Act II: You’ve written that you were inspired to write Rounding Third after learning that your son’s Little League coach was going to cheat. What was is about that event that made you want to write about it?
Richard Dresser: When my son announced that his Little League coaches were putting in new “strategy” for the playoffs that involved cheating, I was, as a parent, horrified. But as a playwright I immediately saw this as perfect example of how the desire to win in children’s sports has gone wildly off track. And, by extension, it encapsulated an obsession with achievement at the expense of simply doing what’s right which seems to permeate our entire culture. I knew I would have to write about it because it was a simple incident on a Little League team that suggested so much more.
Act II: Parents have always struggled with the dilemma dramatized in the play: the conflict between pressuring their children to succeed (say, in school) versus nurturing their kids to grow on their own terms. Do you think the pendulum shifted from the time you were a kid to when you became a parent?
Richard Dresser: The central issue of the play–pressuring children to succeed versus allowing them to grow at their own pace–has become exponentially more fraught since I was a kid. Many parents now become intimately involved in every aspect of their child’s life, from interfering with the coaching (and I know because I was a coach) to crafting college admissions essays. It’s all part of a fevered “win at any cost” approach that leads to burn-out, depression, and a lack of joy in simply doing things for their own sake. And what many parents fail to consider is that the children who truly succeed and have happy lives are the ones who found something they love to pursue, whether in sports or school or on their own. Parents can’t force that to happen but they can certainly prevent it by being overly-involved and demanding. In my experience, the only kids who don’t improve in the course of a season are the ones whose parents (generally dad) apply so much pressure that it’s just not fun.
Act II: Baseball, more than most other sports, has inspired a treasure trove of great stories, plays, and movies. What do you think it is about the game that makes it so rich for writers?
Richard Dresser: Baseball inspires storytelling for several reasons. The slow pace makes it a reflective experience, where all aspects of the game and stats and personalities can be chewed over as the innings progress, as opposed to a continuous action sport like basketball. Baseball is also sentimentally embedded in our national psyche and seems to epitomize where the country is at any particular time. There’s a reason people know more about Jackie Robinson than various civil rights leaders. Most of us grow up with baseball. Fathers and sons play catch and go to ballgames together and have shared memories of their experiences in a way that doesn’t happen as frequently with other sports. And rooting for the hometown baseball team seems to cross generations.
Plus, there’s something magical about the game. Consider the dimensions of the field. For over one hundred years there have been close plays at first base, ninety feet from home. Pitchers and hitters have struggled to succeed from sixty feet six inches apart. As virtually everything else has changed, including greatly improved physical conditioning, faster runners, and a livelier baseball, those mystical dimensions from the fog of the past have truly held up.
Act II: The central dispute of Rounding Third – playing to win versus playing for enjoyment – is also one that many writers face. Have you ever struggled with the pressure to write something you think will be successful versus writing something you personally enjoy creating?
Richard Dresser: My rule is to always know for whom I am writing. If it’s a play, then I am writing for myself, because I can’t imagine trying to write a play with the express purpose of making money. A commercial play is simply a play that people will pay to see, and the best chance of writing one of those is to write what’s in your heart. But there are situations (like television, for example) where the purpose is to to write what will get on the air and that is a different beast entirely. But one that I enjoy for both the craft and the gamesmanship.
Act II: What are you working on now?
Richard Dresser: At the moment I am about to do a workshop of a new musical at the Williamstown Theater Festival called The Holler which we will stage in a barn. I’m working with Willie & Rob Reale, with whom I collaborated on Johnny Baseball,a musical about the Curse of the Red Sox (they were the last team to sign a black ballplayer). I have several new plays: Trouble Cometh (about reality TV) will premiere next season in San Francisco, 100 Years (about radical life extension) will premiere in the fall in NJ, and I just finished an evening of monologues called I’m Just Saying.
-Conducted by Communications & Education Director Bill D’Agostino
Rounding Third by Richard Dresser runs Sept. 9 – Oct. 12, 2014 at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, PA.