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What drives prolific playwright Theresa Rebeck

Rebeck shares the root of her latest Broadway outing, “I Need That.”

Theresa Rebeck (Credit: Cleo Lynn)

Theresa Rebeck has never experienced writer’s block. In fact, she doesn’t believe in it. Having written over two dozen plays, Rebeck’s brain is constantly swimming in fodder for stories. “I have a lot on my mind, and I’m curious about a lot of things,” she said. “I find that writing and thinking about situations and people is really good use of my mind, which, otherwise, when it’s unattended, attacks me.” 

Rebeck declared at the age of 16 that she wanted to be a playwright. She performed in high school but also loved to write. She recalled debating, “Do I want to be an actor? Do I want to be a writer? And then at some point I thought, A plus B equals C.” She was deeply influenced by the works of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Molière and Shakespeare, which she saw during student matinées at the Cincinnati Playhouse, her hometown theater. “I’m just going to say it: Those men were gods to me,” Rebeck confided. “I think that, maybe, is why I turned into a playwright. It was the holiest thing I could think of to do with my life.”But it would take years for Rebeck to pursue playwriting with vigor. “I had this moment of blinding clarity [at 16] and then I never had clarity again,” she said. At least not until grad school at Brandeis University, when Rebeck finally gave herself permission to follow her heart — and her head. 

“Writing plays is a curious event,” Rebeck said — one that allows her to explore intellectually and emotionally. Her plays often begin with pondering a situation and wondering what someone would do in that circumstance. “I don’t really map things out,” she said. “I feel like if you decide what you’re completely doing before you do it, what’s the point of doing it?”

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