WHAT WE DO is a visual interview series where we briefly talk to Chicago theatre artists about their art — what they do, why they do it, and what their creative process is like, even as it shifts in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve given each artist 8 written questions, as well as 3 prompts for photographs that capture their current headspace.
Today we hear from Brett Neveu: playwright, professor at Northwestern University, and ensemble member at Red Orchid Theatre.
SELF-CAPTURE: A selfie, self timer portrait, a baby photo, or just a really awesome picture of yourself that you love.
Pre-pandemic, how would you have described your job, in a sentence? How is it different now?
I’m a writer & an educator who educates about writing. Via the previous description of my job, it really hasn’t changed much. Still writing, still educating, but what’s changed is how both are presented. My classes at Northwestern (where I’ve taught since 2012) are remote and all of my theatre/film/TV is either on pause or wiped away entirely. But the core of it, the writing? It’s still churning.
What’s something most people might not know about your job?
That I teach much more screenwriting than I do playwriting. In fact, my specialties are genre writing (horror, sci-fi, procedurals, dramedy) and I also teach a Writing for Video Games class, too.
Who or what inspires you?
These days, it’s lyric writing. For the last twenty years, I’ve been in a number of indie bands, so I’ve written a ton of songs, but hadn’t thought as much of how that might influence my script writing. Over the past year or two, my scripts started to turn toward verse, which was a personal surprise but also felt like a natural next thing. In my screenwriting, though, my scripts still look like your regular old scripts but secretly they are full of song lyrics, too.
What’s one tool that is central to your work?
I suppose that would be small rewards? Like snacks or playing a video game or watching something stupid on TV. I’m very tiny-goal oriented because I need to know what a good stopping place looks like. If I tell myself ,”Finish seven pages of the screenplay and you get to play Xbox,” then I’ll get those pages done and not feel guilty about just playing Xbox. It’s a win-win!
How are you resisting?
By feeling super unmoored. So, now I’m reevaluating both my writing and my educating, hoping to better understand purpose, need and scale. I’m currently wondering about the central reasons for script writing and focusing on collaboration and process. Both are equally difficult during a pandemic, but workarounds are there if you’re willing to stretch and bend and seek and shake. I want all my apprehensions to fall away and just let myself topple into the oblivion of creativity and now seems like the perfect time to topple.
How are you taking care of yourself?
My family and I recently moved way north of Chicago, finding a house on a small lake that also had enough space so my mom and dad could move in with us. The drawing-in of family seems to be a very good way to take care, ridding us of most of the worry regarding my folks’ mutual health (mental and physical). Plus NATURE, you know? That’s a big “taking care” thing. The apartment we had moved from kind of trapped us (my wife Kristen, my daughter and I) inside and I think we were going slightly insane. Space has given us individual healing and it only took me multiple decades to figure that out.
What’s something about your community that needs to change moving forward?
In academics and in art, I believe that transparency in hiring, artistic discussions and artistic purpose should be shoved to the forefront. I would love to see the gatekeepers of theatre (and film/TV, too!) step back and trust trained, passionate and intelligent people to DO THEIR JOBS, allowing them to create with lots more freedom. The tied-down evaluation of all things should be swept away and let’s CONVERSE, on stage and off.
SOUL CAPTURE: A picture of something that is making you feel good, or bringing your soul inspiration.
SURROUNDING CAPTURE: Show us where you’ve been spending your time, whether it’s your workspace or the place you unwind.