OK—I’m not sure that I’d want to be one. Having said that, the Fire Kid in 4 A.M. is actually based on my own experience. The only difference is that it happened at 5 A.M., not 4 A.M. But I woke up to find these lights dancing on my bedroom wall and the room feeling oddly warm. I got up, and outside, on the other side of the street, a car was literally on fire. Each time the fire hit a new pocket of fuel, there’d be another explosion, and the fire would jump 15 or 20 feet in the air. I quickly called 9-1-1, and the fire trucks and police were there within minutes. And that was it—like the Fire Kid, I was out of the picture. The Fire Kid monologue doesn’t tell us what happened to the car, since that wasn’t the point, but in case you were wondering… Around 8:30 A.M., the city towed the burnt-out car, leaving blackened pavement underneath it. A couple hours later, as I was coming back from the gym, I saw a couple guys nearby looking confused—apparently they were the owners of the car. Together with someone else from my building, I talked to them briefly, letting them know that the car, which was a Mercedes worth more than $150,000, had been towed. While I’m not happy that it happened to the people involved, I’m happy that I got to witness some portion of it, and for the inspiration it provided.

 

Q4: Do you have any exciting projects we should keep an eye out for?

I’m juggling a number of different plays right now. They’re mostly in the brainstorm phase, which can last anywhere from weeks to months. There’s so much to write about, and the challenge has been to force myself to commit to finishing one first. I’d been wanting to write a play that deals with ethnicity and immigration for a while, as well a parody of a popular play for which I have a pretty slammin’ title, but then Marjory Stoneman Douglas happened. I have two school shooting-related plays I want to write, though the challenge with something like that is to avoid writing a lecture disguised as a play, so I’ve been working through it all carefully.  I’ve actually started writing the first one, and as I was writing in bed the other night before bed—I think I may finally have stumbled onto what holds it together. We’ll see.

Also, not long ago, I wrote The Magic Hour (also published by Playscripts) which revisits the characters from 4 A.M. a year later and stands on its own or plays together with the original play. This year, a British youth theatre is bringing The Magic Hour to the Edinburgh Fringe, and I’m excited to be joining them there. Finally, I also just finished a short film that I wrote and directed, Music, about a college student struggling with mental illness, and we’re currently in the process of applying to film festivals.

 

Q5: Any advice for playwrights just starting out?

I have two pieces of advice. First, the most important thing to remember as a new playwright—or indeed, as a not new playwright—is that plays are written to be produced. Whenever you’re writing something, ask yourself, “How is this actually going to work on stage?” That can mean everything from making sure you’ve thought through how that set or costume change is going to be possible to keeping your characters from dropping the f-bomb (or other bombs) in your play for middle schoolers.

The second important thing to remember is that playwriting is a business. Writing a good play isn’t enough. You have to know how to present it in a professional way (learn proper format!) and how to market it. Even if you’re fortunate enough to get your work published, that doesn’t mean you’re done. Yes, you now have a great marketing partner, but you still need to be the chief marketing force for your brand. That’s right—you’re a brand. So create a website and a social media presence and get yourself out there—and while you’re at it, write something new.

 

Keep up with Jonathan on social media:

Facebook page

Twitter @jonplaywright

 

Check out all of Jonathan’s works on Playscripts!

4 A.M

What’s it like to be awake when the rest of your world is asleep? Meet an early-morning jogger, a radio DJ whose show may have an audience of none, a modern Romeo and Juliet, the author of a most unusual letter, and many other teen characters as they search for connection in the magic hour. Through a series of connected scenes and monologues, join them on their journey as they discover whether the monster under the bed is real and collectively wonder…is there anybody out there?

 

The Magic Hour

It’s 4 A.M. and for a group of teens, it’s time to wrestle with the changes in their lives. The DJ of the internet’s loneliest radio show gets an unexpected “like,” a serial letter writer gathers the courage to actually send one, best friends confront the reality of growing apart, and a modern-day Romeo and Juliet discover balcony scenes are harder than they look. In this moving series of scenes and monologues, the monster under the bed is definitely real…but is anyone ready for what comes next?

 

After Math

When a man and woman in suits take Emmett away in the middle of math class, his classmates come up with their own explanations for his mysterious disappearance. He’s off to his own private rock concert. He was kidnapped by aliens. He was an alien himself. He created a mural that offended the school. A victim of bullies, he engineered his own disappearance…and a multitude of other guesses. Slowly we begin to realize that no one really knew him. Who is Emmett, and why is it that no one paid any attention to him until he was gone?

 

Dolphin

When Petra is complicit in a cyberbullying attack against her best friend David, their friendship is put to the ultimate test. A tender drama that explores the limits of friendship and the consequences of not speaking up.

 

Harry’s Hotter at Twilight

This crazed mash-up parody of the Harry Potter and Twilight series (with nods to Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Alice in Wonderland,and other stars of the pop culture pantheon) features invisible rabbits, armies of babies, murderous lunatics, evil gourmets and much more. Hilarity ensues as everyone’s favorite wizards, vampires, and werewolves battle to save the gloomy town of Spork — and indeed the world — from certain destruction at the hands of the nefarious Fine Diner and the bloodthirsty Euphoria.

 

High School (non) Musical

Toy Boatin is Roswell High’s bowling star, but he’s longing for more than just the state championship. When surgical prodigy Gaberella transfers in, she’s immediately drafted onto the surgical decathlon team, but she too wants more. Will Toy and Gaberella unseat Shitzu and Cryin as the leads in the upcoming Winter Muse Cycle? After Gaberella’s classmates discover that her singing voice is so bad that it could cause mass casualties, they must decide what’s more important — following your dreams, or preserving life as we know it. An outrageous spoof of the popular Disney sensation.

 

Just Add Zombies

“Desperate” doesn’t begin to describe this high school drama troupe: their parents avoid their shows, their faculty sponsor has fled, and the audience for their production of Romeo and Julietconsists of one sleeping homeless woman. When they discover that the sleeping woman is actually dead, the troupe turns her into a zombie so she can join the show and make it a hit with the zombie-loving masses. But one bite leads to another, and soon things spin wildly out of control. When the curtain comes down on this undead Romeo and Juliet, will anyone be left alive?

 

The Locker Next 2 Mine

For Alisa, it’s already tough being a mid-year arrival in her junior year. To make matters worse, her locker is next to a sprawling shrine for Beth Turner, a lacrosse player who died a year earlier. While Alisa tries to eke out space for her books, the popular “M Squad” harasses the rest of the school into a state of non-stop remembrance for Beth. But when Alisa befriends Brady, a former student reporter, she discovers another recent death that was completely overshadowed by Beth’s, leaving many students feeling isolated. Can the students band together to acknowledge these losses and begin to heal?

 

The Midnight Club

It’s hard enough for a group of students from different walks of life to get along in detention under the best of circumstances. Try midnight detention at a supernatural school where one kid spiked the punch with holy water and another is trying to slow down his transformation into a zombie. A reminder that in a way, each of us is a brain and an athlete . . . and a ghost . . . and a werewolf.

 

Thank You for Flushing My Head in the Toilet and other rarely used expressions

For Achilles and Helen, getting bullied is a dismal fact of life — Achilles regularly has his head flushed in the toilet, and Helen invents reasons to arrive late to school so she can avoid a vicious clique. When cool girl Glinda magically materializes and offers them a way out, they each jump at the chance. But Glinda’s solution is to turn them into the very people who have tormented them. Can Achilles and Helen find another way out?

 

Rumors of Polar Bears

Facing the catastrophic consequences of global warming, Deme and her brother Romulus are barely surviving as they scavenge for food and water in the near future. Forced to flee their makeshift home because of an outbreak of sickness, the teenagers land in “New San Francisco,” a relative paradise with a running stream and spa. Romulus and some of their group insist that they’ve found utopia, but Deme still dreams of finding the rumored polar bears in the north that she believes are the key to their long-term survival. Will they risk everything to chase this dream?

 

Run Like the Dickens

Media darling Oliver Twist has gone from a lowly orphan to an anxiety-ridden corporate spokesperson, pitching everything from juicers to cereal and tofu by reenacting his days in the workhouse and subsequent adventures. But Oliver’s monopoly on the inspirational rags-to-riches story is threatened when Tiny Tim throws aside his crutches and decides to run the marathon. Tiny Tim has the chance to inspire millions, but with a homicidal trio of fairytale princesses, scheming Corporate Mommy and Daddy, and meddling friends and family, Tiny Tim may not make it to the starting line.

 

Tiny Tim Runs the Marathon

Media darling Oliver Twist has gone from a lowly orphan to an anxiety-ridden corporate spokesperson, pitching everything from juicers to cereal and tofu by reenacting his days in the workhouse and subsequent adventures. But Oliver’s monopoly on the inspirational rags-to-riches story is threatened when Tiny Tim throws aside his crutches and decides to run the marathon. Tiny Tim has the chance to inspire millions, but with a homicidal trio of fairytale princesses, scheming Corporate Mommy and Daddy, and meddling friends and family, Tiny Tim may not make it to the starting line.

 

Twisting Carol

In this twisted riff on the holiday classic, Scrooge is so miserly and self-centered that he hasn’t even noticed his dead partner Marley’s corpse is stuck on the roof and causing a stink. But then Marley’s ghost arrives (mistaking himself for the reggae icon, dreadlocks and all); he warns that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits, but doesn’t mention that they’ll be an aerobics instructor, a guy named Bob, and a flasher. Along with Short Tim (he was tired of the “tiny” label), the spirits warm Scrooge’s heart, and he embraces the true meaning of Christmas. Too bad Marley’s still stranded on the roof…

 

You Should Never Eat Your Heroes

Betty has read self-help guru Leila Leilani’s latest book over twenty times, in multiple formats. Unfortunately, there was no chapter on what to do if your favorite author dies in a freak accident while trying to avoid you. Or the easiest way to get your best friend to school in his PJs to help you hide the body. Or, after the body vanishes and a new flavor suddenly appears in the cafeteria food…how to stay off the menu. And you thought your school day was rough.

 

Also Featured In…

Actor’s Choice: Monologues for Teens

Actor’s Choice: Monologues for Teens, Volume 2

The Bullying Collection

Scared Silly

 

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