On Friday, February 8th, the NY Indie Theater Festival kicked off its third season with a screening of Theresa Rebeck’s Poor Behavior.
Already a noted writer for the stage and screen, Poor Behavior was Rebeck’s directorial debut. She’d long wanted to direct for TV, but was never given the chance, even though writers often get to direct an episode or two. Sexism in the television industry is no secret. Rebeck realized that if she wanted to try directing, she had to create her own opportunity. “[T]hey would never give me the chance they would happily give my male so-called peers.”
An audience member asked why Rebeck didn’t direct an episode on Smash, the cult TV show on which she was a showrunner.
“Theresa Rebeck [the showrunner] wanted to give Theresa Rebeck [the writer] the opportunity to direct but the network said no,” Rebeck said with a laugh.
When Rebeck’s beloved aunt died, leaving her a small inheritance, she decided to use the money to direct an adaptation of one of her own plays, Poor Behavior. She hired a team and shot the film over seven days at a country house in Dorset, Vermont.
The film has a handful of first-timer and tight schedule mistakes (“we missed some shots,” Rebeck laments), but it hangs together surprisingly well for a film adaptation of a stage play. Theater is often a static, and word-heavy medium, which tends not to work on film. However, Rebeck had confidence the work would translate, “The film community is skeptical, but I’m just not.”
There are some things she had to change for the adaptation. She cut some lengthy speeches, and put more scenes outside, opening up the setting, something she couldn’t do on stage. She noted that more language definitely works better on stage than film. “Some part of me [wonders] why, and then I’m like, who cares? … I’m more interested in investigating how it works.”
Was it hard jumping from one writing medium to another? “I just did it. [That sounds cocky, but] I put in my 10,000 hours. The only thing I think is if someone asked me to write a poem, I’d go like, ugh, but I can do everything else.”
She can still challenge herself with new subject matter, though. She’s currently writing a play about witches, something she’s never done before. “Every so often I’m like, I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Rebeck also had a simple piece of advice for writers. “Write a lot and get to the end of your first drafts.” When possible, she also recommends getting out of town and away from people to write. “It’s better to not be distracted.”
She has her own quirky synesthesia-related writing method. “When I hit a certain [page] number, it turns a certain color and I feel good and I know I can stop. 43 … it’s such a good number.”
“It’s incoherent, I know, but I like it.”