From Wisconsin to you.
by Megan Mueller, The Irish Post, Madison Wisconsin.
Daniel P Quinn loves his life as a poet as well as his various roles in theater, despite the struggles they entail. He points out that “it’s a bumpy life. It’s very hard. It takes tremendous effort and determination to raise the grant money and to get things done well, it’s a miracle. It’s hard to accomplish but it’s amazing to look back and see that it’s happened in front of your own eyes.”
As a child, Quinn avidly read the newspaper. It kept him connected to the theater not only locally, but also in New York City. But Quinn’s first real experience with the theater came in sixth grade when he took the stage for the first time as part of the ensemble in Oliver.
He continued to work with the Drama Guild in high school, As an avid reader of The New York Times he first encountered the work of Edward Bond, an English playwright who helped to abolish censorship in England. Bond changed the way Quinn viewed theater. “When I was in high school I was studying his work, and it was just a matter of him of him having imagination beyond the conventional. An epic vision of drama. His work was expansive.”
His undergraduate years of college were spent at Ramapo College of New Jersey where he got a degrees in Literature and Fine Arts. Quinn attended graduate school at The American University in Washington D.C.
Returning to Manhattan, he spent three years reading plays, providing a summary and analysis. He read 20 plays a month and was unpaid for the first two years. The third year, he received only $3 a play. The work was “laborious and emotionally draining” as few plays were worth producing. Part of the issue was that American writers didn’t see a difference between television and the stage.
Quinn states that “we think that television is now theater, and it’s not. We’ve managed to diminish theater into a TV-like situation where it is realistic and conventional. Theater is beyond that dimension. We’ve reduced our technique and our vision.”
He debuted as an actor at La MaMa Experimental Theatre, but despite his enjoyment of being on stage, Quinn prefers to produce and broaden people’s emotional and artistic perspectives.”
One of his more memorable productions was Sacco and Vanzetti, which is based on the case of two Italian immigrants who were known anarchists, who were charged and possibly falsely convicted of murder, then put to death. Quinn produced it five times over 14 years in a variety of venues, such as Philadelphia and New York City. He is looking to revive it again in the next few years
Quinn also produced the U.S. premiere of Bond’s play Stone, which is about oppression and freedom. He was affiliated with the Irish Arts Center in New York from 1985 through 1991, where he served as associate producer and director. He worked with plays including Janet Noble’s Away Alone, Graham Reid’s Remembrance, and Diary of a Madman, for which Tim McDonnell won the Obie Award for best actor.
He co-directed the black Jesus Passion Play in Park Theatre in 1997 and 1998. Quinn didn’t cast a black man as Jesus to ruffle feathers or spark debate, he did it because “He was the best person for the role. We didn’t expect the reaction it got.” Mildly put, it was rancorous. But the play went on.
Quinn was a guest of AerLingus at the Dublin Theatre Festival in Ireland in 1991. Quinn’s grandfather was from Ireland and immigrated to the United States after the Irish civil war, where he met his wife, Quinn’s grandmother, in New York City. Quinn never had contact with his relatives in Co, Clare, because his grandfather died before he was born. His trip to Ireland was not an exciting return to his roots, rather “it was very depressing. It was just emerging into the 20th century.” The festival was still enjoyable though: he sold 12 plays in 10 days.
Quinn returned to Ireland a decade later and was shocked to see that it had transformed into a bustling European country. It had “more money, more people, more energy. It went from begin a bit slow to being really fast.” Though he hasn’t been there since, he often gets Irish plays in New York. They differ from American productions in that “America is much bigger with more money and it’s more commercial. Ireland is reflective and literary.”
Exits and Entrances: Producing Off-Broadway, Opera & Beyond: 1981–2006 was Quinn’s second book, which provides a broad overview of 25 years of his theater experiences and productions. His first book was a collection of his poetry: organized labor: collected poems. He feels that there is great similarity between writing poetry and theater. “Poetry is very personal and reflective, but also very public.
Theater is, in a way, the same-to do important theater, it has to be emotionally connected to you and your actors.” He began writing poetry and plays in high school. One was published in Kayrix magazine.
In his poetry, Quinn tries to “give a sense of society but also a sense of person.” He does book signings and lectures, but prefers not to read his own poetry aloud to an audience. Instead, he hires actors to read his poetry for him, and he allows them to choose whatever poems they would like to read.
His favorite poets are Sophocles, Pasolini and T.S. Eliot.
Does he ever wish he’d decided to be something else, like a marine biologist or brain surgeon?
“Every day,” he says, but continues on, “But I wouldn’t actually change it.”