Meet the Playwright: Justin Neal

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Justin Neal (Squamish)
"So Damn Proud" 2015 Playwrights Retreat

What is your favorite thing about playwriting?
When you hit that moment in dialogue writing where it's a conversation between characters that I merely feel like a vessel of some sort, that the characters have a life of their own and I'm merely a scribe. So, then, to see the actors embody these characters, with a director's vision and guidance, and together they make them these completely new spirits—that this character and story is a gift we all get to share together with the world at large.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting?
Knowing that the story I want to tell has to fit within a comfortable amount of time, so creating the structure and the outline may be the least "fun" thing to do, it can then be the place to create and have the freedom to explore within that structure.

What is your favorite play?
Although Johnna's role I felt was greatly trivialized in the film, and I have never seen a production of it, but when I first read August: Osage County I was absolutely blown away by that story.

What’s the best cure for writer’s block?
Perhaps I am showing off a level of naivete here, but I don't believe it exists. When I went through periods of not writing I relied on substances (weed, booze, etc.) for inspiration. After moving beyond that through years of hard work and help from amazing people, I now find that I don't get stuck (knock wood) and when I am paused on a particular moment I know I have to put some thought about these characters and the world they live in, so I don't try to get anywhere in my thinking but rather take multi-hour long walks, or shoot baskets, or throw a baseball around, or sit in a bathtub, all things that will help me meditate on them and possible places I would like t
hem to go to. But not getting stuck on those places either, being open to other outcomes. Much of the time happy accidents—something random I witness in life, or I conversation I hear that informs some particular action. I then have faith these ideas are good and start writing away. And if not I ruminate some more until it's time.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life?
Keep Coming Back

What play do you wish you had written and why?
When I was 20 or so (a long time ago) I saw Raisin in the Sun in Seattle and I had only known a fairly generalized version of African-American history growing up with liberal parents in suburban Seattle with a minuscule Black population. This was the play that opened my eyes to a history I had never experienced, and empowered me to look closer at my own family story, and hence the struggle of other people of color—to write a play with that kind of impact, and create such a profound level of empathy is incredible.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
Childhood, work environments, people I admire, the lives I've lead.

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival?
Definitely the culmination of all our collective efforts focused into the staged reading performance.

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