Is it luck or genius that makes an artist successful?
If you ask Austin playwright A. John Boulanger, he’ll likely tell you it’s luck. But serendipity might not explain the tremendous success this rising star in the national theater scene is currently experiencing with his own work.
As a graduate student in The Department of Theatre and Dance at Texas State University, Boulanger won the 2009 Kennedy Center’s National Student Playwriting Award for his absurdist play House of Several Stories. In a production of that work at the American College Theater Festival’s national showcase, the play received a standing ovation.
After graduating, Boulanger organized a theater company, Imagine That Productions, with his best friend and fellow TSU grad, Jillan Hanel. Together, they self-produced HOSS at Austin Playhouse and garnered incredible reviews. The hubbub was partly for Boulanger’s esteemed script and partly because of his stellar cast, which included ZACH superstars Lauren Lane, Meredith McCall and Martin Burke.
“It’s total luck I got them all in the show,” says Boulanger. “Lauren agreed, she’s a professor at Texas State where I was. And then Meredith and Martin came and auditioned for the brother and sister at the end of the casting day. It was like magic.”
The 2009 Austin production of HOSS went on to win two B. Iden Payne Awards (for Lane as Lead Actress and Burke for Lead Actor) with four additional nominations, including Outstanding Original Script.
On top of that, Boulanger recently signed with Samuel French, Inc. to publish House of Several Stories in play stores across the country.
Yeah, there’s probably some genius wrapped up in there amidst all the humility.
“Well, I’m still working my retail job and washing my roommate’s dishes,” jokes Boulanger. “But I am giddy about all that’s going on.”
After the fun of their last venture together, Burke and McCall are back on board with the accidental prodigy for his latest work opening at Hyde Park Theatre this Thursday. The play is called Down the Drain, a bleak comedy about finding connections in unlikely places.
Burke plays Ted, a man trapped by anxiety and paranoia in the cold, tiled solace of his bathroom. He begins hearing a disembodied voice coming from his toilet, which he learns is actually the voice of his neighbor who can communicate with him through their plumbing.
“Their relationship plays with distance in a really fun way; and what Meredith and Martin do with the dialogue is perfect for them,” says Boulanger. “I’m just so fancied by them as actors, it’s easy to write for them.”
And up until last week, Boulanger was in fact still writing for them. The play has gone through a tremendous amount of transition from the script Boulanger originally conceived six months ago, and now only four of the original 60 pages of the original script remain intact. Everything else received a major overhaul during rehearsal.
With the help of McCall and Burke, Boulanger was able to do rewrites specifically utilizing their voices and personalities to guide him. Together, they crafted a new and improved script that includes two new characters and a brand new ending.
“Yeah, [re-writing the show during rehearsals] has not exactly been a sane, safe process,” laughs Boulanger. “It’s like being on a reality show that lasts for months! But in the end, we all get it. And it’s a billion times better than it was before.”
His description of his own writing process admittedly sounds more like a manic episode than a disciplined approach to literature. “Sometimes I’ll hear a line of dialogue and just vomit out 40 edited pages overnight. It’s just how my brain works, I guess.”
Definitely not the words one would associate with luck exactly...
"I love this new challenge of working right up to the last minute," admits Boulanger. "My job is to make my actors feel like they're part of a creative process, like they can play on stage. Martin and Meredith wanted to do this show, so I was so happy to finish it with them and for them."
Ready or not, tickets for Down the Drain are sure to sell out at the intimate Hyde Park Theatre, and expectations are high for this award-winning team. There’s no doubt Boulanger’s cast is up for the challenge, and the unconventional, procrastinating playwright who wrote (and directed) the show can’t wait to see it alive on stage.
“I’d love to have anyone who’s seen my other plays come see this one. I can definitely say this is totally new material that you’ve never seen before,” says Boulanger. “Really, I think everyone will enjoy it.”
Spoken like a true genius.