A Q&A With Playwright Gabriel Jason Dean

You grew up in Chatsworth, GA, a mill town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. As a small town, did Chatsworth have any community or professional theaters?

There was a community theatre in the neighboring town of Dalton—the Dalton Little Theatre. I had my acting debut there as a no-neck monster in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  But my high school had an incredible theatre and music program.  It was the best artistic training I’ve ever received to this date. I owe my life’s work to Troy Beasley and Camilla Springfield—my high school English/drama and music teachers, respectively.

You have mentioned that you didn’t initially set out to be a playwright. What was your original plan for life in the theater, and when did playwriting first seem of interest to you?

I started out, as many do, as an actor.  I did mostly musical theatre.  I went to NYU as an actor for my first year of college and very quickly realized that I didn’t want to study acting…I was much more interested in the written word.  I ended up coming back to Georgia to attend a liberal arts school —Oglethorpe University.  Oglethorpe had a LORT theatre on campus at that time and so I felt like I could get the best of both worlds—literature and drama—in one setting.  I did mostly journalism and fiction as an undergrad while also being very involved as an actor with the school’s theatre program.  It wasn’t until I was a senior and trying to figure out what to do for my honors thesis project that playwriting became something I took seriously. My advisor asked a very simple question of me, “you’re a writer and an actor, so why not write a play?” So I did and have been writing them ever since.  Maybe you can see a pattern of how fortunate I’ve been to have such incredible teachers in my life. I was very conscious of this fact as I wrote Heartland, a play about three teachers.

What is your favorite part of teaching at the college level?

I teach both undergraduate and graduate students and for both the thing I enjoy most is when I get to witness my student writers discovering their own voice for the first time. For me, an outsider, someone who is for the most part objectively reading their work, I sometimes hear this voice, their unique style, before they do. Once they discover themselves, they prosper.  It’s riveting to be part of that.

How have you enjoyed working with New Rep on Heartland as part of the NNPN Rolling World Premiere?

Working with New Rep and Bridget has been wonderful. Bridget and I have been talking about this play for a couple of years and so to finally get into the room together and realize the production with such an incredible cast and team of designers has been thrilling. The Boston production is the second of four in the rolling world premiere, and there are so many things I learned from this production, which I will take to the next, particularly about the fluidity of transitions in the piece.

What’s your favorite way to spend any free time you may have?

Free time? I’ve heard of that before. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! I teach college, write plays (two commissions currently) am starting to write for film and TV, work an additional job as a real estate broker in NYC (gotta pay my exorbitant rent somehow) and spend all my remaining time with my wife and our four-year-old son and wiley kitten.  BUT—one day when free time comes my way again, I will use it to travel, eat new foods and learn new languages.