Visiting playwright and poet Dan O’Brien spoke at an event held in Faulconer Gallery last Thursday, March 5, titled “Writing Across Genre.” In addition to sharing his work, O’Brien has taught a weeklong one-act play short course at the College this spring.
The event featured O’Brien’s “War Reporter,” a collection of poetry adapted from his award-winning play “The Body of an American” alongside the libretto from an experimental chamber opera “Visitations.” In his talk, O’Brien focused largely on the contrasts and similarities between these different forms. Professor Dean Bakopoulos, English, led the discussion with guiding questions.
O’Brien acknowledged Paul Watson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, as the inspiration for these works.
“We consider each other friends now and we’ve really gotten to know each other—we talk and email all the time. He refuses to see the play but he shares with me all kinds of material and in that way, of course it’s collaboration,” O’Brien said. “What was haunting to me was precisely that I didn’t understand [his work.] I didn’t understand why I was moved by it, why I was scared by it.”
O’Brien also explored the impossibility of artistic engagement with the darkness of human nature and the risk inherent in creating art.
“Any sort of realization in the creation of art, if you can keep it manifested in the art, is going to be a realization that your audience has, or your reader has,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien also explained the importance of routine, writing every morning and sticking to “what works,” explaining that writing more than one play at a time was too difficult since he likes to “live inside” a play while he writes it.
“This is the kind of art that I value the most, because there are things about life that are difficult and horrific,” O’Brien said. “And it’s not to wallow on that, but to engage with that element of life, that is so important.”