This is an interview transcript for an in-person interview CareerFear had with Greg Kotis, a prolific writer of both plays and musicals. He even has his own Wikipedia page, where you can find more information about him and his work!
From his base in New York, he reached Broadway with one of the biggest hits of the past years, Urinetown, which is constantly being performed in secondary schools and universties around the country. In 2002, Kotis won two Tonys for his work on that musical, for both Best Book of a Musical and Best Musical Original Score.
According to Bruce Weber’s review of Kotis’s show in the New York Times, “Urinetown makes a laughing, grandiose case for its own lack of grandiosity; not only does it poke fun at itself, but it also pokes fun at poking fun at itself. It’s a satisfied smirk of a show. No matter how satiric, referential and allegorical the story suggests itself to be, it is fundamentally an extended bathroom joke.”
What are the best (and worst!) parts of your life as a playwright?
The best part is when you realize the play or musical you’re writing is going to work. The writing process is long, it takes many stages to get to a place where you can share it, for most of the process you don’t know if it will engage people or not, part of you suspects it will never work, part of you prays that it will. But somewhere along the line – perhaps by how someone you trust responds to the material, or how an audience responds at a reading or a preview or opening night, or just how you feel about the piece – you know it’s good! The worst part is wrestling with a piece and knowing that it doesn’t work and not knowing how to solve it or even if it’s worth solving.
If you were to pick a different career, what would it be?
At this point, it’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else. I suppose that’s a sign that this was the right path for me.
How has your education led you to where you are?
I studied political science at The University of Chicago. Much of my work has some kind of awareness of how people(s) interact politically. Also, there’s a particular sensibility and sense of humor that I picked up from the people I met at The U of C, most intensively while writing for and performing with The Cardiff Giant Theater Company (a group composed mostly of U of C-ers).
Did you aim for the theatre life in childhood, or did your life path somehow develop as you went along?
I discovered theater in high school, realized that I loved it, but tried to avoid it in college (hence the political science track). But I realized again in college that I loved it too much not to do it, so I was stuck. I remain stuck to this day.
What is your favourite play/musical ever?
There are too many to list. I love Edmund by David Mamet and True West by Sam Shepherd, both brilliant and dark and grim. I love Sweeney Todd. Macbeth. Guys and Dolls. I could go on…
Any advice to teens that are aspiring to go into show business?
The secret to writing is writing. “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg is an excellent book, if you’re interested in the process. Elizabeth Gilbert gave a great Ted Talk on creativity that’s worth a listen. But, really, the best thing to do is to make a pact with yourself to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard) in a regular way, and write. Great things will happen. I should also say that you have little to no control over whether anyone will ever pay you to write, or whether anyone will ever buy a ticket to hear what you have written. The only thing you have control over is your work. If you can be satisfied with creating work that you love, then writing plays might be something for you.