Richard Martin Hirsch is one of the most wonderfully visible playwrights we have here in Los Angeles. First, he is a very skilled and prolific writer of well-produced work. Second—and just as important for the L.A. theater community—he is an intelligent audience member for so many of his peers. Whether a play is being produced at a LORT theater or being read out loud in someone’s private living room for the very first time, I would never, ever be surprised to see Richard there. And that’s a terrific thing.
Join me in Richard’s “natural writing habitat,” surrounded by furniture he’s created himself!
Me: I love your work space. The primary reason I love it is that it really looks like a work space. For me, it codes very much as an office environment, and that the work you do in this office happens to be writing. Does that make sense to you? And was that at all intentional on your part?
Richard: Very perceptive of you! My work space is in fact a bedroom at home that’s been very consciously converted into a small office. It is specifically laid-out to help me organize my writing-related reference and research materials, as well as personal business records, etc. Which isn’t that surprising, I guess, given that for more than 20 years I owned and ran a firm that designed and furnished business interiors. In fact, the desk in the pictures was one I designed myself for myself, which features all sorts of esoteric cubbyholes and cabinets for housing a variety of documents and supplies. . . From printer cartridges and scotch tape dispensers to old Jury summonses and rejection letters from the O’Neill Conference.
Me: That’s so cool that you designed your own desk! A few weeks ago we had a playwright who designed his own desk lamp. But the desk itself, that’s a whole other level! On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you clean up/prepare this space before snapping these photos for me?
Richard: I did do a bit of tidying up, which was needed anyway because I was starting to lose things. But I’d say about 90% of the space is as it always is. The only clean-up was to open up some space on the work-surface of my desk. Though this is not to say it doesn’t need a thorough reorganization, because it does!
Richard: I have a tendency to get lost in my work, so if I don’t have something large and off my desktop to keep track of upcoming events, I will inevitably forget about a certain percentage of them and also sometimes double-book. I go to a lot of play readings and see tons of plays—especially as an Ovation voter—and I’m perpetually inundated with requests to attend stuff, so I try my best to be supportive and write down dates where I can see them! But I’m old-fashioned, I guess, in that I haven’t yet learned to trust my phone or computer with my “dates.”
Me: I’m old-fashioned that way too. My paper-based calendar isn’t nearly as large as yours, but I really can’t fathom “trusting” my phone or computer either. What about the white board next to the calendar?
Richard: A vestigial reminder tool at this point. I used to use it like a calendar, to write dates and reminders. Now it seems to be a place where I keep—with the aid of magnets—things like airline flight schedules, tax permits and theater ticket receipts for upcoming shows.
Me: I see a variety of CDs, files, books and mementos all seemingly very neatly arranged on your bookshelf. What do you keep there versus the filing cabinets and other storage surrounding your desk?
Richard: The file cabinets I have in the office are more or less reserved for old records—such as financials and scripts—and typical office supplies. On the shelves behind my desk—which I find to be cluttered, not neat at all—are music CDs, DVDs of bits of some of my plays, souvenirs/remembrances and photos that I either like or just can’t figure out where else to store.
Me: Oh, I completely understand that struggle.
Richard: But mixed in with those things are also a cadre of important reference tools like thesauruses, various kinds of dictionaries, quotation digests, and “how to write a play” books.
Me: Do you have a favorite or go-to “how to write a play” book?
Richard: Don’t I wish there was a simple “how to” source I could go to when I have a hitch in a script! Because I have them often. My best tool in that regard is “off the shelf”—it’s really just being able to listen to the play being read by actors and then inviting informed, constructive feedback. That being said, the most helpful book I have is Jeffrey Sweet’s “The Dramatist’s Toolkit.” I did a workshop with Jeff at the Dramatists Guild Conference last month and it was just so helpful and informative in a simple, yet inspiring way.
Me: That’s a great endorsement as far as I’m concerned! Let’s move onward to the digitally-based “how-to’s.” You have two monitors. How does that work for you?
Richard: The second monitor is primarily a separate TV, which is never on while I’m writing, though it is linked to my computer as well. So I am able to use two screens at once if I need to, that show two different files or websites at the same time. Haven’t really got into working that way, but I hope to at some point.
Me: That would be pretty writing-impressive. And because I’m always going to comment on a Samuel French edition that I see, I spy a copy of “Superior Donuts” on your desk. Did you just see it at the Geffen? Or does it relate to your own current work? Or both?
Richard: When I took these photos, I’d just returned from New York where I bought “Superior Donuts” at the wonderful Drama Book Shop on 40th, because I admire Tracy Letts’ work and also love donuts. I wasn’t able to manage a trip to the Geffen to actually see the play, so I am going to read it. I did start it, but then got sidetracked with a rewrite. So, on my desk it sits.
Me: I’ll be very curious what your experience is reading it versus mine seeing it. And about your own current work that’s side-tracking the reading— Is the paper-script on your desk a project of yours?
Richard: Yes. It is a new play of mine—that I actually started about five years ago—called “Lessons in Equitation.”
Me: You always have terrific play titles! What is this one about?
Richard: It’s about a middle-aged female horse-riding instructor who is now suffering from post-polio syndrome. Kind of a “Glass Menagerie” meets “The Horse Whisperer” scenario. The second act was recently read at the EST-LA “Sunday Best” workshop, as a matter of fact.
Me: How did that go?
Richard: It went great, especially since it’s still very much in its developmental stage. It was basically a “cold” reading, very well done by talented actors (Laura Flanagan, Jim McDonald, Charlie Parks and Jennifer Flaks) and the feedback was very constructive and in line with what I was feeling as I heard it read. I started doing some editing of the script within an hour of getting home, which is always a good sign.
Me: That’s great!
Richard: Bottom line, the play will be better next time.
Sara Israel is a writer and director living in Los Angeles.