The second NYC production of my play North to Maine at American Theatre of Actors
An Interview with Brenton Lengel
Indie Theater Now asked Brenton Lengel a few questions about his play North to Maine.
What’s this play about? Please give us a brief synopsis (a sentence or two) and also talk about what you believe to be the most important theme(s) in the play.
North to Maine is a play about the Appalachian Trail, and the lives and culture of the 'Thru-Hikers' who, each year, attempt to walk all of its 2180 miles in a season. It is also about a young man obsessed with adventure and fantasy doing something crazy because he's unhappy with the world he's been born-into. There are a number of recurring themes and motifs scattered across that journey, some relate to growing up, others - in hindsight, are surprisingly sexual, and The Lord of the Rings makes a number of appearances, but the one I'm currently obsessed with is stepping into the road and learning the world isn't as scary as you thought it was. Mountains have a way of restoring your faith in humanity, and I find when you put people in a pressure-cooker like that you're pleasantly surprised, and a little humbled by what comes out.
Why did you want to write about this subject/theme?
Because I hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail between 2006 and 2008 - and the experiences I had and the people I met inspired me. I was also just coming out of theatre school and I was scared out of my mind as to what the future might bring - trying to be an artist in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Writing it all down was a way to preserve the people I'd met and things I'd seen, and I suppose it was also a way of telling myself it was all going to be okay. There's something to be said for mythologizing one's recent past as a way of dealing with fears of the future.
How did you decide what names to give the characters in this play?
That was the most fun part - see, hiker's give each other "trail names" which are like trucker handles - they're nicknames that add to the experience by letting you leave your old self behind. They're usually based around some personality quirk or event. Creature Man and Juice-Box were both based upon me mishearing actual hiker's trail names, and then realizing that the mistake was actually a pretty good trail name in and of itself. Then I just made up back story's to explain them: Juice-box probably showed up with an 8-pack of tiny, straw juice-boxes. Creature Man got called that pejoratively on account of his assholishness, but took it for himself anyway, without even realizing it was meant as a negative. Rock-Stabber stabbed rocks & Frodo was based around the fact that I personally thought it would be cool for a hiker to carry a replica of The One Ring on the entire trail and leave it hanging on the sign at Katahdin. Kevin is the only one without a trail name, and that's because, unlike the other characters, he knows who he is.
Describe your writing process. Do you write longhand, on a computer, a tablet? Do you write every day? Do you outline the play beforehand?
My writing process usually involves a laptop and is incredibly varied. I wrote in spurts and usually aggressively drive to finish a story. The first act of North to Maine was written in my parent's basement while recovering from the trail and figuring out what to do next - the second act was written a year later, in a chair in the hallway of an apartment above an art gallery I was living in in Louisville, Kentucky.
Is there a character in this play that you particularly identify with? Which one, and why?
All of them, to a certain extent - as they're all parts of me. Adam/Frodo is probably the most obvious author avatar, as he is very much a young version of me - but Creature Man is also an aspect of my personality (he embodies the parts of my personality that I am not entirely comfortable with and I try to keep in check - but still enjoy summoning up when I feel like verbally shredding someone. Juice-box also has a lot of me in her, as does Rock-Stabber, but they're all also fused with people I've met - so each character is a composite.
posted July 5, 2014