May 7, 2009
Hollywood screenwriter has lead in Iowa New Play Festival production May 8
John Bates, one of the leads in Mary Hamilton's "The Decline of the Front Porch," the May 8 production of the Iowa New Play Festival, recently retired to Iowa after a 30-year career as a Hollywood screenwriter. The week after the festival he will travel to Chicago to lead a two-day screenwriting workshop at the iO Theater.
In the "The Decline of the Front Porch," directed by University of Iowa graduate student Anthony Nelson, Bates plays Oliver, who accompanies his wife, Delaney, to the beach in hopes of finding a home. After weeks of searching, the couple is only driven further apart, and when Oliver begins an affair with the young realtor, Delaney looks for new ways to gain the attention of her husband, searching in nature for consolation that she does not find in her relationship.
Bates is paired with South African transplant Daphne Lison, a Capetown University alumna who has not performed in a stage play for nearly three decades. Until recently she was a house manager/life coach for special-needs adults at Camphill Community Callan in Ireland, and she has been a farm manager and trustee at Bloublommetjieskloof Bio-Dynamic Farm in Wellington, South Africa. She also freelances as a Hebrew-English translator.
The Friday performances are 5:30 and 9 p.m. in the UI Theatre Building.
Bates has written for most of the major studios -- Disney, Paramount, Universal, Fox and Sony-MGM -- and he partnered with the writers of "Back to School" and "Liar, Liar." He also performed with Bill Murray, Betty Thomas, John Ritter, Robin Williams, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short and Jim Belushi in various improv groups, including the Comedy Store Players and Second City.
But don't go looking for him on the Internet Movie Database. You will find a writer named John Bates, who wrote numerous scripts for animated TV shows for children, but that's not him. "No Smurfs for me," Bates says. "But they did send me one of his checks one time, by mistake."
The Iowa New Play Festival's John Bates spent a successful writing career as part of the invisible Hollywood, the "research-and-development" level where scripts are hammered on and tinkered with, and most never make it to production. He worked continuously without a single on-screen credit.
"There are many, many more people behind the scenes than on-camera," he explains. "And it's very, very difficult to make a living at it. Even the most successful people are only successful for a while. You'll know their names, you'll recognize their faces, but an awful lot of them still end up living in their cars. Basically, the only people to constantly work are the lawyers -- someone has to write all those contracts -- and the therapists -- someone has to listen to the people driven mad by the lawyers.
"Only about two of every hundred scripts ever makes it to the screen. For the studios this is considered R&D, and they throw lots of money at it. And if a script is promising it gets passed from the $10,000 screenwriters to the $100,000 screenwriters and then to the million-dollar screenwriters."
Bates graduated from the University of Nebraska acting program in the 1970s and headed to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. "The acting didn't work out, and I did improv, but that didn't pay, so I found myself working from improv into this script consulting role," he says.
"Other improvisors asked me to write with them, so I just followed the money. I would stand around and occasionally they would turn to me and ask, 'Is that funny?' And I would say, 'No,' and they would write me a check. Or they would say, 'What's a better word for that?' And write me a check."
Now Bates splits time between Oskaloosa, where some of his relatives live; Iowa City, where he teaches freelance improv classes (if you are interested, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org); and Santa Monica, Cal., where he is advising the writer, director and producer of a TV show in development.
The Iowa New Play Festival runs through Saturday, May 9, with one more evening production -- Saturday, May 9 -- and numerous free staged readings. Learn the details at http://www.news-releases.uiowa.edu/2009/April/042009play_festival.html.
Some of the 2009 productions and readings contain material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether a particular show or reading is appropriate for them should contact the department at 319-335-2700 for additional information.
The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
For UI arts information and calendar updates visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to http://list.uiowa.edu/archives/acr-news.html and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500
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