Doug Wright’s career has been defined by its distinct undefinability. Wright, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for I Am My Own Wife, his one-man-play based on the life of a WWII-era German transvestite, has distinguished himself as chameleonic storyteller, whose work runs the gamut from emotionally-nuanced Broadway hits (Grey Gardens) to commerical sensations (The Little Mermaid), from idiosyncratic independent films (Quills) to Steven Spielberg-produced spectacles (Memoirs of a Geisha, Untitled George Gershwin Project). Wright possesses a shape-shifter’s ability to comfortably straddle multiple formats, genres, and budgets (sometimes incorporating all these elements in the same project). In recent years, Wright has hit upon a rich vein of inspiration for his stage productions courtesy of a most unlikely source: documentary filmmaking. He wrote a book based on the classic Maysles Brothers documentary, Grey Gardens, that eventually became the basis for the stage production which Time magazine hailed as the number one show of 2006. Wright is now working on a stage adaptation of the 1997 doc chronicling a hard-fought endruance test to win a new truck, Hands on a Hard Body.
A member of Sundance Institute’s 2012 Alumni Advisory Board and the subject of this month’s Alumni Spotlight video, Wright kicks off our new series of artist Q&A’s with the characteristic humanity and humor he’s brought to the eccentrics and outsiders and provocateurs who populate his best work.
1. What film, play, album, book, or other work of art has inspired you recently?
I think cinematically one of the things that’s excited me the most was a film with Michael Shannon called Take Shelter, which I thought was haunting, and evocative, and really striking. It was done really minimally, but with unexpected visceral power. Brilliant movie.
What inspires me most theatrically these days is a fellow playwright who serves on the Dramatists Guild with me, now in his 80s, Edward Albee. The most inspiring thing I can think of that keeps me going day after day are those thrilling moments when I share the elevator with Edward and see this titanic man of letters, this key figure in the evolution of American theatre, going to his Dramatists Guild meeting twice a month, and then going home to write another new play. And that to me is profound.
2. Where do you feel most at home?
We’ve got this big old bed at home, with these pretty nice sheets. And it’ll be about one in the morning and we’ll just be finishing Jon Stewart on TiVo, and my partner David will put down his iPad for the night. And we have these two preposterously delicious cats, Glynis and Murray, and they’ll leap up in the bed when they know it’s night time. Whenever it’s the four of us on the bed—Me, David, Glenice, and Murray—David will just off-handedly say, “Oh, family time!” And I think that’s the happiest moment of the day.
3. What magazine, website or blog do you read most frequently?
I read The New York Times, I read The Huffington Post. But, David went into my computer and accessed ‘parental controls.’ So I cannot access theatre chat sites. They’ve been restricted. I can get any type of baroque pornography that I would want. But I cannot access theatre gossip sites.
4. What membership cards do you carry?
I’m a union guy, even though we’re merely a guild, I carry my Dramatists Guild membership. I carry my Writers Guild of America membership card. And, perhaps most proudly, I do carry my SAG card because I have a few appearances in films and television where I’ve happened to maybe know the director. Just last week I got a SAG residuals check for $29.19 to commemorate my remarkable acting career.
5. Which Sundance film or play would you most enthusiastically recommend?
Sundance, in terms of cinema, has defined contemporary independent cinema. So there are too many films to mention. Theatrically, the track record for a relatively new program just gets stronger and stronger. With beautiful pieces like Spring Awakening making it all the way to Broadway and internationally. So it’s impossible to pick favorites.