Dallas — Second Thought Theatre finishes its season with the world premiere of Blake Hackler’s The Necessities. Hackler has appeared in many plays in DFW as an actor at Undermain Theatre and Trinity Shakespeare Festival, directed acclaimed productions at Undermain Theatre and elsewhere. A member of the Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts Division of Theatre faculty, he is also an accomplished playwright.
His newest play tackles loneliness and belonging in a small Texas town. In The Necessities, Hackler continues the stories of two characters he created in two previous plays and delves into issues that connect to Hackler personally. We chatted with him about the work.
TheaterJones: Where did the inspiration for this play originate?
Blake Hackler: Well I had written another play that had a couple of workshops in New York. It had been done here in town and there was a supporting character in that play, named Debbie. And I loved her so much, and I loved writing her so much that I wanted to know what else happened to her. So that was one thing.
Then at the same time, I was working on another new play with a character called Peter. And I wanted to know what his continuing story was. With those two people in mind, I sketched some scenes that eventually became the whole play that Second Thought is doing. So those two characters were the seeds; and then some other thoughts I was having sort of coalesced into that play.
What is The Necessities about?
It’s about these two people, Debbie and Peter. They moved to this very small town in Texas. They’re looking for companionship, I think they’re also looking for wholeness and comfort. They meet a mother and a son who are living in the town who are also pretty lost in their lives.
It’s about a series of encounters between these characters, mostly between Peter and Ward and then Debbie and Carly. So, that’s kind of at the basis of what it is.
And then there are very strange elements. There’s talk about a wormhole in town that people can step through or not.
It’s about people meeting and figuring out how to be loved, and what they have to give to get loved. It’s a play a lot about loneliness and also about what it means to be alone. I think about how scared people are of being alone, and the things they will do to not be alone.
From where did the thought of a play that tackles loneliness, isolation, and longing for companionship come?
In my life, I have been in two different relationships for about a total of 18 years. When I moved to Dallas about six year ago, the last relationship ended. So, for the first time in my adult life, I was single. And it sort of felt great.
But I had to learn how to be single and I had to learn how to be alone. At the same time, I also saw people that I really cared about so terrified of being alone that they were making all sorts of sacrifices in their lives.
I was also confronting, “Oh, me being alone… this may be a permanent thing. What does that mean?” And when you live in a society that tells you there’s something wrong with being alone, you actually have to grapple with that on your own terms. You think, “But wait a second I actually enjoy this state of being alone.” And yes, I may be alone forever, but I’d rather have that than to sacrifice parts of myself.
And the other thing I was thinking about was the connection between sex and intimacy, and that they don’t mean the same thing. A lot of people I know, including myself, have gotten deeply confused and derailed by not noticing—or not being alive to—the difference between sex and intimacy. I think that sort of weaves into the play in a lot of different ways.
You’re a professor, actor, director, and playwright, working with many companies in DFW. Why do you choose to work in a variety of capacities rather than focus on one role?
My primary love is teaching. If I couldn’t do anything else, like if some angry god came down and said, “You have to choose one, you have to give up all the rest!” I would choose teaching.
I love being an actor, but I pursued most of my acting in order to be able to teach better, in order to teach what I do.
Directing. I never thought I would enjoy that. I started having to do it mostly at [SMU]. I really enjoy directing. It’s a completely different thought process than acting or teaching in a way. When I direct, I can really just deal in terms of space and that’s really exciting to me. Since I can’t paint or draw, it’s the closest thing I have to being a visual artist. I also have a background in music, and directing to me is so close to music.
The playwriting thing for me…it’s a total release. I write with the expectation that no one will ever see what I have written and no one will see what I have done. When things do get done, it’s just an incredible bonus.
Playwriting is really restorative, because it’s alone. Theatre is such a social form of art, which is great and exciting. I’m a person that really craves and needs to be alone. So I still feel like I’m still creating and doing something, but I get to be alone.
Did you do any workshops with Second Thought to develop the play at all?
It was really kind of like a dream. Alex Organ and I, we’ve been friends for a long time—we were in the same graduate class at the Yale School of Drama. He knew me as an actor and a director. He said, “I know you write too. Can I just see some of your writing?” So I sent him a couple of things without any expectations, like he just wanted to see what I was up to.
He called me two weeks later and said, “I think we want to do this [The Necessities].” I was shocked. Like “Huh?” So then we talked and said, “Do we need to do workshops?” And Alex said, “What do you think you want?” I told him, let me look at the play and I’ll get back to you. And I read it again and I said, “I think the play is kind of finished. I’m not sure what a workshop would do for me, but I’m totally open if you think it needs a lot of work.” And he said, “No I agree, I think it’s pretty much done.”
So, the version that they’re doing is really, sort of my “first draft.”
Have you been able to be involved with the rehearsal process at all?
Because I’m currently doing Richard III at Trinity Shakespeare Festival [at the time of the interview; it closed last weekend], I’ve had very little time to go into rehearsal. I’ve kept in contact with [director] Joel Ferrell and there have been about 20 lines changed here and there or tiny cuts, things like that. But all of the changes that have been done I feel really good about. I went in last Monday to see a run through, they’re doing such an amazing job. When you’re a writer, there are some plays that you write and they need a lot of input and a lot of work. And other plays don’t need much. And for some reason, this was one of those plays.
The play asks an incredible mount of bravery from the actors. Bravery in terms of emotional bravery. I just can’t tell you what an amazing group of actors this play has, and how brave and fearless they are in tackling this. I feel so lucky that they are going as far as they’re going.
There are people in the play that you may not like, especially one that’s very hard to have any empathy for. And yet the actress is so good that you find yourself leaving saying, “I may not like her but I understand her.”
» The Necessities is directed by Joel Ferrell and stars Matthew Gray, Christie Vela, Allison Pistorius and Tex Patrello. It previews Wednesday and Thursday, July 5 and 6; and opens Friday, July 7, running through July 29 at Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys Theater campus.
» Shelby-Allison Hibbs is a Dallas-based teaching artist, playwright, director, performer and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. In her Work in Progress column, she'll have conversations with playwrights and theatermakers involved in the process of realizing new work from page to stage as she explores new plays and musicals being developed/created by theaters of all budget sizes in North Texas.