Robin Goldfin raps with SV’s Bob Shuman
Robin Goldfin is a playwright, performer and teacher. His most recent project is Suddenly, a Knock at the Door, a play based on stories by award-winning Israeli author and filmmaker Etgar Keret with original live music by Oren Neiman. Robin’s own 10-minute play The Acoustics, directed by Ken Talberth was part of Artistic New Directions’ Eclectic Evening of Shorts in March 2010. His solo play, The Ethics of Rav Hymie Goldfarb, directed by David Carson premiered in The Midtown International Theatre Festival in summer 2005. (“Splendidly crafted” wrote nytheatre.com.) Robin’s other writing has been published in Tikkun Magazine, Zeek, and The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide; and in the anthologies Queer Stories for Boys: True Stories from the Gay Men’s Storytelling Workshop and One on One: The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century. As a performer, Robin danced for five years with Laurie DeVito’s She-Bops and Scats, a concert jazz dance company and taught Simonson Jazz Dance Technique in New York and abroad. Robin has held artist’s residencies at Makor, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and The Mishkan Omanim (Artists Residence) in Herzylia, Israel. A member of PEN American Center and The Dramatists Guild, he holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dramatic Writing from New York University and is Clinical Professor of Writing in NYU’s Liberal Studies Program.
What led you to write Suddenly, a Knock at the Door—and why and how did you decide that an American writer would and could be right to adapt Israeli short stories?
I love the Hebrew language. I began to learn it when I was about 9 and became fluent maybe 40 years later. I love Etgar’s stories in Hebrew because to me they read like children’s stories for adults—they have a deceptive simplicity and great depth underneath. That’s the same way I read the stories in Genesis. I wrote Suddenly, a Knock because I wanted to learn about storytelling. I am by nature more of a poet, and plays (like stories) need a plot. So I took one of the best storytellers I know and decided to learn from him.
Describe the process of how you gained approval to dramatize the material—and for those who don’t know him, who is Etgar Keret?
Etgar Keret is one of Israel’s most popular writers; he has published six collections of stories (and most recently a memoir) which have been translated into more than 30 languages. He is also a filmmaker. The process of gaining the rights: first I adapted just the title story “Suddenly, a Knock at the Door” and Etgar liked it and gave us permission to put it in a short play festival. Then I learned there would be interest in a full evening of his stories, so Oren Neiman (our composer) and I went back to Etgar’s book and chose 8 stories total. At that point, we didn’t yet know what we were going to do with them, but we figured 8 would be about the right number for a full-length play (his stories are sometimes just a few pages). The process of gaining the rights was pretty standard. The Dramatists Guild helped. Then I hired an attorney and we drew up a contract.
What is Suddenly, a Knock at the Door about?
Suddenly, a Knock is about the power of storytelling, not only for those listening but for those telling. It’s about how a story helps to reveal something about the storyteller. I’ve also borrowed from Scheherazade and The Arabian Nights. Etgar’s first story in the collection, “Suddenly, a Knock on the Door,” is a Scheherazade tale: a writer forced to tell stories under threat of violence or death. In The Arabian Nights, Scheherazade’s storytelling has the power to disarm violence and abusive power. I started with that and listened for the possibilities of how to develop it.
Why do you continue to write?
My writing is a habit, a practice. I do it. A carpenter’s job is to make sawdust; mine is to make words. Sometimes they surprise me and add up to something—but more often I just make a lot of words. I find writing difficult, and that may be why I am so committed to teaching it. I know how hard it can be. So I find ways—for both the students and myself—to make it more doable, even pleasurable.
I’ve known Robin Goldfin since 1983—who is he really, especially for those who don’t know you?
I am a writer with a dancing problem! I came to New York for graduate school in playwriting, but really I wanted to dance. So I organized all of my college classes around my dance classes. I got my MFA in Dramatic Writing—it has helped me get a teaching job and for that I am grateful. But I think I learned the most in the dance studios, from my dance teachers who had vision and passion and really cared about their students. And that’s how I try to teach writing.
What’s the best advice you can give a writer?
I don’t know that I have any advice—my own path has been circuitous and strange. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke tells young Mr. Kappus (who is writing to him) that all art comes out of necessity. Do it if you must; and if not, do something else. Rilke was stringent in that regard. I have many students who are not interested in being writers, but they learn to find pleasure and meaning and satisfaction in what they write. They learn to take responsibility for it, and use it to learn about themselves and the world around them. I’ve written this play to learn something—and I am still learning it.
What’s the best way to get produced—and how did this production unfold?
This production unfolded because we could not interest any theater in producing us outright. Theater For the New City offered us a co-production and we said YES, THANK YOU! I have had to learn to do many things I never did before: negotiate contracts, organize budgets, start a LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) to co-produce. Besides learning about storytelling, I’ve been learning about the business side of the art. And that has been useful.
When were or are you happiest in the theatre?
I was happiest when I was dancing and teaching dance. But the body ages and changes and I needed to do things differently. I still dance, but in gentler ways (and most often when there is no one else around). Now, I am thrilled to sit in rehearsals and watch Suddenly, a Knock at the Door come to life. It gets better with each rehearsal. I am fortunate to have such a talented and dedicated creative team—director David Carson and Oren Neiman—and this wonderful company of performers. On June 2nd—for the first time, after almost five years of work—we’ll hear and see the play in front of an audience. That’s a bit of a big deal. I’ve never done anything like this before. But I knew we could do it, so we did.
Thank you, Robin!
Visit Theater for the New City for tickets: http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net/
© 2016 by Robin Goldfin (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.
Photo (top): Kenneth Talberth (front), Antonio Minino, Jeffey Swan Jones, and Elana White. Photographer: Peter Welch.
Photo (bottom): Robin Goldfin.
Press: Paul Siebold/Off Off PR.