John Patrick Bray is a talented writer / Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia, who has written plays under grants from The National Endowment for the Arts and the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Louisiana. He has been a popular repeat performer at the Classic City Fringe Festival Since he debuted his full length play “Friendly’s Fire”. He has also collected commissions from various theatres across America. One of those theaters was the Barter Theatre where his friend Nick Piper, (who also Championed his play “Friendly’s Fire”) requested that he write a play that will address the opioid crisis in this country. Bray was reminiscent about some memories from rural New York in the late 90’s, when the opiate crisis was beginning to trend. Plus he wanted to write something about his friends, his wife’s friends, people who have died, survived and are just barely holding on due to this blight, and from that, his new script “Tracks” was written. He will be performing 5:30 to 7pm in room 400 at the UGA Fine Arts Building on Saturday the 20th.
To go more in depth about who John is as an artist I asked him a few questions about his new work and how it compares to his previous work. I also inquired about his inspirations and his love for writing.
The first question that I had asked him was what to expect from his new script “Tracks”. He said that since he and his wife both grew up in the Hudson River Valley, he decided to place the setting on the banks of the Hudson River sometime after the local economy of this small town had tanked as a result of the IBM plant closing due to some of the seedier aspects of NAFTA. Initially he wanted to make the story as realistic as possible; however, it took a turn for the surreal once he incorporated the Headless Horseman spliced with old IBM products crawling out of the river and getting into a song and dance with one of the characters and Johnny Appleseed making a special appearance.
My second question was how it compared to his other work such as “Friendly’s Fire” or “ERIK: The Story of a Puppet”. He said that both “Tracks” and “Friendly’s Fire” have a surreal aspect to them given the hybrid IBM Headless Horseman dancing with one of the characters in “Tracks” verses the Hero in “Friendly’s Fire” getting into a shoot out with carpenter bees, running into a moss man who lives in his toilet, as well as meeting a man made out of bear traps with a dancing polar bear . Both stories also have psychologically rich characters that have objectives and emotional needs. One of the differences between the two plays is that the hybrid realism in “Tracks” doesn’t have a sequential flow that “Friendlies Fire” possesses. As far as “ERIK: A Story About a Puppet” is concerned, it has the least in common with the other two acts. It’s an experimental adaptation to “The Phantom of the Opera” He decided to do it as a puppet carnival side show, where each scene is presented as an exhibit.
The next question was more of a personal 2 part question about what inspires him as a writer and when and how did he realize that he wanted to be a writer. His reply to what inspires him was a lot of images and music. He went on to tell me about how he came across some old photos that inspired him to right “Friendly’s Fire”, along with how the score to “Dracula” had great influence on “ERIK”. He said what had inspired “Tracks” other than what has already been mentioned above, was a lot of Punk Rock and Alternative music: Pixies, The Replacements, Breeders, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, John Cale, Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed, etc. He also draws a huge inspiration from the postdramatic works of Robert Wilson. When he saw his production of “A DREAM PLAY” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2000, he was deeply moved by the incredible experience, not only because it was a beautiful show, but it gave him a kind of permission to write the kind of theatre he would want to see. He was also inspired greatly by his teachers: Larry Carr, Neal Bell, Jack Gelber, Jeffrey Sweet, Andreas Manolikakis, Susan Aston, Femi Euba, Les Wade, Ken Greenman. As for when and how he knew he wanted to be a writer that answer is pretty much always. Ever since he and his twin brother Gregg were young they would make up elaborate stories and then act them out with their action figures. They liked them so much that they decided to write some of them down. By the time Bray was nine years old, he was writing poems regularly and gaining recognition from his peers and teachers alike. By the time he was in middle school he was writing short stories. He has had the privilege of having support from a very early age to now. And now he and his brother both write and produce various scripts and plays in their adulthood. If you are wondering if he and his brother did any work together, they did. Back in 1994 when they were attending Dutchess Community College, they both produced “FOUL FEAST”.
Lastly after taking a glimpse at who John Patrick Bray is, I had to wonder which of his accomplishments meant the most to him. Needless to say he had a hard time deciding because he believes that all of his accomplishments along with his failures have helped pave the way to where he is now as a nationally acclaimed writer. He said that the most important accomplishment is finding people who are willing to spend their time energy and resources on producing his plays. He is extremely grateful for all the help that he has received along the way. A close second would be when the Barter Theatre had championed his script for “Friendly’s Fire” and then how it won the Appalachian Festival of Plays & Playwrights. He is also thrilled about How “Friendly’s Fire” is getting its NYC Premiere in May as part of LABA’s season of War and Peace at the 14 St. Y. The production will be produced by Rising Sun Performance Co. “where I’ve been a resident writer for over a dozen years.” So, the fact that the play has been produced first as a workshop production with Classic City Fringe Festival and later as a full production Barter, and that it will have yet another home, that’s pretty amazing. And a close third will be how his critically acclaimed play “Liner Notes” will be available on Amazon Prime after being presented at a few festivals and winning a BEA award.
So catch Athens Playwright’s Workshop’s productions of John Patrick Bray’s “Tracks” at 5:30pm on Saturday Oct 20th @ The UGA Fine Arts Building room #400! You will be sure to leave deeply moved, amused and full of wonder. He will take you on a poignant, heart wrenching and psychologically bending journey as he tells his story. Maybe you will even find inspiration for writing, solving a problem that has been a thorn in your side or anything else. I promise you will not regret this. I would like to finish with a quote from him about how he sees himself as a writer. “A lifetime of experiences which has defined what I do as a writer. As a teacher and member of APW, my hope is to inspire folks to be curious, take risks, and above all, have fun with their writing.”
[Performer Spotlight Written by: Lisa Rose (CCFF Staff Volunteer)]