Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer
Chautauqua resident David Zinman is an aspiring playwright at 81 years old, and he has debuted his plays on the Institution’s grounds annually for the past 10 years.
“It’s almost impossible to explain how wonderful that feels: sitting in the dark listening to people say your words and other people sitting and enjoying it,” Zinman said. “Writing is a lonely experience, and playwriting gives you immediate feedback.”
Zinman will again see his work performed at Chautauqua when he debuts staged readings of three monologues, WHIMPs, Bedtime Story and Love Insurance, in one event: Trio at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Fletcher Music Hall.
Bob McClure will direct the readings performed by Hugh Butler, Ralph Walton and Kay Kramer. Love Insurance is currently a finalist in the 2012 Pittsburgh New Works Festival.
“They are plays that speak to a Chautauqua audience in terms of not only interests and values, but in terms of generations and often multi-generational,” said McClure, who has directed Zinman’s plays for the past five years.
Zinman is no stranger to the written word. A journalist all his life — he started at The Chautauquan Daily then ended up at the Associated Press then Long Island’s Newsday — Zinman is familiar with writing in a simple, straight-forward vernacular, evident in the style of his plays.
“When I was a reporter (at the AP), the first day I went to work the bureau chief took me to lunch, and he said, ‘I want you to think about your audience … think that you are writing to the Kansas City milkman. You can’t be very verbose, and you can’t use a lot of long words,’” Zinman said.
He writes his plays and the five books he has authored, two of which have never been out of print, in that same simple style. Zinman is drawn to playwriting in particular, because he has a penchant for penning dialogue.
And much like a journalist, he writes his plays primarily from his life experiences. WHIMPs features a frustrated husband who must follow his wife around as she shops, a task Zinman has done dozens of times, so the character forms a protest group: Women With Husbands Involved in Making Purchases.
Bedtime Story too echoes Zinman’s life. The monologue follows a grandfather who is trying to tell a story to his grandchildren but finds the most interesting stories are real ones.
The final monologue does not mirror Zinman’s life, but yields from a column he wrote for a website called The Columnists. The monologue follows Happy Owens, a woman who decides to insure herself and friends from the pangs of heartbreak.
Most of his plays are monologues or one-acts, but Zinman has also written two full length plays. One of his one-acts was a finalist in the Tennessee Williams One-Act Play Contest.
The most difficult part of playwriting for Zinman is having his plays produced.
“It’s hard for theaters to run plays by unknown or aspiring playwrights,” he said. “Theaters live and die on the way they fill their theaters with people.”
For Zinman, having his work debut at Chautauqua is a dream.
“The audience is highly educated and tuned to play-going,” he said.
Talk-backs follow each of his annual performances, much like Chautauqua Theater Company’s New Play Workshops, so he can receive feedback on what does or does not work in his plays.
Most of all, he just enjoys seeing the plays performed in front of him for the first time alongside the Chautauqua audiences he has grown up with since his days at the Daily.