Milan playwright wins his second Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award
For playwright Joseph Zettelmaier, it’s deja vu all over again.
Two years ago, Zettelmaier won the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award for his comedy “It Came From Mars,” which was subsequently produced at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network and Williamston Theatre. This week, Zettelmaier learned he has won a second Edgerton Foundation award for “Dead Man’s Shoes,” a black comedy set in the Old West.
“Shoes” will be produced next season by — brace yourself — Williamston Theatre and Performance Network.
In a phone interview from his office in Ann Arbor, Zettelmaier said he wrote “Shoes” earlier this year. “Sometimes it takes a while and sometimes the story comes really quickly,” he said. “This is one where it took about six weeks to write a first draft.”
Set in 1833, “Shoes” chronicles the adventures of prison escapee Injun Bill Picote and his alcoholic companion, the lowdown Froggy, as they undertake a mission of vengeance. Zettelmaier calls it “a much darker comedy” than “It Came From Mars” or his upcoming Williamston show “And the Creek Don’t Rise,” which opens next month. “But I would still definitely call (‘Shoes’) a comedy,” he added. “Like any good Western, it’s about revenge — and it gets down and dirty.”
“Shoes” has its world premiere engagement at Williamston in January and February before moving to Performance Network for five weeks of performances in March and April.
The 36-year-old Zettelmaier, a Milan resident who has been a playwright for 13 years, said he was naturally drawn to the theme of outlaws and the Wild West. “I’m a big, big fan of American history, especially the 1700s and 1800s,” he said. “I’m really fascinated by that period. I never want to be writing the same play twice, and I’d never written a Western.”
Zettelmaier’s interest in being a writer began when I was an apprentice at the Purple Rose Theatre in the late 1990s, after graduating from Shorter College, a small arts college in Rome, Ga.
“We did what we called a ‘dark night,’ which is when all the apprentices get together and produce their own show,” he said. “I wrote something for the dark night and I just kind of fell in love with it. But the biggest thing was that (Purple Rose founder) Jeff Daniels came up to me afterward and said, ‘Give me 100 pages.’”
That’s what’s known as motivation.
“Then, literally a month after I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ we started working on new play by Lanford Wilson (“Book of Days,” which Purple Rose premiered in 1998), so he was around all the time, and he provided me with wonderful pieces of advice and direction.”
In the years since, Zettelmaier has written “All Childish Things,” “Language Lessons,” “The Stillness Between Breaths,” “Night Blooming” and “Dr. Seward’s Dracula,” among other works.
Next week, Zettelmaier begins rehearsals at Williamston for “Creek,” a three-character comedy about a Michigan couple’s uneasy adjustment to life in a small Georgia town. The script was performed as a staged reading at the 2010 Renegade Theatre Festival.
“It’s definitely my love letter to my time in the South,” Zettelmaier said. “I loved it down there. It’s a massive culture shock, but once I adapted, I completely fell in love with the South. I think it’s easy for people who’ve never been there to say it’s all rednecks and bigots — but that’s definitely not the case.”