My play, SINNERS ON A SOUTHBOUND BUS, produced by Ruddy Productions for the 2016 NYC Fringe Festival.
An Interview with Ben Holbrook

Indie Theater Now asked Ben Holbrook a few questions about his play Sinners on a Southbound Bus.

Who were the key figures who made this production happen—could be other artists, people who inspired the story, producers/producing company, etc.

Well I have to start with Ruddy Productions' artistic director, Katie Healy and our excellent director, Phoebe Padget. This show was originally a 10 minute one act in Ruddy Productions' 10 minute play festival and the direction and acting were so good, that it inspired me to build it out into a full length play. It took no time for Katie to read it and ask to submit it to the 2016 NY Fringe Festival and now we're here! I also have to give a huge thanks to the original cast and the new additions. The performances in this show are truly inspiring.

Why is this a play, as opposed to a film or a web series or a novel (or anything else)? And what is it about live theater that attracts you most, that keeps you revved and jazzed to work in this form?

The live aspect of theater truly sets it apart. It changes your piece from a statement to a conversation and that's exactly what "Sinners on a Southbound Bus" is created to be. I don't like creating pieces with a message in mind, because I don't think that it's a playwright's job to make up the audience's mind for them. "Sinners..." provides the audience with a complete picture with a lot of complex elements, for audience members to take in, think about, and discuss after. I'd like to think that it's a living piece of theater and I hope that the realtime aspect of it allows for audiences to truly live with it.

Who taught you how to be a playwright? This could be specific teachers, or role models whose work you’ve seen or read, or of course any combination.

I only took one class on playwriting, which was in college at UNC-Greensboro with Alan Cook, which was a cool class, but taught me early on that my process may differ, quite a bit, from what works for others. In the years since, I've learned from reading and watching plays and meditating on what I've loved and connected with, or what I've disliked and why. I started out by emulating voices I loved like Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Sam Shepard, until my own voice began to develop. I've been fostering and cultivating that voice ever since.

What have you learned about this play as it has evolved from first draft to the present version? And what has surprised you in this current production-what did you discover in the work that you didn’t realize was there?

The extra dimensions added by directors, actors, and designers can really change the way a piece evolves (one of the reasons why I don't direct my own plays). I've found that just listening to the actors speak about the inner lives of their characters blows me away. They bring up so many details that I'd never even thought about. Sometimes I lean in and ask them to explore that epiphany, but sometimes their insight is so poignant that I'm at a complete loss for words. The original 10 minute version painted my two main male protagonists in a very definite light, but the nuance brought to it by the actors and director opened my mind to possibilities that have made this play wonderfully complex. I'd say, without that complexity, a full length version wouldn't have been possible.

Without giving away any important surprises—what moment or moments do you most look forward to when you see this play being performed?

The comedy. This play, in many ways, is heavily dramatic and can be quite brutal, but it's all strung together with these moments of comedy that really make it work. I'm really looking forward to sitting with the audience and enjoying that. Also, the stage combat. Everybody loves stage combat.

posted August 4, 2016