F.J. Hartland has been called “Pittsburgh’s most eminent playwright” and his plays have won numerous awards.
Hartland’s MOTHER TONGUE, about a different kind of love triangle, will be one of the highlight productions of this year’s GayFest!
Hartland spoke about his background, success, and influences ahead of GayFest! 2015.
Eger: What sparked your interest in theater in general and writing plays in particular?
Hartland: Yes,I had many wonderful teachers who encouraged my writing. For the 1974 summer program of The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts, I was accepted into the creative writing class.
I went to college to study acting, but the head of our theater program told me I was “too short, too fat, too ugly and too untalented” to be an actor. So I went back to writing. Nobody cares what a playwright looks like. So I switched to the English Department where my new advisor encouraged me to go to graduate school to study playwriting.
Hartland: There is a joke in Pittsburgh theater circles that all I write about is death. And I guess that’s true. What’s more dramatic than life and death? I have a new play opening in Pittsburgh in September called Games of the Mind. I told the producing Throughline Theatre Company that they should use the advertising tag line, “It’s a Hartland play and nobody DIES!”
Hartland: This past spring I played the lead in the play The Whale at Off The Wall in Carnegie, so that was one of the true high points in my acting career. I’ve been a member of Actors Equity for almost twenty-five years, and The Whale was a real pinnacle for me.
One of the best times I ever had as a director was over a year ago when I directed The Mystery of Irma Vep for a local theater. I had an amazing cast, wonderful designers, and a crackerjack crew of dressers who kept those two actors racing through hundreds of quick changes. I was able to sit back and enjoy just directing, or as Orson Welles used to say, “presiding over the happy accidents.” And we had many happy accidents.
As a playwright, I feel like I have reached a true achievement when a total stranger tells me how much my words have moved him or her. If something I put on a piece of paper can make someone I don’t know laugh or cry . . . wow.
Hartland: It was a true godsend because I was broke at the time and the $5,000 saved my life. Sadly, that was the last year the state of Pennsylvania awarded individual artist grants. Budgets were cut—starting with the arts.
Eger: Tell us about your writing process. What works for you and what does not?
Hartland: I can’t even start writing until I know the first and the last thing I want the audience to see. Then my first draft is trying to see if I can get from that first picture to the last picture. I often say that a play has to “simmer on the back burner” in my brain for a long time before I am comfortable enough to commit to the idea.
Hartland: I lived in Pittsburgh for seven years and did a myriad of things to keep body and soul together. I was a college adjunct, teaching mostly freshman composition and public speaking. I wrote and edited copy for a small newspaper. I worked as a proofreader. I graded essays for a company that processed the standardized school testing. Sometimes I held down as many as five part-time jobs.
For interview originally published by Phindie, click here.
Check quinceproductions.com for the full schedule and tickets.
For a video interview with F.J. Hartland, “Pittsburgh’s most prominent playwright,” click here.