Interview by David Gardner
“You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.”
David Gardner: When you read through a script for a play you might direct, what goes through your head?
Richard Hamburger: You’re looking for the human possibilities to reveal unpredictable areas. You’re looking to see if it’s accurate to the way people actually are, rather than an idealization of how they should be. You’re looking to see whether it’s an original voice, rather than an imitation of someone else, or unduly influenced by a presently-fashionable author. You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.
by William Steinberger
Alan Ayckbourn is one of the most prolific playwrights at work today. His output, however, extends far beyond the seventy-three plays he has authored. He is also a frequent essayist and interviewee on the subject of his work.
Ayckbourn has spoken at length about how he sees My Wonderful Day unfolding from Winnie’s perspective. The play was originally titled “Winnie’s Wonderful Day.” The change in title reflects Winnie’s role as first person viewer. The play is a children’s view of the adult world. “Adults drift away and you hear them talking in a corner,” he told the Yorkshire Post, “but you stay with [Winnie].” Interestingly, Ayckbourn’s official website notes that “prior to My Wonderful Day, children are generally heard but not seen in Alan’s plays.” As we learn about the adults that inhabit My Wonderful Day, “Winnie just observes, writes and makes us wonder: who are the children?”
Ayckbourn also sees Winnie in some ways as the most commonsensical and mature character in the play. “Her mother is a dreamer…and she says they’ll go back to the land of sunshine and you think, ‘C’mon mum get real.’” To The Press, he described, “By the age of eight or nine, you’re beginning to sort your parents out.” He further observed, “I wanted the child, Winnie, to be quite young. Young enough that the adults would misread her."
Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play is, at its heart, about intimacy in an age of technological revolution, “a play hovering at the dawn of electricity,” as her introductory notes say. Its main male character, Dr. Givings, is very much a progressive Man of Science, interested in Everything New. And nothing is much newer, in the 1880s, than electricity.
Although humans have known about electricity in many of its natural forms for millennia (the word comes from the Greek word for amber; the Greeks’ first notice of static electricity was the sparks created by rubbing fur on amber), as Tom McNichol says in AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War, before the nineteenth century, and especially before Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla, “electricity remained branded in mystery, an eccentric, invisible force with powers that seemed to come from another world.”
Since In the Next Room, or the vibrator play is right around the corner, we'll be feeding you some tidbits related to the play!
Despite the titillation factor of the play's subtitle, electric vibrators were less controversial in the late 19th and early 20th century than masturbation -- and even than the speculum and tampon! They were advertised regularly in mass market publications: Rachel Maine, author of The Technology of Orgasm, became interested in the subject when she started noticing ads in needlework magazines of the period (her original focus of research).
Dramaturg Walter Bilderback discusses In the Next Room, or the vibrator play with playwright Sarah Ruhl.
Walter Bilderback: The first time we spoke, when the Wilma produced The Clean House, you mentioned you were working on “a play about the history of the vibrator.” Here it is now: In the Next Room; or, The Vibrator Play.
Let’s start with the obvious question: how did you decide to write a play about the history of the vibrator?
Sarah Ruhl: I was given a book by a friend called The Technology of Orgasm and was fascinated to learn that doctors used to treat hysterical women with vibrators, and before the invention, manually. I thought there might be a play in it.
WB: When did you decide to set the play in a single room? And why in “a prosperous spa town outside of New York City, perhaps Saratoga Springs”?
SR: I like to set myself formal challenges when I’m writing and wanted to write this particular one with the challenge of having simultaneous and continuous action in two rooms. Saratoga Springs—I learned that vibrators were part of the healing treatment there, particularly hydraulic vibrators—the salubrious effects of “the waters” sometimes meant vibrators. I also learned that it had a thriving African American community after the war. I was teaching for the SITI company up in Saratoga and loved the history of the place.