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Behind the Scenes: Talking MOON MAN WALKS

Playwrights’ Corner
James Ijames

As part of the mission of Playwrights' Week to foster a peer-based community among selected writers, we had each of the playwrights' read a colleague's play and interview them about it.  Now we're bringing those conversations to you!  First up, Eric Pfeffinger interviews James Ijames about his play, MOON MAN WALK.

Eric: As someone who’s worked in libraries, I have to say that the glimpses of librarian life in your play are very true-to-life.  How’d you manage this?  Inside source?  Undercover work?  Lucky guess?

James: It's funny you asked that! I also worked in a library. It was my very first job. I was a library page and my job was to re-shelve books. It's one of the most influential periods of my life because I read A LOT of books. I was pretty crappy and slow at putting the books away because I would stop and read portions of books as I put them away.

E: Someone on Twitter said that playwrights (and dramaturgs) are the closest things our society has anymore to public intellectuals.  So with this in mind: how would you solve all the problems?

J: I would put women in charge of everything. Seriously. That would fix most problems.

E: Your play juxtaposes very grounded, very human interactions with fantastical flights of theatrical fancy. So what do you think you’re trying to pull?

J: It all begins with George Clinton, Toni Morrison, Henry Dumas, Brother from Another Planet and Thelonious Monk. I sort of discovered all these geniuses at the same time and they have conspired to make me see the world from a slightly tilted perspective. The supernatural and the extraterrestrial have fascinated me from a very young age. I guess what I'm trying to show in putting a grounded human interaction beside something fantastic is that the similarities of outer space and inner space are numerous. The anatomy of the cosmos mirrors our own in a lot of ways. So something grounded and something magical really come from the same impulse in humanity to remain upright.  

E: Your play includes some scenes of an astronaut left behind in space when the rest of his team takes off for Earth. This is basically the exact same plot of the forthcoming Matt Damon movie “The Martian.” Pretend I’m Matt Damon: what would you like to say to me right now?

J: Dang Bruh...keep ya head up.

E: Does a hot dog count as a sandwich?

J: Of course not. That's crazy talk.

E: Your play is a funny and moving exploration of the ache of loss and the complicated journey toward healing. Whatever happened to nice, mindless, little entertainments?

J: It's still needed. I love mindless TV. Sometimes you just want to be entertained. We need both. We need stories that make us feel inspired and we need stories that are not so deep. I hope my plays have a bit of both.

E: Some playwriting instructors assign their students the task of writing a stage direction that can’t be staged.  Your assignment is to write a stage direction that really shouldn’t be staged.

J: The actors set the stage on fire. They don't move. Black out?

E: Some stuff that happens in your play clearly isn’t really happening. Is that a signal that there are other, more plausible actions in the play that also aren’t really happening, or am I just looking for trouble?

J: No, I think you're on to something about the play that perhaps I wasn't aware of in writing it. The play was written, or rather complete, during a moment of great grief in my own life. Grief is this funny emotion that is both honest and deceitful with us when we are going through it. You're right. There are certainly things in the play that I, perhaps subconsciously, made tangible on stage but in my heart they are much more ephemeral. The love story at the center of the play, for example. I'm still not sure how real it is and how much of that was about my need to find love in the wake of loss.

E: What does a playwright owe the audience?

J: An experience. Our thought, perhaps. We owe it to the audience to be present. Not literally in the room. Just palpable in the room.

E: At the dawn of cinema, Georges Melies imagined a trip to the moon; Lil Wayne boasted of playing basketball with the moon. What is it about the moon?

J: Props for the Lil Wayne reference. The moon is culturally, at least in America, about aspiration, about striving and reaching ones goal. I have the word ELSEWHERE tattooed on my left forearm and an arrow on my right forearm. These are reminders to me to strive and never cease. My Aunt Teri, who I lived with in college, always told me to shoot for the moon. Dorian Corey says "If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you."  That's what the moon means to me. Going for the thing that's seemingly unattainable...and getting it.