An Interview with TRUE BELIEVERS Playwright, Thom Dunn

We hope you will join us on Thursday, February 9 at 7:00pm in Trident Booksellers & Cafe (338 Newbury Street) for a reading of True Believers by Thom Dunn. Not only will you be able to grab food and hear a reading of a fantastic play, but you will get to meet this fantastic playwright who cites the time that he recieved $200 to dress as Spider-Man and sign autographs in Wal-Mart as the single most exciting moment in his life.

What was your first theatre memory and why did you decide to pursue it? 

My first theatre memory was decidedly NOT participating in our kindergarten production of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” because I thought it was dumb (although, I eventually changed my mind because I didn’t want to be left out anymore and consequently shunted into the background of the ensemble). Eventually, my parents started dragging me (quite begrudgingly, I might add) to plays at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. I hated it the most because they always made me dress up in khakis and a sweater and loafers and crap, and I was a fidgety kid who preferred my action figures and comic books and explosive sci-fi movies. Then I saw their production of “Blithe Spirit” and it really wowed me. That was around when I started to realize that a good human drama can be a lot more explosive and powerful than spaceships with bad CGI.

As for why I decided to pursue it — I’ve always wanted to tell stories, regardless of the medium. I had originally intended to study film when I was in college, but I found that I was less interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking than I was in the art of storytelling itself. Theatre has a much richer history and cultural connection, so it seemed like a smarter venue through which to learn about stories. To me, they’re all just stories with different ways to tell them. Some stories want to be told in a certain way; others are more flexible. I never wanted to limit myself to telling just one kind of story.

(Also “X-Men” just wasn’t a viable major or career path, even for a place as wacky as Emerson.)

If you didn’t do theatre, what would you do? 

Make more money. Just kidding. I’d probably be a musician, so I’d be making less and probably living in a van with four other equally sweaty dudes. Unless, of course, I achieved my lifelong dream of being Kelly Clarkson’s touring guitarist, in which case, I’d be living it up hardcore.

What inspired True Believers?

My interest in theatre definitely puts me into the minority of comic book fans, who are generally more interested in movies (mostly in terms of how the book was better and that movie sucked, etc). So I wanted to make a play that would appeal to comics culture, but without ostracizing the typical theatre-going crowd. As much as comic books and comic book movies are “in” these days, it’s still a somewhat fringe culture, and I wanted to show the humanity of it onstage for anyone to see, not just the fanboys.

A lot of the moments and details in the play also come directly from my own convention stories (or crazy shit that Grant Morrison has said or done). The characters of and relationship between Chad and Kt was actually inspired by an interview I read with two comic writers – a female whom I respect as a creator and a male who is somewhat notorious for his douchey interviews and excessive bravado – who were co-writing a book together and the dynamic between them.

I’ve always found Angry FanBoy culture (inasmuch as I’m a part of it myself, erm) to be a fascinating psychological study, and given the more intimate setting of the theatre, I always thought it’d be an interesting way to explore the people involved in that world and kind of bring the Internet to life on stage, as it were (especially in regards to the scenes in the MMORPG). And then, of course, bring those angry fanboys into a new scenario where they’re face-to-face with the creators that they love/despise, and the dynamic shifts dramatically, even despite the inherent theatricality of the audience-speaker situation.

How else has your ComicCon experience influence True Believers?

I cover some of this above, but a lot of my own Comic-Con stories were folded into the plot of TRUE BELIEVERS. Drink and Draw, for example, is a real thing. There actually is a real Avenger out there whom I’ve met a few times. The scene at the New Horizons Forum, and Billy’s character in general, all at least originated in reality. I specifically remember one time at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010 that really inspired those scenes. There was this really ratty looking kid who asked a question about the ending of a comic book storyline that had just started, and this back and forth between him and the editor on the panel “So they’re back together?” “You have to read the comic.” “Oh, so they’re not back together.” “You have to read the comic. It came out yesterday.” “But are they going to get back together?” “You’ll have to read the comic if you want to find out!” etc.

Later that night, I ran into a friend who’s a comic writer and used to work at Marvel, and we all started talking about how awkward this one kid was. The next day, that same friend was featured on a panel when the ratty looking kid came up and asked (after several minutes of stuttering/fumbling for his words) “What’s the hardest thing of art?” It was amazingly awkward slash hilarious and we spent the whole rest of the panel tweeting/texting about it. It was so iconic, I just had to do something with it.

And then I was in the bathroom right after the panel and the awkward ratty-looking kid walked up right next to me – without leaving the obligatory one-urinal spacer as dictated by the Universal Rules of Male Bathroom Etiquette – dropped his pants all the way to the ground and started peeing. Yes, that actually happened. I could not make that up.

Who is your favorite super hero and why?

Trick question, because everyone who knows me would assume that the answer is Spider-Man (I once made my girlfriend read my favorite Spider-Man comic, being Matt Fraction’s SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1, and she even commented on how similarly we talk). But in fact, Spider-Man is my second favorite superhero — after Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, a B-list X-Men character who runs his own detective agency and has the ability to, well, create multiples of himself. The trick is, each of his “dupes” reflects a different part of his personality, a detail which Jamie can’t control. As a result, he is terribly insecure and indecisive (and therefore utterly relatable) as he is technically capable of making every possible choice at the same time, which makes him a terrible leader, but great for drama.

Of course, if you’re just asking for favorite comic book character in general and not specifically a superhero, the answer would be Yorick Brown from Y THE LAST MAN.

Later that night, we ran into Jim McCann, who’s a comic writer and used to work Marketing at Marvel, and we all started talking about how awkward this one kid was. The next day, Jim was on the Marvel panel when the same kid came up and asked the panelists (after several minutes of stuttering/fumbling for his words) “What’s the hardest thing of art?”

And then I was in the bathroom right after the panel and the awkward ratty-looking kid walked up right next to me – without leaving the obligatory one-urinal spacer as dictated by the Universal Rules of Male Bathroom Etiquette – dropped his pants all the way to the ground and started peeing. Yes, that actually happened. I could not make that up.

What do you like most about the Boston theatre scene?

I like that it’s small and self-supportive. It kind of reminds me of my local punk rock scene in high school – tight knit, giving everyone a chance, no egos, supporting one another, etc. (#terriblegrammar). There are different levels, sure, but no one’s stepping on you or backstabbing you for their big chance to “make it” or whatever. There are a lot of hardworking people in this city, and you can see that hard work and dedication pay off. Plus, here it’s really possible to establish yourself and make a name, and instead of being just another aquatic organism. There’s not that disdain when you meet someone of “Oh of course you’re an actor/writer/director/whatever.” (Unless it’s someone you meet at a party with other Boston theatre-type folk in which case, well, yeah)

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3 thoughts on “An Interview with TRUE BELIEVERS Playwright, Thom Dunn

  1. Pingback: Go Ahead, Ask Me Anything | thom dunn

  2. Pingback: AUDITIONS! For True Believers | Vagabond Theatre Group

  3. Pingback: Meet the Cast! A Short Interview with Ryan Edlinger | Vagabond Theatre Group

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