David Ives was born in Chicago in 1950 and educated at Northwestern University and Yale School of Drama. A 1995 Guggenheim Fellow in playwriting, he is probably best known for his evening of one-act comedies called All in the Timing, which ran for over 600 performances off-Broadway and was subsequently presented in many cities here and abroad. The show won the Outer Critics Circle Playwriting Award, was included in “The Best Plays of 1993-94,” and in the 1995-96 season was the most-performed play in the country after Shakespeare productions. It has been translated into German, French, Italian, Brazilian and other languages.
Another evening of short comedies, Mere Mortals, enjoyed a long off-Broadway run in 1997-98. A third evening of one-acts called Lives Of The Saints has premiered in Philadelphia. Vintage has published a volume of David Ives’ short comedies under the title All in the Timing: Fourteen Short Plays. A follow-up anthology has appeared from GroveAtlantic titled Time Flies: Thirteen Short Plays. Four of David Ives’s short comedies have been included in the “Best Short Plays of the Year” volumes.
Among David Ives’ full-length plays are Polish Joke, Ancient History, Don Juan in Chicago, The Red Address and The Land of Cockaigne (the last four are available from Dramatists Play Service). He wrote the libretto to an opera based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and the book for the musical Make Someone Happy with Phyllis Newman, using the songs of Comden and Green. He has adapted nine classic American musicals for the celebrated Encores! series at City Center, he adapted Cole Porter and Moss Hart’s Jubilee for Carnegie Hall, in 1996 he wrote Ira Gershwin’s 100th birthday celebration for Carnegie Hall, and in 1997 he adapted David Copperfield’s Dreams and Nightmares for Broadway.
His children’s novel, Monsieur Eek, has been published by HarperCollins. David Ives has also written short fiction and humor pieces for Spy Magazine, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, the New York Times Magazine and the Hudson Review. Several of his humor pieces have been included in the HarperPerennial anthology “Mirth Of A Nation.” He has taught playwriting and screenwriting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and at Columbia University.
He lives in New York City and is currently at work with composer/lyricist Jim Steinman on Batman: The Musical and Dance Of The Vampires, a musical which will come to Broadway in fall 2002.
(The following article was originally published in Zoetrope Magazine‘s November 2000 Theatre issue:)
“Why Write For Theatre,” by David Ives
In the high school I attended, we had an extraordinary tradition which I doubt existed in many other American schools. This was an all-boys Catholic seminary sandwiched among Chicago’s Lithuanian, Irish, and black neighborhoods. Discipline was strong, the syllabus demanding. We would-be priests were groomed for gravitas.
Paradoxically, at the end of a student’s fourth year, he could take part in creating and performing in what was called “The Senior Mock,” a show that sent up the school’s faculty. All the students attended, near-riotously, and it was considered bad form for a faculty member not to be present. The school’s hard-nosed rector had to clear the script beforehand, but he censored only obscenities, stetting even the most merciless satirical slices. I myself played Mr. Hild, the chain-smoking English teacher who coached the track team (while smoking); I also wrote a song mocking a particularly free-thinking religion teacher and sang it, a cappella, in front of a crowd of 600. My classmate Frank Boyle, otherwise somber, portrayed that same hard-nosed rector in a bald cap which he shined onstage with Turtle Wax.
I wrote my first play when I was nine, but somehow the Senior Mock not only focused my attention on theatre in a new way, it gathered up_I now see_all the threads that have gone into theatre since Aeschylus. No show I’ve been involved with in the 30 years since then has been more fundamentally theatrical, or has been fundamentally different. We adolescents didn’t stop to think we were doing the same thing as Aristophanes in 400 B.C. We just wanted, desperately and joyously, to mirror the world we’d come to know in our four years together, to have a say about it, to hint what we’d change about it, and to celebrate what had made us laugh about it before we left it at graduation. A dozen of us labored over this entertainment we were spinning out of thin air as though we were to going to perform it for kings, though we had nothing to gain but glory among our peers_a rich box-office take, since you have to be an idiot to do theatre for gold. We were making theatre for the best and purest of human reasons: for love. For the hell of it. For fun.
That same year I saw a matinee of Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” and, even as I sat there agape in the balcony, I knew there could be no better or more exciting calling. I left the path to the priesthood and forked onto the road to playwriting.
If you want to work in the art form that most profoundly sets up a glass to human life, then the theatre is for you. After all, the world doesn’t present itself to us as printed words, or pigment on canvas, or sculpted marble or bronze, or dancers moving to music, or fixed two-dimensionally on looping celluloid, but as human bodies moving three-dimensionally in space and in real time, talking to each other or to us or to themselves, working something out to the music of the human voice. I’ve never thought it just an accident that humanity’s greatest genius manifested himself in the theatre. (And Hamlet in 1602 probably looked little better than our Senior Mock of 1968.) Our lives happen in voices: in inner monologue and outer dialogue, in scenes of interwoven tension and resolution with comic byplay. As drama. As comedy. As a live, local, handmade event. As theatre.
All social interaction is inescapably political, and if you’re looking to work in a social (and political) art form, then the theatre is also for you. Again, it can’t be a coincidence that Western drama was born in ancient Athens at exactly the same moment as democracy, because theatre and democracy germinate from the same idea: that it’s good for people to put their differences aside and pool their talents and experience so that out of mutual collaboration something fine_ maybe something brilliant, maybe even something lasting_can be made. As a playwright you don’t work alone. You’ve got actors, a director, designers all helping to shape what you write, challenging it, exploring it, saving your ass (and sometimes breaking it). Then_like life_the company disbands and moves on.
So much for the high road. There are a million other, more mundane reasons to write for the theatre. Because your spouse keeps telling you that your life as podiatrist would make a terrific play. Because you want to commemorate a parent or an uncle or a sibling or a friend. Because you want to resuscitate a failed marriage or affair and make your lost spouse or lover speak again. Because you want to send a letter to the dead by way of the living. Because you’re an idiot and you think Hollywood’s going to buy your play about you and your hamster and make you rich. Because you saw The Star-Spangled Girl at your community theatre and think you can do better. Because you want to see your name in the paper and crave the admiration of our perceptive, tasteful, well-informed, and ever-encouraging “critics.” Because you think the theatre provides endless opportunities for getting laid. Because you find actors smart, perceptive, and unimaginably gallant and you want to hang out and have drinks with them on a regular basis. Because you glimpsed two tramps waiting beside a road, or an old man raging on a heath, or saw a man and woman arguing outside the bus window and you want to imagine out loud what was going on and why and who those vanished people were. Because you have some voices in your head that won’t be still. Because you want to do something really difficult, to chase down the elusive element that makes a very, very few plays good or even great and immortal, yet somehow escapes all those many other plays.
Or because you feel like it.
Or because you don’t have any choice.
Because you have to.