Labor Intensive: A Visit with Playwright Vincent Delaney

Vincent Delaney is all about the work.

Delaney says you’ll never find one particular vision of reality in his work. He’ll tell you each of his plays stands apart from the others. He’ll also tell you he’s not overly concerned with changing the world through his work and simply wants to tell a good story.

Be that as it may…

“I want each play to exist in its own universe, stylistically and thematically and physically,” says Delaney. “I can tell you I can’t start writing until I know the where…like Foreclosure. I see a set of two Southern California backyards; stucco, faux brick, hot tubs, basket ball hoops all out there in the desert at night and–boom, it’s started.”

Boom just about says it all.

Upon returning to Seattle in 2005 after a lengthy and fruitful writing fellowship with the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, Delaney was certain he’d taken the wrong path. “That first year I was afraid I’d made some terrible mistake,” says Delaney. “People don’t remember me, I went the wrong direction and I should have ended up back East…”

Like any prodigal son, Delaney discovered that it simply takes time to retrench. “Eventually I realized great things were happening in Seattle. The last two years alone it’s been just fantastic and there has been so much going on—great writers, great actors and great theaters doing new stuff.”

Delaney eventually discovered Seattle’s theater community was a rich but slow-bubbling brew–an environment in which he would soon percolate and float to the top, to become a voice that patrons returned to hear again and again and again.

Delaney would balk at such a conceit. He doesn’t see playwrights as so very significant but the bottom line is Delaney has been incredibly prolific upon his return to Seattle. Last year alone he wrote five plays, two full-length and three shorts all the while raising a family and holding down his Phys Ed day job where he daily cajoles kids into climbing ropes and running relays.

Delaney says if he’s consistent at anything, it’s writing from an actor’s perspective. “I started as an actor so I come at it as an actor,” he concedes. “It’s always about character and dialogue and maybe not always obvious on the outside. That being said I’ve been switching genres every play. Ampersand is a Feydeau play, Foreclosure is a naturalistic drama and Three Screams was…a stylistic experiment. It’s always ultimately about the characters.”

“As a playwright he’s very eclectic,” says Radial Theater project director and producer David Gassner. “He writes very challenging work, especially for an actor. He writes material in which actors make fast segues. Actors don’t have a chance to sit and contemplate. His characters are fast processors.”

Gassner says Delaney sets up very similar challenge for his audience. “He doesn’t pander to the audience. He expects everybody to keep up. That’s a blessing and a curse as a playwright. It makes his material dense but in a good way. His work is multi-layered and you have to dig for it.”

Delaney’s most recent play 99 Layoffs is par for the course. Commissioned by Radial Theater Project and produced through ACT’s Central Heating Lab it is quite simply an actor’s delight. A two-person play devised to capitalize on actors K. Brian Neel and Aimée Bruneau’s broad spectrum of talents 99 Layoffs tells the tale of Orson and Louella, two starving artists turned serial job seekers struggling to find, “love in the time of pink slips.” The actors play multiple characters ranging from tyrannical bosses to manic coworkers and petulant customers–tenets of life audiences will feel all too familiar especially given the current economic climate.

Though a commissioned work the seeds of 99 Layoffs had been germinating within Delaney’s head for some time. “I had this idea I’d been kicking around and kicking around,” says Delaney. “I worked on it for four months and I wrote around 70-80 pages and it just wasn’t working. It was a large cast story about these temps in this HR department where everybody got fired. The characters were scabs and everybody was mean to them and they didn’t know what the hell was going on. It worked as a ludicrous kind of a farce but I couldn’t get my head around it at that time.”

Unexpectedly, Delaney says the play found new life after Gassner approached him about a commission. “David said, ‘Brian, Aimée and I want to do something,’ so I went and had coffee with him. After we hung out I got to thinking maybe that quality that I was trying to get at could really work better for two actors.” With these constraints in mind Delaney sat down in February and in a week had the whole play roughed out. “All of a sudden after all of the those months there it was and it was just the fact that I had two actors to work with. I felt like I was reshaping this earlier idea but doing it for these guys–always trying to think about those two and make them happy.”

“That’s the thing about Vince, he knows where he wants to go with his writing,” says Peggy Gannon, producer of Man Alone Productions’ Three Screams. “He’s incredibly accommodating. He never feels his opinion is any more valid than anyone else in the room. He wants it to live on its own, like a gift. He wins as a playwright because he will honor the input of others. But he’s not self-effacing. He knows he’s got talent. He’s not humble, but he’s also not falsely modest.”

[media-credit id=28 align=”alignnone” width=”640″][/media-credit]“I’ve seen a lot of Brian and Aimée’s work on stage but I got the most inspiring vibe from just hanging out and having coffee with them,” says Delaney. “I could have just asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ or I might have asked, ‘What kind of a part do you want to play?’ Instead it just came down to a feeling for their qualities as people and actors and it all just came together from there.

99 Layoffs is a love story but its more than just about these two people,” says Delaney. “It’s about falling in love with change, falling in love with the revolution and the possibility of the hope of change and not having to live like this. That’s the heart of the play.”

The consensus is clear: Not only is Delaney a unique storytelling voice, he works his ass off and he works his ass off through a method many pay lip service to but few genuinely grasp: collaboration. “The amazing thing about Vince is, once he locks it down he’s totally free with letting it go,” says Gannon.

“Anyone who’s had the pleasure of working with Vince will tell you his is a process that leaves actors and directors feeling as though they had an actual hand in penning the play,” says Man Alone Productions artistic director, Brandon Ryan. “I have never been so proud of a collaboration. There was such a sense of pride and ownership for the piece. I felt like I had written it.”

In the grand scheme of things proof of one’s talent ultimately lies in the work and work Delaney has in spades. At present he’s produced an expansive body of plays developed and staged at the Guthrie, Actors Theatre of Louisville, TACT, Seattle Rep, ACT Theatre, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Florida Stage, InterAct, the Children’s Theatre Company, the Magic, Woolly Mammoth, Pittsburgh Public, New Century, the Lark, and Orlando Shakespeare Festival to name but a few.

Clearly if there is a particular vision, any real formula to Delaney’s success it is more likely to be found on the grindstone than in the eyes of a muse. Work is what keeps him in motion and it is that constant motion that provides insight to his success. “I’m always thinking, ‘Well what’s next–what’s next–what’s next?’” Delaney laughs. “I’ve been super busy lately and this coming year is going to busier than any year up until now, but I’m still asking, ‘What’s next?’”

99 Layoffs, an ACT Central Heating Lab Event runs August 2 to 25th. Foreclosure was just optioned for a commercial run in NYC and will also be in workshop with New Century Theatre Company this fall. Ampersand will be seen next spring at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.

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