Liz Duffy Adams talks about her inspirations and writing process for DOG ACT coming to Main Street Theater
The joy of talking to artists is getting a sense of all the knowledge and passion built up in their minds waiting to burst. Speaking to Liz Duffy Adams before dog lawwhen Main Street Theater opened, it was clear how much she thinks about her work and the theatrical process.
A big question immediately comes to mind: How did you find the premise of Dog Act?
Well, I know you’re also a playwright, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. There are always many different sparks to start a piece, especially for me with dog law. Part of that is because I grew up reading science fiction and thinking about futuristic scenarios. So it was something that is just fun for me. And also, I spent time on a barrier island, a few kilometers from a nuclear power plant. 1970s anti-nuclear activists put a sign in front of the bridge to the island. It said “no evacuation possible”. And that sign had been in place for decades. But the concept, the idea, was very present for me, the feeling of potential disaster. And I was writing Dog Act there.
Another element was the idea of the gender of the sacrificial god. It is in so many cultures, which dies and is reborn. So that’s the idea of how culture is carried and protected by artists. Also, I’m always interested in the cycle of history because I like to go around the present moment and look at the present through this sort of oblique angle.
Why were you on a barrier island near a nuclear power plant?
It’s near where I grew up, on the North Shore of Massachusetts. And so my sisters and I had this little cottage on this island. When I wrote dog law, I was there alone about half the time. It’s both a beautiful place and a moody place to write.
Are you able to give voice to what made the success of your plays, to the point that all these theaters continue to produce your work?
I started by studying theater, then I worked in experimental productions and classical theater. I ultimately couldn’t make it as a performer, but that was my training as a playwright. I think I write roles that actors want to play because I give them what they need, and I know how to give them what they want. In a way, I write parts that I would like to play. It’s that kind of language, storytelling, and character-driven nature of my work, even as you know, the heart of it is humanity. And I think that’s appealing to actors, and therefore to directors and audiences.
It is quite logical. I think that’s actually really good advice for a young playwright. Try to think of actors.
Oh, yes, actors are your main collaborators, I always say to young playwrights, “Give the actors what they need and give them something exciting to do.”
How do you know when to drop a piece, you know, to stop editing and rewriting and say, “I’m done! I’m not changing anything else.”
Someone once said, “A play is never finished, it’s just abandoned”.
For me, it’s when the actors and the director really, really need you to stop making changes and you’re about to open up. Moreover, it is when you have the chance that it is published. It also really puts the period on us.
But I am someone who writes very intensely. My early drafts are very good deep dives, usually relatively close to the final draft. I know a lot of writers say “editing is writing”. And for me, writing is writing, and revising is tinker and improve it, but the bulk of my work is done in the process of the first draft. It’s just my way of working.
So I usually don’t have a lot of trouble letting go at the end. I am very much in favor of the idea that no, there is no perfect game, all games are imperfect. I accept that.
Every time I submit a coin, an hour later, I’m like, “Oh, no. Can I get my coin back?”
Well, you know, one time after creating one of my pieces, six months later, I literally woke up at three in the morning and looked for a notebook because I suddenly realized what was wrong. didn’t go with the play and I really rewrote it. You know, it kind of took seeing it that many times and then sleeping on it for six months, apparently, for me to figure out what was wrong.
Have you dabbled in motion pictures, television, any of those other worlds?
Well, I tried. I wrote maybe three television pilots. I also wrote two novels with drawers. You know, like the first one was definitely a novel that went back in the drawer. And the second is my novel COVID because when COVID happened I lost two world premieres. The theaters had all just closed and who knew when they were going to reopen, and I just couldn’t bring myself to write another play at that time. So I started writing a novel and I’m still revising it. It’s really fun to stretch in this direction. It’s a real pleasure I must say and I don’t know if it will end up being something publishable.
Why focus on playwriting?
Well, you know, I fell in love with acting as a teenager, like we so often do, and I’m very stubborn. All I wanted from when I was, I guess, 15 was to find a place for myself in this theater world, and that’s where my heart is.
It’s absurd and obscure, and it’s an increasingly fringe art form. But for me, it’s just where my heart is.
I love it.
Dog Act opens March 26 and lasts until April 16. Visit MainStreetTheater.com for tickets.