Brett Epstein is a quirky and theatrical powerhouse with another exciting project in the works. The working title is Project Interview. Instead of waiting for ever elusive inspiration to strike, he is going out in search of it himself. In keeping with his wait-for-no-man, eat, sleep and breathe theater personality, he plans to interview a person a day from harried commuters at NY Penn Station to friends, and even family. Epstein’s goal is to open up a dialogue with people from all different walks of life, channeling the inspiration from the stories that will inevitably pour forth into a theatrical endeavor. I’m so excited to see where the impromptu nature of this project takes him. Whatever the final product, it’s sure to be funny, raw, and full of both the painful and beautiful qualities that make up humanity as a whole. Of course I’ll be in the front row opening night cheering obnoxiously, raucously and inappropriately as per usual. Read on to see more about Epstein’s creative process& check back for details about the show!
What do you think the final creative outcome of these interviews will be?
B: To be honest, I am not sure exactly what the final outcome of these interviews will be. At first I said I would write one long play, then I changed it to 4 short plays. Then I said to myself “Yo, self! Stop thinking so much! Stop trying to have every detail (of this play, and your life) sorted out at every single moment! It’s not the Brett project; it’s the Everyone But Brett project – you’ve got to hand over control to these people you’re interviewing – let them write the play (not literally, but you know what I’m saying).” Right now, I am in hardcore interview mode, so what theatrical presentation will come of it is yet to be determined. Most likely short plays and a documentary of the interview process.
What kinds of questions will you ask people during the interviews?
B: Everyone gets the same questions. Sign up for an interview, Liz. Hah! I don’t know why I’m laughing. I just ask people to think about their lives – their highs, their lows, their dreams and aspirations, their challenges and regrets. And my favorite part – I let everyone I interview ask me any question they want. It’s awesome to see what people want to know, especially the strangers. The whole idea of the project is openness, vulnerability and creative expression, so I love that I get to share with other people after they’ve just shared so much with me.
What inspired you to create a project like this?
B: I realized that every play I write, while I’m always pleased with the final outcome and I always pour so much of myself into the writing (that sounded corny), my plays are always about me – inspired by my life, my experiences. When I felt a surface-only connection with my family, I wrote a satire on the modern suburban family. When I felt unrequited love, I wrote a college love story. Things happened to me, I wrote. All about me, and somewhat isolating. I created this project to show myself that I can be inspired by anyone, at any place, at any time! Listening to the people in my four target communities (family, facebook/twitter, NYC theatre scene, complete strangers) has definitely proved that. This project is about getting out of my own head, getting out of my own way as a writer and a person… and simply listening.
What are you hoping to accomplish/make people feel?
B: It’s extremely powerful to be open and vulnerable to the people around you. When you’re vulnerable, you allow for a genuine, real connection. This connection can only happen when you let your guard down (something I had NEVER done). What people have shared with me (some people I don’t even know) has been truly beautiful and inspiring. I also want to show people “Hey! You’ve got an idea, but don’t have all the logistics worked out? But you think your idea is cool and badass and awesome and worthwhile but you’re a little scared and unsure and timid? WELL DO IT ANYWAYS!!!” Because you just never know. Life begins when the comfort zone ends! I was horrrrrrified to go up to the first guy I did the interview on – this Israeli guy at Starbucks in Union Square. “Um, hi, can I talk to you for 5 minutes? Um, I think, I’m um doing this um project um I’m a playwright um can I film this?” But now I’ve interviewed over 20 people and I’m getting way more articulate and less neurotic and coo-coo! And way more to come; one per day until February ends! Got my Mom coming up next week – she was the first one to reply on Facebook when I posted that I was seeking people to interview for a new play. The first one! I love that this project will allow me to deeply connect with and and learn more about the people in my life who I love but who I don’t really know! I couldn’t tell you my mother’s biggest regret, or who inspires her, or what she wants in life but doesn’t yet have… but guess what, because of this project, she’s about to tell me! I went through all the responses on Facebook (40!) and purposely selected people to interview who I least expected would respond to my post. The other day I interviewed my sister’s friend’s boyfriend! I adored him. The interview also allows me to get clear with or clean up a mess withpeople in my life. I interviewed a close friend last week– he and I have had a strained relationship over the past few months with a lot of my thoughts/anxieties/uncertainties about the friendship kept in my head… and because I always let the person I interview ask me any question, he said: “What would you like to say to me that you have never said?” Then BAM! There it is! Some truth on the table, some clarity for our friendship… what could be better!
What are some of your biggest fears about this project?
B: Rejection. That people will say no when I ask them to be interviewed. But I’m scared of rejection in many aspects of my life (dating; auditions; friendships), so that doesn’t surprise me that that carries into this project – that anxiety, that fear right before I approach someone to enroll them in the project. Also, because I like to have meticulous control over everything at all times, I’m scared that I don’t know every detail of what will come of all of this. What am I doing? What am I creating? What’s the final product going to be? What do I do with these hours of footage? All I know right now is that I’m interviewing one person a day and it’s fascinating to me and that’s good enough!
Do you have a team helping you with this project, or are you all on your lonesome?
B: I’ve enrolled my fellow comedienne friend Siobhan Beasley (hilarious, awesome, tall) as co-leader of the project. She films the interviews with the strangers I approach, provides adorable commentary througout the interview (“Cool!” or “Wow!” is common) and always has pens and business cards because I’m consistently unprepared with anything but the questions. We are kind of a hilarious duo though because sometimes we enter places (Penn Station), scope the scene for a stranger to interview, and if we aren’t feelin’ anyone, and make excuses like everyone looks crazy or security is gonna be mad or we don’t have time or we should just get coffee instead of doing an interview today… but then we force ourselves to take the risk – just take the plunge and approach someone randomly and nicely and excitedly– and it always pays off because everyone’s got a story and everyone’s story and point-of-view and experience in life is so, so, so different. When we finished that interview at Penn Station, the one we did right after saying ‘Nah, let’s just get coffee instead’… Siobhan and I sat in silence for a few moments and then she turned to me and said ‘Doing this project reminds me why I love humanity.’ I couldn’t agree more. This project reminds me that life is meant to be lived out there, with people, taking risks, being bold, being courageous. I can’t wait to see what comes of this – because, for once, I don’t know and I’m lovin’ it!
When will this be presented?’
B: I am not sure yet. I am compiling interviews throughout January and some of February, then I’ll write whatever it inspires me to write and create the documentary. Look for a presentation in mid-March. You guys can visit www.itsbrett.net for updates on this project!
And in the mean-time…
B: In the mean-time, a similarly-themed play I’ve created is premiering on February 10th at 7:30pm at the TANK – 151 West 46th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues (www.thetanknyc.org/theater)! It’s called Set in the City and is a series of vignettes based on overheard dialogue across the city (Not interviews! See, they’re different!). $5 gets you in & there will be good beer (meaning PBR)!