02 Aug OOB Final 30 Countdown – R. Eric Thomas
For day twenty six of our Final 30 Countdown we’re introducing R. Eric Thomas!
R. Eric Thomas, a playwright and stand-up dramedian, has been hailed as “one of the best storytellers in Philly” by the Philadelphia Weekly. His plays include Time Is On Our Side (Simpatico Theatre Company commission, 2016), Human Resources (City Theatre Summer Shorts, 2015, 2015 City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting), the wordless puppet play Frieda the Invisible Woman (developed with Aaron Cromie, FringeArts 2015), When You Put It Like That It Just Sounds Ridiculous (2014 City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting), Always the Bridesmaid (First Person Arts Festival, 2012, Gayfest! 2014), Will You Accept This Friend Request? (First Person Arts Festival, 2011), and The Spectator (Run of the Mill Theatre Company 2003). He is a second year member of The Foundry.
Eric has performed throughout the country, can be heard on the wildly successful RISK! and Soundtrack Series podcasts, and gave a talk at the 2011 TEDxPhilly conference. He is currently the host of The Moth in Philadelphia. rericthomas.com
1. When did you start writing plays? If you had a moment where you realized you wanted to write, what was it?
I started writing plays midway through college. I went to school thinking I was going to be Toni Morrison. Like literally. I don’t know what my plan was. I actually thought that I could write gothic, magical realist antebellum epics for the rest of my life. Maybe I still can. In any case, during writing workshops people would always remark about how lively my dialogue was. Something clicked eventually and I wondered what would happen if I only wrote dialogue. Suddenly the world of farce opened up for me in a way that had never been possible with novels. I wrote my first witty banter punctuated by the explosion of a confetti cannon and I was hooked.
2. How did you come to write your OOB play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation? How has it developed?
Human Resources started off as a writing exercise prompted by Michael Bigelow Dixon. He prompted us to write a mundane scene and then to rewrite it adding an aspect that broke the rules of realism. I wrote a simple, passive-aggressive scene about an office that was out of creamer and then, on the rewrite, added a talking cabinet that had a lot of opinions about where the creamer might have gone and who was responsible. Eventually the cabinet was removed from the script but the idea of breaking from realism remained. I’m obsessed with the quiet malevolence of corporate office life and how quickly the smallest disagreements can escalate. It seemed to me that a perfect way to explore that was through puppets whose ideas about what was appropriate and whose resources for expressing themselves were so much more extreme than humans were.
3. What are 5 words that describe who you are as a playwright?
Intersectional, dramedic, pop culture enthusiast.
4. What/who are some of the major influences on your writing?
Arthur Miller and August Wilson were early influences, especially with regard to structure and appreciating the epicness of everyday people. The movie Clue and 80s output of Bette Midler shaped my comedic sensibility. And the Philadelphia theatre scene–from the traditional to the avant garde–has really shown me what magic on stage looks, sounds and feels like.
5. What’s one fact someone would never guess about you?
I died once. It was fine. I mean, I wasn’t all the way dead, obviously. I’m not a ghost. That’s the fact you wouldn’t guess: not a ghost.
6. What are some of your favorite plays?
The Humans, Peter and the Starcatcher, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time, Angels in America, The Convert, Spinning Into Butter, Bootycandy, Appropriate, August: Osage County
7. Any new projects you’re working on or shameless plugs?
My full-length play, Time Is On Our Side, is received its world premiere in June! Simpatico Theatre Project commissioned the piece, a time-hopping comedic mystery about Philadelphia, LGBT rights and the Underground Railroad last year and it’s been a long, delightful, arduous, super educational road to bringing this one into the world. I’m in love with this play and this production. Next up I’m working on a new draft of a play called Mrs. Harrison, a dark comedy about appropriation set at a college reunion. I’ve also been shopping around a play called The Folks At Home which is written in the style of Norman Lear comedies of the 70s but focuses on a cash-strapped interracial gay couple in the present day.
His play Human Resources will be performed on August 10th at 8:30pm. After a company merger with a start-up, a corporate drone starts to notice strange things about the new co-workers. They’ve got odd ways of doing things, they’re excessively zany. They might be puppets. Like, actual puppets. Hailed as “brilliantly bonkers” by the Miami New Times, this farcical comedy is what you get when you cross Glengarry Glen Ross meets The Muppet Show.