In our June issue, we feature Seinfield‘s own Jason Alexander for a little Q&A – showcasing his work as the director of the new play Windfall at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. We also met the playwright behind the plot, Scooter Pietsch. Photographer Nancy Nolan snapped some amazing photos of him as well, and we couldn’t think of a better way to use them than an in-depth interview with Scooter himself. Scooter Pietsch is an Emmy-nominated composer/songwriter, television producer and playwright. Written in 2010, his dark, hilarious comedy Windfall will conclude The Rep’s fortieth anniversary season with its world premiere. With a true talent for composition and storytelling, Scooter Pietsch’s Windfall is sure to be an instant sensation!
Scooter Pietsch by Nancy Nolan
Inviting Arkansas: What was your first project in music?
Scooter Pietsch: I remember early on, I got booked on what we call “Industrials.” These are corporate videos that are made to highlight various corporate products or services. One was for Rainbird Sprinklers. They were making these five minute demos of various types of sprinklers. I met with the producer and he said that for the music, he’d like, “your typical water music.” Being a classical music nerd I said, “You want Handel’s Water Music to go under this slow motion, rotating lawn sprinkler? That seems like an odd choice.” And he just stared at me. Like I’m an idiot. Apparently, in the ‘Industrials” business, there was a specific type of music that went with pictures of water. I didn’t know that. And to this day, I still don’t know what it is.
IA: How did you become involved in music growing up?
SP: I was having trouble finding my way – which is a nice way of saying I got into trouble as a youth. And when it finally dawned on me that I had to do something for a career, I made what I call my ten-year old boy’s career list – even though I was nineteen at the time. I had things like professional football player, professional surfer, race-car driver and rock star on that list. Very logically, I eliminated all of them except rock star. I was so excited to tell my parents I had a career path! When I did they said, “OK. Interesting. But do you play a musical instrument?” I said, “No. But I start tomorrow!” And I did. I signed up for beginner’s piano lessons at the local junior college and practiced eight hours a day for like eight years. My siblings are still recovering from hearing Teaching Little Fingers To Play for eight hours a day on the family upright piano. From there I got a Masters Degree in Music Composition and started sending out demo tapes.
IA: What have been a few of your favorite projects?
SP: Favorites, in my opinion, fall into two categories: projects you are passionate about and projects that make you money. And you need a balance of the two. Otherwise your heart is full and your belly is empty. So in terms of passion, when my wife and I and our partner Lisa Bernstein had our own production company and created our own shows, that was a real pleasure to write music for the thing we had made. It was nice to have involvement throughout the entire process. In terms of money, I think the first one that makes you aware that all of the hard work and training was worth it, is always special. And that was a syndicated television show in the 1990’s called LAPD: Life On The Beat. We had a lot of fun making that show, and it did well.
IA: How did your previous work with music and television translate into play writing?
SP: I talk about this often – this seemingly smooth addition of playwright to my credits. First off, writing lots of music over a long period of time teaches you how to sit in the chair and do the work over really long periods of time. It teaches you to make decisions quickly and efficiently and make the best of what you have to work with. It is not a job that allows for inspiration to strike. You do it all day every day. Like everyone else’s job. In addition to that, scoring thousands of episodes of television teaches you how to tell a story. Usually the first test of whether or not the story worked was how hard it was to write music to it. If it flowed easily and made sense and just worked, then chances are the story and editing were very good. If it was difficult, then something was wrong. And I learned to pick up on the things that worked in a story. Now this discussion could go on a long time, but I’ll say one more thing. In all of the form and analysis and function classes of classical music in college, and in all my writing of music as a career, form becomes part of your DNA. So when I began writing plays, inside I already understood rhythm and overall form and how to build tension and release. It’s all the same no matter the art form you’re working in. I made all my mistakes and did all my learning early in music, with plays I had the benefit of having that experience to utilize in a different way.
IA: What was your first script?
SP: Prior to writing my first play five years ago, I had written some short stories and a novel. An actor friend, Bryan Cranston, read the novel and really liked it. He suggested I write a play. He thought my writing style would work well in that medium. So I did. My first play is called Drawing Straws, and we did a reading in Los Angeles and everyone loved it. Then we did a reading in New York and it was optioned immediately. It got the ball rolling. It hasn’t been produced yet. It has gotten close several times. I hope to see it on the stage one day.
IA: What, to you, makes a script great?
SP: To be honest, I don’t really know. I know what I like, personally, in my scripts. But I will say that the script in the theater does not exist without the performance. So a great script to me would be anything put on paper that makes for a magical theatrical experience for the audience. And by “magical” I mean it makes you feel something. It can run the gamut of laughing your a** off, which hopefully Windfall does, to making your think, which again I hope our show does, to even making you cry. The worst thing a script can be is to make you feel nothing.
IA: What has the process of getting Windfall up to the world premiere been like? Where did it all begin?
SP: I wrote Windfall in 2012 and did a reading of it at a fabulous new play festival at The Road Theater in Los Angeles. I have a new play in that festival every year. Jason Alexander, with whom I had know for a year or two and had tried to find something to work together on, came to the reading and loved the play. He had some excellent ideas for script improvements and how to stage it. We decided to take the journey together. I got the script to Broadway Producer John Yonover, who also loved it, and he has been pitching it around the country for production. John was in Little Rock when The Rep did a production of Memphis, and John gave Artistic Director Bob Hupp a copy of the script and here we are.
IA: What are you most excited about as the premiere approaches?
SP: The most exciting thing for me is seeing this vision that I had several years ago come to life on a stage. I had this crazy concept for a story with a moral to it and now – with a lot of people’s energy and creativity and money – it will soon be affecting people on a nightly basis. That’s why we all do this. It’s a long, often frustrating road to get to this point, but it’s all worth it when the curtain goes up. Well, I guess depending on how the reviews are!
Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the world premiere of Scooter Pietsch’s Windfall at The Arkansas Repertory Theatre! To get your tickets, visit The Rep’s website or call the box office at 501-378-0405.