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Movie Mom

Interview: Allen Zadoff

posted by Nell Minow

Thanks to Allen Zadoff, author of the terrific new book, My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies, for answering my questions!

The actors and techies don’t speak to each other in your book, but one character says that in her other school, they are on friendlier terms.  What is the more typical relationship, and why?

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There are a lot of variations on the theme.  In my novel, techies and actors are at war. That’s definitely the extreme.  In a perfect world, techies and actors work together as part of the same team. It’s synergistic and there’s mutual respect.  Think about Spiderman on Broadway. The actors’ survival literally depended on the tech crew!  In many theater programs, actors are required to do some tech work, and techies will do at least a little acting. It’s much easier to respect someone when you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, right?  In the real world, my experience is that there’s often a divide between the two cultures.  I’ve been on both sides of it as actor and as stage manager.  There’s tension, even if it’s unspoken. In My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies, I took that tension and magnified it.

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The perspective of a lighting tech, hidden from the audience and looking down on the show, is something like the perspective of a writer and his characters and story.  How did your experiences as a tech help your observation skills and insights as a writer?

My real observation skills come from being an overweight kid, a subject I wrote about in my first novel Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have. As a heavy kid, I was a loner and I spent a lot of time watching the world go by and fantasizing about what it would be like to join it. It made for a painful adolescence, but in hindsight, what better training to become a novelist?  I drew on that experience as well as my theater background to create the characters in Life/Theater.

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Adam and his best friend Reach have to renegotiate their relationship in the story.  Is that an inevitable part of growing up?

I think when you’re a kid, relationships are on autopilot. (Wait, that’s true for a lot of adults, too!)  You don’t examine the relationship; you just have it.  Then something happens that shakes you up.  Your friend falls in love. You have a fight. You lie. You get betrayed.  Suddenly you wake up to the relationship, what it means in your life, and what you want from it.  That moment of waking up could be called maturity.

What do you like about writing for a YA audience?

The YA audience is passionate in a way no other audience is.  It’s not just the teens. It’s the librarians, the parents, the bloggers, the booksellers.  They’re not YA readers. They’re YA fans and aficionados. I can’t think of a better audience with whom to share my books.  I feel lucky to be a YA author.

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What were the books and movies you most enjoyed as a teenager?  

The films of John Hughes were very influential for me when I was a kid.  “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, even Uncle Buck. (Oh, I miss John Candy.)  Although I was a voluminous reader and could tell you all the novels I read and loved, these films were my YA.  Funny, real, and heartbreaking. I try to capture those same dynamics in my novels.

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You and Adam share initials — did any of the experiences in the book happen to you?

Here’s a little secret. I share initials with all my heroes. So I’ll just say this in response to your question.  My first kiss happened in the theater. To everything else, I plead the Fifth.

Why did you choose “Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the play?

Actually, Midsummer chose me. It’s always mysterious where these things come from, and I was in the early stages of planning Life/Theater, trying out different plays, when Shakespeare popped into my head.  I had the image of the lovers in Midsummer running through the forest in the dark, confused by shifting passions, shocked by sudden loss, unsure whether they were awake or dreaming.  Those same themes were the ones I wanted to explore in the book.  Here’s a little inside scoop for readers: Check out the chapter titles in the novel.  Every one is a line (or phrase, or partial line) from Midsummer. I’ve used Shakespeare’s text in a very modern way, something like sampling in hip hop.

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