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A Conversation between Dexter Bullard and Annie Baker

Dexter Bullard : Annie, was there an image, an aha, a long unanswered question that inspired your writing The Flick?

Annie Baker : I think The Flick came from a lot of questions I was grappling with about both theater and movie-going. I was a real movie buff as a kid and then in my 20s movies became less interesting to me. This was also around the time when theaters were transitioning from film to digital projection and not being able to see movies on 35-millimeter anymore was also a huge loss. So I would go to movies and then sit through the end of the credits feeling numb and then watch the lights go on and the two ushers come in with their brooms and shit-talk each other while they did their cleaning dance. And it felt like a little piece of live theater following the movie; the performed past dissolving into the performed present. I was also just starting out as a playwright when I first conceived of The Flick, and I was interested in how threatened theater people were by movies and how theater non-profits constantly were defending theater’s right to exist and its cultural importance, while at the same time so many plays, or at least it seemed this way to me, were trying to imitate movies either in their pace or stylistic flourishes or plot.

DB: Which came first: the setting, the characters, the story or the themes? What arose in the creation that surprised you?

AB : The setting came to me first. That stand-o between a fictional film-going audience and the real theater audience, with the movie screen as the fourth wall. Also the idea of the entire theater audience gazing right into the all-seeing eye of the projector, and what film, I mean 35-millimeter film, looks like from that vantage point.

DB: You often write in solitude or on retreat. What does that time “away” give you and your process? Where was The Flick written and about how long did it take to realize?

AB : You know, I do love being alone and going on writing retreats, but that’s not always where I get the actual writing done. Before I write a play, though, I do around two years of research, and often a lot of that reading and thinking takes place when I’m lonely and by myself out in the middle of nowhere and I can see a lot of stars.

DB: Where did you acquire your love of film and going to movies?

AB: Hmm. Well as a kid, I was home alone a lot. And the video store, the wonderful but now-closed Video To Go in Amherst, Massachusetts, was halfway between my school and my house. So as a middle- schooler I would rent two movies on my walk home after school, secretly watch them before my mother got home from work, and then return them on my way to school the next day. Also there wasn’t a lot of great live theater in Amherst, so movies and novels were my access to fictional narratives. And even though I kind of fell out of love with movies in my 20s, I’m kind of back in love with them in my 30s. I think The Flick helped with that.

Annie Baker: Dexter, what is your favorite movie? Why?

Dexter Bullard: Of course I’m going to cheat and choose three. Dancer in the Dark. So many reasons. The power of the performance and the complete revising of what a movie musical can be. Lars Von Trier reminds us of the power of simplicity. Blood Simple. I love Hitchcock and thrillers of all kinds, but this one in rhythm, tone, proximity and twist was a revelation of how timing and focus can grab and not let go. Ghandi. Ben Kingsley cannot not be believed—it is not even like acting as much as immersion. I like a movie that teaches while it entertains—makes me smarter while pulling at my heart. The visual splendor of India and the story of an all too complex person who re-made modern history.

AB : When and how did you first fall in love with theater?

DB: Playing the child in Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle in a college production when I was 10 years old. I didn’t think much about theater or acting any more than I did about drawing or music. But the first performance before an audience something happened. I was sitting, as I was blocked to do, on the floor waiting for my “mother” Grusha and snow began to fall. The snow was tiny balls of Styrofoam pouring from a can in the grid above, that I had seen the designer shave off a board earlier. And I was transfixed. The tiny “flakes” eddying down around me felt more snow-like than snow. And an hour or so later, as my birth mother and the mother who had rescued me pulled me from two sides, it was impossible for tears to not stream down my face.

AB: Did you ever consider trying to work in the movies and if so, why, and if no, why not?

DB: I think everyone in theater considers working in movies. The glamour! The paycheck! The power! But I really have only brushed against opportunities. In reality, I am so busy and happy making art in theater, solving the problems, and I am just getting good at it. Why add something else? But, I’m open.

AB : What was your worst day job and what was your best day job?

DB : Worst was stamping the words “red filter” on red cardboard slides for eight hours a day for two weeks. Then... stamping “blue filter” on blue ones for two more weeks. The best is being a father. Getting to return to play. To return to the senses and learning all over again.