New Play Festival 2014 Interview with Playwright Harrison Young

We had a great turnout for the first table reading of Harrison Young’s “A Cocaine Comedy”. Here’s a little bit about Harrison, in his own words:

1. What is your background?

I grew up in Celina, Tennessee with my parents and older brother.  My class was the first graduating class of Clay County High School in 2004.  The University of Tennessee-Knoxville accepted me into college afterward, where I graduated as a Theatre-major in 2009.  I moved to Brooklyn, New York in 2012; I’ve since begun studying long-form improvisation at the People’s Improv Theatre.

2. How did you come to be involved in theater and/or playwriting?

I played a lot of sports growing up, so anything athletic interested me then…but I had to change my ways when school wouldn’t allow me to take a second P.E.-course.  They made me sign up for theatre instead, taught by Melissa White in 2002.  After working on a monologue from the movie THE JERK, she cast me in my first play:  ‘TWAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.

While writing has always been an interest, my life changed when Kali Meister taught a non-credit workshop at UT-K in 2008. That workshop about ten-minute plays led to my first play one month later:  ONLINE FIGHTING

3. How did you hear about Tennessee Stage Company’s New Play Festival?

It was just an audition notice in 2009, but it got me cast in HOPPY’S TRUNK by Mike Farley — TSC’s world premiere that year.  It was my first production with the company and ended up being one of my favorites to work on; I still keep a magnet with our cast-photo on it!

4. What’s a short funny story or anecdote you have about theater, Knoxville, or life in general?

Being an understudy is hard; you don’t get much rehearsal-time and are sometimes thrown right into the mix.  The Actor’s Co-op had me understudy for Father Christmas in a production of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE in 2007.  There’s a scene where I give the main children weapons from my bag of gifts.  This bag was stuffed with lots of crumpled paper to “fill out” the bag, but it also made it hard to find the weapons immediately.  What should have been a simple hand-off to each child became a frantic search in front of enough kids to fill the Bijou Theatre; I had to go head-deep in the bag and scramble to find them all.  At least I found them, though the audience was quick to laugh at my expense.

5. What makes Knoxville great?

Its people — there have been so many kind people here who have become wonderful friends over the years.  In fact, New York wouldn’t be as appealing if I didn’t move here with two of my best friends I met from UT-K.

Also, burger nights!

6. What inspired you to write the play that is being presented in this year’s New Play Festival?

A COCAINE COMEDY is inspired from the one time in my life I was offered cocaine.  I said no in real life (“Just say no,” right?), but it’s still a really awkward situation to be in.  I started to ask myself a lot of questions afterward.  “What’s it like?”  “Who’s going to know about it?”  The main question eventually became “What’s the worst that can happen?”…so, instead of trying it out for myself, I decided to write a worst-case scenario about peer pressure.  The result is my nod to comedians who believe not just in getting everyone to laugh, but in getting everyone to laugh about difficult subjects.

7. Final thoughts?

My grandmother asked me if this play has a moral, so I should probably clear that up:  yes.  You just have to get past its first six pages.

Thanks so much for answering our questions, Harrison! We look forward to the continued development of “A Cocaine Comedy”. Don’t miss the next table reading of “A Cocaine Comedy” Sunday, February 23rd at the Lawson McGhee downtown library branch at 3pm!

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