Whistler in the Dark commissioned five groups to each adapt a different act of Hamlet. I was assigned Act II, which has a lot of intrigue and spying in it - Polonius sends a spy to look in on Laertes; Ophelia "tattles" on Hamlet; Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to spy on Hamlet, etc. My grandfather had just died and some of my favorite memories with him were of watching James Bond films, so those were fresh in my mind. I thought of doing Act II of Hamlet as a James Bond thing and the pieces just fell into place after that. We did it just as Act II for the Whistler event, but the response was so positive I decided to do the full story of Hamlet as a James Bond adventure. Thus: From Denmark With Love.
Did you collaborate with anyone on this piece?
Not directly from a writing standpoint. But I worked with two actors on the original "Act II" version: Georgia Lyman and Daniel Berger-Jones. They were a huge help in tweaking some of the details and style of the piece. When I began to expand and do the full version, I did so very much with the two of them in mind to play the leads, and I had their interpretations of the roles very clearly in my head as I was writing. I also had a sense of who I wanted to direct the piece and wrote with him in mind - essentially knowing that if I could make him laugh I had gold. That's always been the most important collaboration for me: having a few key people who's noses I trust, and if I can get the reaction I'm seeking from them, I tend to be going the right direction. Lastly, I have to mention Shakespeare and every single James Bond movie, because I watched them all just for this, and since the play is a parody of both Hamlet and the Bond franchise, a lot of its style, characters, and humor, are directly inspired by/riff off of moments from those pieces.
How is it different from your last project?
It's a much better story. And much closer to what I wanted to do.
Who have been your influences in play-writing?
Charles Ludlam, Ryan Landry, Monty Python, Tennessee Williams, Rimbaud, Picasso, Mark Twain, Jesus Christ, and Willy Wonka.
How long does it take you to write most of your plays?
This is arbitrary but I tend to feel that if it takes me more than a couple of weeks to do a first draft, I need to throw it out. Meaning if I'm not so excited by it that I can't stop working on it and finish it, it's probably not worth an audience's time. That said, there's a good bit of pre-writing work (brainstorming, sketching, outlining) that I'll do to build up to that, and obviously rewrites. Those periods are pretty unpredictable. But in terms of straight writing the piece, I get itchy if it takes me more than 10 - 15 days.
What’s your next project?
I have a few that I really want to work on and they are currently battling to see who'll come out first. One is a piece based on The Emperor's New Clothes but takes it in a slightly more political/class direction, the idea being that we're in a world where the disparity of wealth goes to an extreme: the play starts with the 1% owning 95% of the wealth and ultimately ONE PERSONE (the Emperor) owning 95% of the wealth. He competes with other blue bloods to get fancier and more expensive clothes, ultimately having a gown "made out of human souls" (which is why he appears naked to everyone else). Meanwhile others can't keep up and end up in poverty until he's the only wealthy man left and is surrounded by a world full of very poor, very angry people. It's about the economic issues in the world right now and the direction we seem to be going, as well as a question: how long will it take people who've been screwed by the system to take action?
A second project is an adaptation of Huck Finn, but in a world where women are treated as objects, so it's about gender wars as opposed to race.
And most importantly what is your favorite food?
You can learn more about John’s plays here: http://www.j-rexplays.com/ and here http://www.vaqueroplayground.com/
– Rich Burns
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