Our first interview is with long-time friend and writer/performer Paul Stroili. Paul wrote and performed a one-person show called, “Straight-Up with a Twist,” that was dubbed “Hilarious” by the New York Post, and “Very, very, very funny” by NPR. From an initial eight show engagement, Paul took the piece on the road for nearly 10 years, culminating with an extended Off-Broadway run. Interestingly, when Paul discusses his writing process, he uses the same buzz words that we hear in business: “immoveable deadlines,” “discipline,” “work ethic.” Here’s what he says:
News Splash (NS): You have a disciplined approach to writing. Tell us about it.
Paul: As a writer, you have to go to work every day. My rule is to write at least 30 minutes every day. That may be the only 30 minutes of the day. But sometimes this mushrooms into a productive 3 to 4 hours of writing. The idea is that it’s easier to get on a moving train than begin writing from a grinding halt. George Carlin was in the office at 9am and didn’t leave until 6pm every day. In this business, you need a blue collar work ethic and it’s important to approach writing as a job. It’s not enough to be creative.
NS: You are working on a new project, a rock musical based on the 10 years you spent performing in your one-person show. I love that you made calculated creative decisions – just like a true marketer.
Paul: You mean because I changed the main character to a woman? That decision was probably more a creative one than marketing! Women often have a shorter career in the theater (due to the inherent sexism), so it adds a little dramatic urgency. I guess the marketing aspect would be that women are primarily the ones who buy theatre tickets, so it does give them someone to identify with.
NS: How important is feedback in the process?
Paul: So much depends on the audience. The biggest laughs in the show were unexpected. I didn’t know the audience would connect like they did. Some of the lines I wrote that I thought would be huge laughs fell flat, and throw away lines turned into the biggest laughs of the night. You never know until there’s an audience.
NS: Talk to me about risk taking.
Paul: Risk taking is…in a word, everything. The whole reason I wrote “Straight-Up” was because I started to suffer from incapacitating stage fright -- heart palpitations, sweating… the whole bit. So I thought: OK…time to take a risk and stare down this dragon. What’s the scariest thing to do on stage? Autobiographical solo show, maybe? I would rather risk and fail grandly than stay safe by not challenging myself. I know it sounds trite but it’s so. One of my college professors used to say; “Let’s hear it for failure” – You learn much more from failures than successes.
NS: Any final thoughts?
Paul: I hate the act of writing – sitting at the computer – but once I have a first draft on paper, it’s about sculpting…and it’s all worth it. They once asked Kurasowa why he made movies. His response: “So I have something to edit.” I love that mindset.