In a future where all the trees have rocketed into the sky, two teenagers find hope in an unlikely source.
Dan Caffrey graduated from UT Austin’s MFA Playwriting program in 2020 and is currently a Playwriting Instructor for young writers at the Alliance Theatre. He has been an O’Neill Finalist, an MFA Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, an Artist In Residence at Tofte Lake Center, and his work has recently been developed by Kitchen Dog Theater, UCF’s Pegasus PlayLab, Jarrott Productions, and The Orchard Project. His plays can be found in several Smith & Kraus anthologies, and his first nonfiction book, Radiohead FAQ, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in March. He’s also a co-host of The Losers’ Club: A Stephen King Podcast and Halloweenies: A Horror Franchise Podcast, both on the Bloody Disgusting Podcast Network, in addition to recording music with Mae Shults as Methodist Hospital. Their debut LP, Giants, was hailed by “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau as one of the best albums of 2018.
A BIT ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
1. When did you start writing plays? If you had a moment where you realized you wanted to write, what was it?
I don’t think I wrote my first proper play until I was 14, but I knew I wanted to be a writer after seeing Jurassic Park when I was 8 years old. Like a lot of kids, I was obsessed with dinosaurs—so much so that I wanted to be a paleontologist. Ironically, it took a movie about dinosaurs to make me realize that I didn’t want to study them; I wanted to write about them. My first short story was a complete ripoff of Jurassic Park where a bunch of greedy scientists started capturing animals who descended from dinosaurs so they could convert them back into their ancient forms. So, birds were transformed into pteranodons, antelope were transformed into gallimimuses, etc. Did it matter that antelope are mammals who didn’t actually evolve from dinosaurs? Of course not.
2. How did you come to write your OOB play? Was there a particular inspiration behind its creation? How has it developed?
I’m a huge Neil Young fan, and his third album, After the Gold Rush, started off as a soundtrack for a sci-fi movie that never got made. As far as I know, no copies of the screenplay exist anymore, either, so for a long time now, I’ve liked to imagine what the story would have looked like given what we know about the lyrics and the sonics of the album. On the title track, which examines environmentalism and the death of our planet through several different time periods (past, present, and future), I always come back to the line “flyin’ Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun.” That could be interpreted in a lot of different ways, and I took it to mean something very specific, which I won’t spoil here. Hopefully it makes sense if you read/see the play. There’s also some other imagery in the song that pops up in the script. Across his discography, Neil Young’s very big on blending technological advancement with archaism, so I tried to embrace a similar aesthetic—a primitive kind of future.
As far as development goes, a theatre company that I used to be a part of in Chicago called The Ruckus (R.I.P.) hosted an evening of short plays inspired by songs as part of a long-running fringe festival several years ago. So I got to test out an early version of the script, and have been chipping away at it in the years since. I’m proud of the characters and its simplicity, so I’m always compelled to revisit it every few months.
3. What are 5 words that describe who you are as a playwright?
Monsters, animals, escalation, speed, pop-culture
4. What/who are some of the major influences on your writing?
He’s not a playwright, but my favorite writer of all time is Stephen King. I love how he turns to the otherworldly and horrific to explore very ordinary and human aspects of his characters. I don’t think anyone blends realism and imagination quite like him. And the way he’s been able to adapt to different genres over the years is pretty astounding.
In general, I’m really interested in figuring out how to bring non-theatrical forms to a theatrical environment. By that, I don’t mean that my plays are decidedly avant-garde or surrealist (they’re usually pretty straightforward), but rather, how can the aesthetics I love from other art forms make sense in the constraints that are so wonderfully specific to theatre? What stylistic hallmarks from a monster movie can be especially powerful (and functional) onstage? Or a comic book? A beast fable? A popular song? Often, it involves distillation and scaling down. I’m fascinated by using subtraction to my advantage as a writer.
5. What’s one fact someone would never guess about you?
I love little kids, but I can’t stand it when they get food all over their faces. I know parents think it’s really cute, but I truly find it disgusting and don’t understand why you wouldn’t just wipe their face right away. In fact, I get so grossed out by it that my sister and lots of my friends will purposely send me pictures of their kids just covered in cake frosting or pasta sauce or whatever messy food item is currently being scarfed down. I’m assuming I’ll have to reckon with this once my wife and I have kids of our own.
6. What are some of your favorite plays?
The Antipodes by Annie Baker, Social Creatures by Jackie Sibblies Drury, The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, The Secretary by Kyle John Schmidt, Peerless by Jiehae Park, The Nether by Jennifer Haley, A Number by Caryl Churchill, Dance Nation by Clare Barron, Topdog/Underdog by Suzan Lori-Parks, Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley, Phaedra’s Love by Sarah Kane, Gloria by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
7. Any new projects you’re working on or shameless plugs?
Absolutely, and thank you! My play The Amphibians, which, like A Seed, deals a lot with environmentalism/climate change, is having a virtual reading through UCF’s Pegasus PlayLab on June 18th and 19th. Later this summer, I have an adaptation of The Frog Prince that’s being produced as an audio play through Jarrott Productions (dates TBA). And then we’re always producing new content through the two podcasts I’m on, Halloweenies: A Horror Franchise Podcast and The Losers’ Club: A Stephen King Podcast.
On the latter pod, we’re going through all of The Master of Horror’s work in chronological order with exhausting detail. If I can be a total lame-o and brag for a second, he actually tweeted about how much he enjoys the show recently, which made us all uncontrollably geek out. I try to be really careful about celebrity worship, but I guess Stephen King is an exception.