Home > Work-related, Writing and Poetry > Friday’s Interview with Stephen Eliasson, Part 1

Friday’s Interview with Stephen Eliasson, Part 1

Good morning, everyone. My guest today is Stephen Eliasson, playwright, copywriter, and children’s writer. Before we begin, I’d like to tell everyone that this interview will be in two parts. Today’s segment will contain your theater background. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the commercial side of your life.

Thank you for coming to visit, Stephen.

Stephen: Thank you, Claudette. I’m very happy to be interviewed by you. you’re so good at bringing out valuable nuggets of information. Maybe I’ll finally learn something about myself:

Claudsy: I can only work with what you give me, so let’s go for it. First thing out of the chute, I’d like to ask you how you find time to do all that you do. You’ve just finished a new play, your catalog work keeps you hopping, and you’re working toward writing for children. How do you find time for the family and personal down time?

Stephen: Well, as much as I’d like to say I find the time to do it all, I have to be honest and say that there are times when I don’t In fact, I hope you’ll excuse me, but I really have to go now.(kidding)

It’s always a struggle to balance an eight-hour job as a copywriter, a lovely wife (who also writes) and two daughters, the ICL course, acting classes I teach with my wife Katee, occasional creative consulting for community groups, and the annual plays my wife and I are contracted to write.

I find that I’m always thinking, even when I go to sleep. And I’ve found myself preoccupied with creative demands when I’m with my girls, and I don’t like that. So I try to be with my family fully when I’m with them. After all, they’re my source of fulfillment and inspiration.

But years of theatre and copywriting have taught me to never waste even one second of life. Every moment is an opportunity to experience or to create.

Claudsy: Now that we’ve seen your workaholic side, tell us about the new play. What’s it about and where will it be performed?

Stephen: The plays Katee and I write are for the Arts Alliance of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where we once lived. The shows typically involve a cast of 30-60 characters and community celebrities who come together to raise  money for arts and education programs and local scholarships.

We’ve been under contract for six years and have one more play to write after this one. This year’s play is the story of a declining hotel on the verge of closing. The hotel was once a famous cabaret spot.

One of the guests manages to rally the hotel staff and restore the hotel to its former musical glory. As it turns out, this guest is a ghost who was a dancer at the hotel several decades ago. It’s a play about the opportunities we’ve missed, and the ones we shouldn’t overlook.

Claudsy: Sounds intriguing. Where did you take your theatre training?

Stephen: Originally, I wanted to be an animator. But drawings weren’t alive  enough for me. So I went into theatre. After college in upstate New York, I studied at the Terry Schreiber Studio in NYC. They’ve trained many stage, film and television actors…

After doing a lot of theatre,I realized there were stories I wanted to tell and share. But actors have to wait for someone to write the stories – and then they may not gt cast anyway. I didn’t want to wait around. So I started writing. I went back to grad school, Washington University in St. Louis, for Literature & Drama.

Claudsy: I realize that writing a couple of plays a year doesn’t pay all the bills, unless one of them makes it to Broadway, for instance. But, why children’s writing?

Stephen: Children’s writing came first from my wife. Katee ran a theatre company in Chicago for several years, and wrote original plays for lots of kids. She’s a born storyteller, absolutely uncanny talent for delightful plots and adventures. I swear it’s the Irish in her.

We complement each other because she’d the storyteller and I love to play with words and language. So we started turning the storyline of one of her better plays into book form. We began submitting children’s book manuscripts a few years ago, and actually got very close to selling one.

Claudsy: How does writing plays stack up against writing for children?

Stephen: It’s all about telling a great story, plain and simple. A great story will grab anyone, young or old. One of the best books I’ve ever read on what a great story is, and why we tell them — and need them– is Robert McKee’s classic screenwriting book “Story.”

In it he says, “The mark of a master is to select only a few moments but give us a lifetime.” A playwright has to always think in terms of what can be acted and will read from thirty feet away, to be sure. But there are lots of “tricks” a staged production can pull that will make an okay play succeed for various reasons.

One of the challenges I love about trying to write for children is that it is story art at its purest. Conflict, pacing, language,character — all the elements have to absolutely seamless or it doesn’t work. I can’t imagine any tougher kind of training for a writer!

Claudsy: Can you tell us how you got started in the commercial side of writing, Stephen, and some of what you’ve been expected to do as a result?

Stephen: Okay, stay with me here… I studied a lot of dance and movement, and worked a great deal in stage combat choreography. Then I worked with a stage combat company, and formed a storytelling group for them called “Shortales,” which used stage combat as the basis of each story. I wrote all the pieces. That got me a grant from a state arts council, and helps get me into grad school.

Finally, as I got older, I realized I couldn’t be an actor all my life, so I started looking for writing jobs. I was lucky to get my first copywriting job with a publisher of 35 hobby magazines and 200 books. I wrote about almost every topic under the sun: toys, coins, hunting, music, collecting,cars, sports cards, knives, jewelry and so on.

Since then, I’ve also worked at Coldwater Creek and Lands’ End, among others. I now write for a national yummy-food catalog. In a nutshell, the job of a copywriter is to “inspire the desire to acquire.” Make people want something; persuade them to act.

Claudsy: And that, my friends, is where we’ll pause until tomorrow. I know, but we just can’t get everything covered in one day. So pop in tomorrow and see the present state of one man’s journey from actor to children’s writer with stop  in between. I think you’ll enjoy the rest of the story as much as today’s segment.

Until then, a bientot,

Claudsy

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  1. August 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    QUILL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. August 23, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Okay. Now that I can breathe again, I can thank Clauds for this interview. Stephen, it’s been way too long. This is a totally delightful and interesting interview (go figure), and it does my heart good to see you out here in the spotlight.

    Now, this book you “almost sold” – are you still trying to market it? I hope so. I need it on my shelf for my GRAND DAUGHTER, Sophie. (Yes, I’m an ecstatic “Nonna.” 🙂 )

    Come see us out at the ICL when you get a nano-second, will ya? K?

    Marie Elena

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