Interview with Kenneth T. Williams

Jan 14, 2010

What inspired you to write Thunderstick?
I first started writing it over 10 years ago, so it’s kind of hard to answer this one. What I remember is this – I wanted to write a fun play with serious undertones that had Aboriginal characters that hadn’t been seen on the stage before. It was also my first attempt at a comedy.
Describe what it was like working with two directors?
I think the best way to ask this is – what was it like working with these two directors? I don’t think this experience would’ve been the treat it was without Del Surjik and Brad Moss. They had utmost respect for me and my script. I always had the last say. But I had immense trust in their instincts and ideas. We were able to work together very well.
Describe your writing process.
It all starts with the character. Sometimes a title will come to my head first but it never moves beyond that until I get a great sense of who the characters are. So I spend a lot of time getting to know them. They drive the plot by their actions. I love the workshop process. I consider actors my first audience. If they have questions, the audience will have questions, and more often than not, they’ll have the same questions. I give them total freedom to tell me anything about the play, especially where they’re having problems. In the end, though, it’s always my script. It begins and ends with me. But I really work it through with actors. I’m not afraid to kill a scene if it don’t work.
How does being a journalist affect you as a playwright?
I’m not a working journalist anymore. On the positive side, I got to meet some remarkable people, got to hear their stories and it made my writing more naturalistic and authentic. It also made me write fast since I had incredibly tight deadlines. On the negative side, it was so creatively draining that I was burned out after work and it impeded my writing process.
Did you know from the beginning that Thunderstick would have a sequel?
No. That wasn’t the plan at all. But the characters weren’t done with me.
Who or What inspires you?
When and why did you start writing plays?
I wrote my first play when I was 7. It was a puppet show for a summer camp I was attending. I think it was called the Haunted Hotel. It was an unmitigated disaster. But I bounced back – 15 years later. I always knew I was a writer but I had nothing but a bunch of unfinished short stories and aborted novels. Someone recommended I take an introduction to playwriting course through the U of A’s drama department and it was like I was struck by lightning! This is how I write. This is how those voices were clamoring to get out. Problem was, I’d never been involved in theatre in any way until then. I had a huge learning curve. I had to learn how to talk to directors, actors, set designers about my work. I’m still learning.
What advice would you give up-and-coming playwrights?
Listen, learn and get a life. Do something totally unrelated to theatre that gets you involved with the outside world.
If you had to sum up your career in one word, what would it be?
As a former journalist, you’ve interviewed many people. If you had to interview yourself, and could only ask one question, what would it be?
Why do you always wait so long to do stuff?