Halley Feiffer on Writing Her Play in One Day — And Spending Three Years Revising It

Playbill.com sits down with Halley Feiffer, whose play I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard is part of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. 

Halley Feiffer
Halley Feiffer

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Halley Feiffer is a New York-based playwright and actress. Her full-length play I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard received workshop readings as part of the O’Neill 2014 National Playwrights Conference.

When did you write your play I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard? What is it about?

Halley Feiffer: I wrote the first draft of the play in March, 2011. I wrote it over the course of 24 hours and thought it was perfect. Little did I know I would spend the next three and a half years reworking it and workshopping it and getting it closer and closer to what it really wanted to be. The play is about a father and a daughter in a theatre family and their loving, but codependent, relationship.

You started out as an actor. Sam Shepard once said becoming an actor helped him understand the kind of dilemmas an actor faces. Is that how you feel as well now that you are wearing both hats? HF: I do feel that being an actor helps me as a playwright. I write characters that I feel would be fun to play. I have a sense of what works and what doesn't work so much — at least for me — from years of acting in plays and feeling what has worked and not worked so much, for me. I also have spent so much time in theatres — both as an audience member and as an actor — and I think hearing the texts of plays so much has helped give me an understanding of what can make a play work.

Do you put your protagonist and your audience in the same position?

HF: I don't know how the audience feels when watching my play. I assume everyone feels a bit differently. My protagonists are deeply flawed people, so I think there are probably times when the audience can identify with them and often times when they might condemn them. I'm interested in both scenarios.

What do you think the O’Neill workshop will do for your play I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard?

HF: The O'Neill workshop really helped me find the play's truths on a deeper level. I was able to rehearse with the actors and director with whom I will be collaborating on the play this winter at the Atlantic Theater Company, and we were able to really dive into the text and ask questions and find answers. I was able to rewrite a lot and explore elements of the story that I had no idea were even waiting to be explored.

We were able to do a preliminary staging of the play for the presentation, also, which really helped give Trip Cullman (the director) and I a much clearer sense of the piece. It was highly productive and exciting.

What is your tenet as a playwright? How would you define a character?

HF: I don't really have a tenet as a playwright. I just love exploring stories that feel truthful to me and I especially love exploring the kinds of stories that I like to watch as an audience member: flawed people doing the best they can, often terribly. I find those kinds of stories interesting and sad and funny and real.

What would you have been if you hadn’t been a playwright or found theatre?

HF: I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't working in theatre. I can't imagine it, because theatre is my life. I would perhaps be teaching because I really love teaching. I'm also very passionate about addiction and recovery, so it is possible I would work in that field.

Playwright Halley Feiffer, actors Betty Gilpin and Reed Birney and director Trip Cullman
Playwright Halley Feiffer, actors Betty Gilpin and Reed Birney and director Trip Cullman