Broadway comes alive in Tryon with “Focus on Playwrights: Portraits and Interviews”

Published 10:00 pm Friday, December 2, 2016

Tryon-based author Susan Johann’s latest book “Focus on Playwrights: Portraits and Interviews” comes to life on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 10:30 a.m. during a special presentation and book signing at Tryon Fine Arts Center. Johann will give a behind-the-scenes look at the world of theater and photography and detail the process of capturing over 100 portraits of major Broadway playwrights, from Arthur Miller to Sarah Ruhl.

In 1989, Johann was hired to photograph playwright Christopher Durang for a magazine article. Durang was known for his outrageous comedy, so Johann anticipated a session with a rather wild, young eccentric. To her surprise, the man who came to her studio was mild mannered and buttoned down. Johann found this twist captivating, and it was then that this project was born. Over the ensuing 20-year period, she photographed more than 90 playwrights, including many winners of the Pulitzer Prize and other prestigious awards.

Johann photographed Wendy Wasserstein, Anna Deavere Smith, August Wilson, and Nilo Cruz in the weeks after they won the Pulitzer. Tony Kushner sat for his portrait between the productions of part one and part two of Angels in America. Eve Ensler came to Johann’s studio during the week she was previewing her famous one-woman show, “The Vagina Monologues,” and George C. Wolfe sat for her the morning after his play “Spunk” opened at the Public Theater.

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Each playwright was photographed in Johann’s studio using the same film, a single light, and a plain backdrop, creating a portrait that captures and distills something essential—an intimate view. Her interviews explore the writers’ personal and creative journeys including their inspirations, roadblocks, and obsessions, which influenced their work on paper and on the stage. Even those who know Edward Albee’s plays intimately, for example, may be surprised by his incisive wit and inimitable voice in his interview with Johann.

“Focus on Playwrights: Interviews and Portraits” was published in March 2016 by the University of South Carolina Press. Johann’s multimedia presentation has been given at such venues as the New Dramatists, the Eugene O’Neill Theater, and the Photo Expo in New York.

Light refreshments will be served at the presentation, and copies of “Focus on Playwrights: Portraits and Interviews” will be available to purchase thanks to a collaboration with The Book Shelf. Attendees are encouraged to pre-register by calling TFAC at 828-859-8322 or visiting There is a fee to attend.

– article submitted by Michelle Fleming