Q&A with L. Peter Callender – New Play Development and STRANGE COURTESIES

L. Peter Callender is an actor, director and playwright, whose play STRANGE COURTESIES was selected to be read as a part of this year’s 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival. Callender is well known to American Stage audiences, directing our most recent production SKELETON CREW and acting in favorites such as last season’s BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY.

Read on to learn more about his play, his process and what he is looking forward to this festival weekend.

Tell us a little bit about how you made the progression from actor and director to playwright.
I am not really sure that particular progression is fully complete. The actor and director is passionate about telling stories that are honest, relevant, interesting and real. The playwright wants to take that passion one step further and create those stories. Over the years, as an actor, I have had the great pleasure of working on several new plays, observing the workshop process. I have never envied the playwright having to grind through the overnight rewrites, but the end result was always great! It’s humbling to be in that position as I write this.

What was your process for working on STRANGE COURTESIES?
Athol Fugard has been one of my favorite playwrights. He writes about the people of South Africa with such passion and humor. I wanted to follow his lead! The idea for STRANGE COURTESIES came after a dear friend spoke of her friend’s return from South Africa. The stories they told about a hospital visit, and the AIDS crisis. As I read more and more about the changing politics, my story developed further. Then, reading about the hearings that took place throughout the country, the full play took shape! My mother was a nurse, so I wanted to write something for her. It later developed into the story we have now: ultimately inspired by the love for my mother, family, Shakespeare and politics.

How did you feel when you found out your play had been selected for 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival?
It was a moment of shock followed immediately by pure euphoria! I was thrilled beyond belief to join the other playwrights in the festival! I am still in shock!

What do you enjoy about playwriting that may differ from what you enjoy about acting or directing?
It’s all storytelling! I guess taking what I know about acting: the building of the arc of a character, using the great language created by the playwright to deliver a three-dimensional, nuanced performance. Then, as director, shaping a scene, structuring the movement, the event, of the scene and how it connects to the story as a whole. Combining those two disciplines with a good story and a bit of care in telling it; add a dash of mystery and a pinch of theatricality; pour over tons of research hours and then, if you’re lucky, a play is born. So now, instead of learning pages of text or scouring over a script before and after rehearsals to break it down for my actors, my gift is a world for them to play in.

What are you most looking forward to this festival weekend?
I have lived with this play for so long. I have laughed and cried with my characters during long days and nights of piecing together their individual journeys. I am looking forward to hearing their voices through the hearts and minds of these talented actors and hearing the full story guided by my friend Ben Ismail’s skillful directing. I am so honored!

For tickets and more information about 21st Century Voices: New Play Festival, please visit americanstage.org/new