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Interview with Playwright Leonard Joseph Dunham

Q: Orange County theatregoers have primarily known you as an actor, specifically as a member of the Hunger Artists. Is it fair to say you have always been a writer as well?

A: Definitely. I started writing my first novel when I was 11. I think I wrote my first real short story when I was 8. Funny that it took so long to turn to playwriting, considering the dialogue was usually the only good parts of my stories!

Q: How did the OC storefront theatre scene help you grow as an actor and emerging playwright?

A: Storefront theater, specifically the Hunger Artists Theatre Company, really helped me gain the confidence to let my work be heard. I believe it was Jill Johnson from Hunger that unceremoniously signed me up for an edition of “24 Hour Theater” as a response to my question, “Do you take first-time writers?”

There is a scene in the John Wayne western "Hondo" where a young child on the edge of a stream tells the Duke that he can’t swim. Without another word, Wayne chucks him into the stream. THAT’S how you learn! I’d been acting since I was 15 years old, but that first 5 months as a company member at Hunger, I was in 6 shows. I quickly went from wondering if I was good enough to audition, to helping run the place (in my minor way). I will be forever thankful to Hunger Artists for forging me in the fire.

Q: Subsequently, how did studying with Anne Galjour, Roy Conboy and other professors in SFSU's program inform your approach to playwriting?

A: My writing had always been fun, if superficial fare. It often featured wizards and costumed super-villains. I still love that subject matter, but SFSU made me dig deeper. If anything, Anne pounded one thing into my head: “Make it the worst day of their lives”. We’re not writing sitcoms out here (though I wouldn’t mind…). I’ll probably never stop writing my silly stories about ghosts and aliens, but I’m hoping they punch you in the gut while they are at it. I completely own this play to Roy Conboy. It was conceived and workshopped in one of his classes, As I like to say, Roy tricked me into writing this show. Thanks, Roy!

Q: Is it fair to say "Love's Lost Words" concerns how fleeting love can be, and how you must cherish it and fight to hold onto it when you have it in your life?

A: Life itself is fleeting. Everything in it is whizzing by us at the speed of light. Fight. That’s the word. Fight for what, for WHO matters. And listen to your elders occasionally, they’ve been there, too.

Q: Will we be seeing you onstage in Orange County in the near future? Do you plan to get involved with the local storefront theatre scene again?

A: Never say never. I loved, loved, loved living in San Francisco, but OC is home. And a big part of that is my theater family. They, like theater itself, are in my blood. While my home at Hunger is long gone, many of the people still remain. I look forward to dropping in on places like the Maverick and, if anything, seeing some theater. If I know me (and I like to think I do), I’ll get dragged into something before the year is out. I might even have to break out the black suit one of these day and see if Joe SMASH! still has a place out there…

See Leonard Joseph Dunham's "Love's Lost Words" this summer at OC-centric. Performance dates & times: Saturday, 8/22 @ 2pm; Sunday, 8/23 @ 7pm; Saturday, 8/29 @ 8pm; Sunday, 8/30 @ 2pm.

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