A Conversation With Playwright David Ives, the Mind Behind All in the Timing

By Harry Haun
20 Jan 2013

Director John Rando
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

How did you find the direction you wanted to go? Because it is such a sharp right turn. You could have gone anywhere.
Well, luckily — or, unluckily, for me — I have never really wanted to do the same thing twice. Having done a whole bunch of one-act plays — I think I did several dozen of them, all in all, over the course of about ten years — every time I would sit down to write something and it was like something I had written before, I would put it aside. That, in itself, made me go off in different directions.

I also, at the same time, was starting to adapt for Encores! It was an education in theatre. It bent my mind in a totally different way.

As I got older, my attention was taken by, let's say, subjects that were less apt to look "clever" — like the excommunication of Spinoza [New Jerusalem] or, I don't know, pornographic sadomasochistic Austrian novels from 1870 [Venus in Fur]. You know, you get pushed off in various directions by things.

Were you pushed or pulled?
Well, that I can't say. It's always a mixture of various things that take you in directions, but I tend to write whatever is bothering me in some way at a particular time, and I often don't know what that thing is until the play is written and up and gone.

Did you ever see "Groundhog Day," the Bill Murray comedy where he's a TV weatherman caught in a time loop and keeps repeating the same day again and again?
Sure. It came out after Sure Thing.


All in the Timing's Jenn Harris
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Right. Sondheim once said he wanted to do a musical of that, and I asked him about it. I said, "Were you kidding?" And he said no, but he had decided not to. But it reminded me so much of Sure Thing — the business of starting over again. Recently he said he wanted to collaborate with you because of an idea he got watching one of your plays. Did he elaborate on what that was?
Not really. I think it was actually a bunch of those early plays that made him feel he and I thought in similar ways and had similar tastes and ideas. I think it was a combination of Sure Thing and Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread and The Universal Language — all these things that were sorta touching on areas that he was interested in at the same time. I think it was more of a feeling of kinship than any particular play.

How did the two of you actually start collaborating?
He called me up one day and asked me if I wanted to come over for a drink and said he had something he wanted to talk about that was not important. I said, "Sure," so I went over to his house. We talked for an hour, and I finally said, "Well, Steve, what did you actually want to talk about? You said it wasn't important.'' He said, "Did I say it wasn't important?" I said, "Yes, you did," and he said, "Well, it actually is sort of important. I have an idea for a musical, and I wondered if you would like to work on it." I said, "Sure. What's the idea?" He told me the idea and then took out a manila envelope full of years of his notes on this idea. He said, "Why don't you read these notes? Take them home, and let's meet again if you're interested."

When was this?
I would say he called me up about a year and a half ago. We spent a good year just working out the book and the songs and the structure. You really have to storyboard a musical before you get to work on it, or you're going to waste your time. Once we had the structure and knew what the songs were, he started writing music.

I've read that he's done 20 or 30 minutes of music — and now he's on his second song? Is he writing out of sequence?
No, he's working in sequence. He said the other day he's going to play me the second number sometime soon.

And you've turned in the book?
Yeah, I would say last summer.