Getting a Read on Arthur Kopit

By Megan McDonald February 10, 2011


Playwright Arthur Kopit is currently in residence at the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

I was reminded again this week how lucky we are to have the Hermitage Artist Retreat in our community.  The distinguished playwright Arthur Kopit, who is currently in residence at the Hermitage , provided a fascinating glimpse into the creative process in a program at the Mildred Sainer Pavilion.

Kopit, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist who has also earned three Tony Award nominations, read from a work in progress and talked about his career with Michael Edwards, the Asolo Rep’s producing artistic director.

The play Kopit is working on is Discovery of America, a drama based on the journals of 16th-century Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca, who was captured by a tribe of Indians but ended up being regarded by them as a god and healer.

During the play, the conquistadors and Indians share the stage and at times interact with present-day academicians who are studying them. Sharing a 20-minute excerpt, Kopit read the parts of all the characters, and jumped back and forth between English and Spanish. He called the work a “journey into the extraordinary.”

Kopit’s first play, the farce Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Momma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad, brought him worldwide acclaim in the early 1960s. Written while he was at Harvard University, the play created a sensation when it was staged at a Cambridge theater.

“But I wasn’t even there,” Kopit said. “I was in Spain, and I got a call telling me that my life had changed.”

Indeed, two years later, the play transferred to an off-Broadway theater, the Phoenix, where it enjoyed a long and successful run.

Kopit said he didn’t settle on the play’s title until after he finished the work. “It just came to me,” he said. “I certainly didn’t set out to write the world’s longest play title.”

Nor did he expect the play to get such an extraordinary reception. If he had written it with awards or acclaim in mind, it wouldn’t have been the same, he said.

“When you write, you can’t edit, you can’t write with somebody else’s reaction in mind,” he said. “You have to write it for yourself.”

Kopit went on to write the Tony-nominated Indians and Wings, as well as the book for the Tony Award-winning musical Nine.

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