by Breanne Seidle,
Bill Missouri Downs, playwright of The Exit Interview, attended the April 27 performance of the play and stayed for a short question and answer session with the audience. Downs had previously visited Graceland March 27-30 to work with the play’s cast and director.
The Exit Interview has been performed all over the country, and on the night of Graceland’s Saturday performance, the play was being staged in Salt Lake City, Utah and Charlotte, N.C. “This is the seventh time I’ve seen the play since September,” said Downs, “and I get a kick out of the audiences’ reactions every time.”
For Downs, the seventh viewing of The Exit Interview was unique in that it was the first university-produced performance he’d attended. “Bill was extremely impressed. He felt our production ranked right up there with professional theatres and couldn’t be happier with the play’s first college production,” said Justin Pontier, a cast member of The Exit Interview with previous roles in Graceland’s productions of Fuddy Meers and Our Town. For Pontier, working with the playwright was an enjoyable experience. “Bill was very relaxed, friendly and open. Working with him was an eye-opener because his script was so different compared to other plays we’ve done, and it was great to have the perspective of the playwright to know which direction to take the play.”
When asked by an audience member about his inspiration for The Exit Interview, Downs responded, “I started thinking about how exit interviews are a really interesting conflict area, and I just kept putting it together and molding it and molding it.” He later added, “I get all of my ideas in the shower. I want to take my hot water bill off of my taxes.”
Inspiration is only part of the equation. In addition to teaching full-time at the University of Wyoming, Downs sets aside time to write every day from 3 to 9 a.m. “I have the ‘farmers’ gene,’ which causes me to get up at ungodly hours in the morning,” said Downs. His goal is to match Shakespeare's creative output of 36 plays. “I finish a play, and then I let it go. I’m always moving forward. My mind is on what I’m writing now,” he told the audience.
When the conversation turned to the religious views presented in The Exit Interview, Downs commented, “I’ve studied many different religions and consider myself an agnostic, but I miss community. It’s the strongest thing that religion can offer.” When asked if he has ever been harshly criticized for the provocative ideas expressed in his works, Downs said, “That’s the great thing about this country; you can do plays like this.”
On the subject of the play’s dark humor, Downs remarked, “Comedy comes from pain. I had a writer’s childhood--not ‘Running With Scissors,’ but ‘Running With Chainsaws.’ I’d be dead serious and people would laugh. That’s how I realized I was funny.”
To date, six professional theatres have produced The Exit Interview: the Salt Lake Acting Company, the Riverside Theatre, the Charlotte Actors’ Theatre, The InterAct Theatre, the San Diego Repertory Theatre and the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre.