For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed director-writer Tracy Brigden. She has spent over 30 years in the theatre nurturing, developing, producing and directing new work for the stage. She was Artistic Director of City Theatre in Pittsburgh for 16 years where she produced almost 200 new plays and musicals including world premieres by Keith Reddin, Chistopher Durang, Sharon Washington, Daniel Beaty, Jeffrey Hatcher, Michael Hollinger, Cori Thomas, Adam Rapp and many more. You can visit her website at www.tracybrigden.com
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I’m writing a fictional podcast called The Okachokee Sink. It’s about a tiny, kooky town in the Florida Everglades with only 12 residents. When one of them goes missing, the other 11 become suspects. It’s sort of Sharp Objects meets Twin Peaks. I hope to record it with my husband, Mike DelGaudio, who is a voice actor, and some pals this summer. I just have to figure out the ending!
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
I read an article a few years ago about a missing man in a tiny town in the Australian Outback. I filed it away in my “ideas” folder and came back to it recently. I transposed it from the Outback to Florida since recording an audio drama full of Australian accents might prove a bit challenging. And Florida has such great, crazy characters, including descendants of the “carny folks” from the Ringling Brothers days who used to winter in down there. I was interested in making a podcast even before the pandemic! I loved Homecoming and Limetown and wanted to do a serialized drama like that.
Q: In this current time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, what do you believe your role is in this moment?
I have been doing quite a lot of reading, reflecting, posting, protesting, donating and other actions towards a more equitable and just world. It’s just my small part, but I think we are all learning that we can feel proud of our work as artists telling stories with important messages of social justice, but it’s just not enough. We have to make change in every way we can – starting with ourselves. The more we can listen and learn and reflect and act personally, the better we will be at getting the important ideas of the moment out into the zeitgeist with our work.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
My late mother, Madeline Tracy Brigden, was an inspiration and a champion for me. She was the fiction editor at Mademoiselle magazine in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and published and worked with many incredible writers of all stripes and genres. She always told me “Do something with your life you would do anyway even if you weren’t being paid for it.” And she led by example as a woman who did not let her gender or having a family keep her from also having a wonderful career.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
That spark that keeps showing up that says “That would make a great story!” or “Ooh, I can envision how that story could be told!”
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I have a play that I wrote that I’m dying to get out into the world! It’s called Stage Struck and it’s about Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, who worked for the great actor-manager Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre in London during the time he was writing his famous novel. The play parallels that story with a downtown theatre troupe in 1980s New York putting on a production of Dracula. The two worlds collide in theatrical ways and reveal that a life in the theatre is both fraught and joyous in any century.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
The triumphant opening night of the first production I directed at City Theatre as a newly appointed artistic director in 2001.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
Directing a television show or a film that I wrote.
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
I have been a theatre person my whole career, and starting down the path of a whole new field takes some doing!
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
Keep reading, watching, listening and supporting other people’s work.
Put myself in challenging situations. Recently, I volunteered to be a writer for a local theatre company’s 24-hour play marathon. I stayed up all night on Friday and wrote a play that was performed on Zoom on Saturday night. It had a whole zombie subplot. If it hadn’t been 2 am I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to write that!
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
Self-censorship. Feeling that since I haven’t been primarily a writer for my whole career, I’m not allowed or not as talented.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
Too hard! I went into the theatre because I love all the arts and theatre combines them all. But, I’ll say: a whole bunch of productions ranging from Dreamgirls to the production of Midsummer I saw at the Bridge Theatre in London last summer – enhanced by the fact that it was my kids’ first Shakespeare, and they laughed their asses off and loved it. I’m also a museum and art junkie and couldn’t begin to pick a favorite painting OR song OR novel OR movie – well maybe The Godfather. I guess any piece of art that pulls you in and transports you to another place – even for a moment.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
Theatre people – really any artists – who aren’t actually making a financial living at their work but feel so passionately called to the art they must still pursue it every day for their whole lives.
And the Obamas. They were onstage for eight years with an audience of millions and they never missed a line or a cue or a step. They deserve a standing ovation forever.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
Being a great friend, step-mom and wife.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
Wine at lunch.
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
Try to get some work or an observership in film or TV.
Write. You’re allowed!
Take more vacations.
Q: Where would you most like to live?
Greenwich Village in the 1960s.
Q: What is your idea of success?
Work you are excited about and getting to be with the people you love.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
A long dinner with friends after a spectacular play.
Swimming in the ocean.
Wandering around a museum by myself, after a glass of wine at lunch, preferably in a foreign city.
Typing “The End” as I finish a piece of writing.
Q: Final Thoughts?
Vote in the fall like your life depends on it, ‘cause it does!