by Matt Hinton
It has been a long journey from my days as a graduate student in the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing to publishing Playroom. Back then, I worked for Mike Lennon on research for the official Mailer biography (A Double Life) and carved out time to launch the initial installments of The Write Life (If you go back far enough in the archives, you’ll find a trove of reflections on what I was doing in those heady days. Like myself, the blog has come a long way, and both of us – I think – for the better). Back then, I was ensconced in the Mailer room of the library; today, I spend my days at Misericordia University (Dallas, PA) running the writing center and teaching the occasional course in drama or imaginative writing or American literature.
Despite the hustle of higher education (and maybe even because of it) the number of writing endeavors I take on multiplies by the microsecond – in my practice of the “spooky art” I drop my bucket where I stand and find it overflowing with opportunities. My involvement with the life and work of Norman Mailer remains a source of inspiration. I recently published a chapter in the Cambridge University series installment of Mailer in Context, in which I explore the writer’s legendary friendships and feuds (parsing the list down to the most notable five was a notably difficult, but fun, task). In March, I collaborated with former-and-founding program director Bonnie Culver on a one act play of a fictional interview with Norman Mailer. We performed the work together as our Reader’s Theatre presentation at the annual Mailer Society conference, and the script is expected to be published in the forthcoming volume 16 of The Mailer Review. As if that were not enough, the society will celebrate Mailer’s 100th birthday this coming January (2023), and I am already at work on a retrospective of illustrations of the late author, as well as a review of the Library of America edition of The Naked and the Dead edited by (who else?) the immutable Mike Lennon.
The opportunity to publish Playroom through Blue Moon Plays is one I am proud of, and my connection there goes back to my time as a student in the Wilkes program. I was already a fairly experienced teacher when I enrolled, and so I was drawn to publication – an early relationship with playwright Jean Klein led to an editing stint for HaveScripts, a sibling imprint of Blue Moon. Under Jean’s tutelage, I designed and edited a collection of one-act plays by her late husband, David Klein, entitled An Evening with Joyce’s Women – each of the works was adapted from the Irish author’s seminal story collection, The Dead.
Playroom has been some ten years in the making – eight years of annual installments of an evening of one-act plays staged by Gaslight Theatre company of Wilkes-Barre, and a couple more years (and a global pandemic) to realize that I should put them together into one collection and pitch the whole thing to Blue Moon. The idea for Playroom came to me as a grad student: to stage an evening of one act plays set in a single, specific room, featuring different stories by area writers. An average show like this usually means a mostly-bare black stage, with a few chairs and a table, and an ensemble cast to lug their own set pieces and props with every entrance and exit. However, I wanted to see different universes take over the same shared space – a common room in every house. We started with the kitchen, and in the following year moved to the bathroom, then the bedroom, and so on and so forth. Overall, the series was a success for everyone involved and for stagecraft itself: Playroom generated some 70 new plays by 16 playwrights from the region, and involved around 100 local actors. Countless audiences turned out annually to see an entirely new take on theatre debuting in northeastern Pennsylvania. As it happens, two other authors who contributed to the project every year (for eight years!) are also Wilkes graduates – Rachel Luann Strayer and Lori M. Myers.
Whereas the other playwrights in the series all wrote separate one-acts for each installment, my eight plays feature the same family dealing with supernatural and preternatural phenomena throughout their home – all brief comedies that also explore familial themes. They can certainly be staged independently from one another, but in another sense, they hang together with more than strong motifs and echoed through-lines. Following this family for almost a decade has been a rewarding challenge, and I am proud to see them hashing out their problems on paper. Jean and the team at Blue Moon Plays understood my project right away, and now that these plays are published, I cannot wait to see how their journey continues.
Managing to keep my own work flowing amid student papers and academic deadlines and the full-time feeling of life isn’t always easy, but the best methods never really change. Each installment of my Playroom plays was worked out in a number of now-ragged notebooks taking up a shelf in my home office. My trusty moleskin stays within arm’s-length most days and still gets a fair amount of ink in it. I scrawl on the go, and work out the kinks when typing up my first drafts.
This year has also found me rediscovering and re-exploring a love for photography, and a separate notebook found its way into my camera bag early on. The twin practices are almost symbiotic – both can be meditative, solitary pursuits (even in public), and I am enjoying the flexibility that photography has lent my writing.
As for other writing that isn’t assigned or academic, I still manage to eke out a few of my own solo works while spinning the plates, but the timing is all: If I write in the morning, it comes out as poetry; If I write late at night, it comes out as a play; If I write at midday? It comes out as a reminder to students to cite their sources. Go figure.
Matthew S. Hinton (M.F.A. 2010) was born in the back seat of his great grandmother’s Posten Taxi in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He teaches college writing and literature, and is a scholar of the life and work of Norman Mailer. He is a poet, playwright, photographer, actor, and occasional journalist, and is the creator of the Playroom series. He is a founding member of Gaslight Theatre Company, and has authored several plays, including Quiet Cowboy, but is particularly fond of one acts and short works. He dreams in analog.
Matthew’s recent publications include: Playroom: A Collection of 8 Short Comedies, Blue Moon Plays, 2022; “Mailer: Friendships and Feuds”, Norman Mailer in Context, Cambridge University Press, 2021; “Lord’s Eye: An Epilogue in Search of Political Tattoos”, Provincetown Arts, Summer 2018 (Restored & reprinted in The Mailer Review, 2019)
Author contact: AnalogArt@hotmail.com