Artists I admire: John Patrick Shanley

Last Saturday evening, the Program in Educational Theatre hosted a 50th anniversary alumni event featuring a conversation with John Patrick Shanley, the most distinguished alumnus of the program. Shanley is a decorated playwright and screenwriter,  best known for the Pulitzer Prize winning play Doubt and Moonstruck for which he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Both pieces of writing affected me for different reasons, but those reasons certainly relate to the cultures that Shanley presents. The Italian American families of Moonstruck and the Catholicism of Doubt resonated deeply with me, even though I don't outwardly appear to fit in with either of those cultures. Beyond my last name, I don't "look" very Italian, and my regular Catholic practice ended many years ago. That said, I recognized things about myself in both pieces of fiction, mostly because in his specificity, Shanley managed to show me something universal.

Shanley was interviewed for the event by my colleague Philip Taylor, and the conversation between the two men covered all sorts of territory. Some of the best takeaways from John Patrick Shanley included the following (pardon my paraphrasing):

Theatre is the place to do unsafe things safely.

I tell any writer--you have a lot of bad writing to do, so get started.

I had come not value the truth. I was too busy trying to show people how smart I was.

Trust that your truth is worth sharing.

Anything that you find embarrassing, damning, shameful is probably what you should write about.

If you have more than one character on stage, they should not be in agreement.

Find a peaceful core place to check in with yourself and figure out where you're at.

Sometimes you write something and it tells you what's going on.

After time, you get the audience in your body, and you can feel them responding as you write.

For giving us unforgettable characters for the stage and screen, for graciously sharing his wisdom with a room full of strangers connected by their love for the Program in Educational Theatre at NYU, and for continuing to write and create from a place of truth, honesty, and personal experience, John Patrick Shanley is the artist I admire for this week.