By Kristi Casey Sanders
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night famously begins with the lines, “If music be the food of love, play on.” Love and music play starring roles in all of David E. Talbert’s plays, including Love in the Nick of Tyme, which comes to The Fox Theatre this month. Talbert also is the author of several popular novels, including Love Don’t Live Here No More — the first of a trilogy written with rap star Snoop Dogg — and acted as writer/director/producer of Jamie Foxx’s 2006 T.V. special “Unpredictable: A Musical Journey.” Currently, he is working on his feature film debut as a writer/director; First Sunday , an Ice Cube comedy, is scheduled for release in January 2008. Encore Atlanta spoke with Talbert about his work, what inspires him and what it’s like collaborating with other people.
Your plays and novels seem to all be love stories. Why do you think that is?
I started writing because I was heartbroken. That’s what got me into this, and what continues to sustain me. Affairs of the heart are what my audience likes seeing from me, and what I love giving them.
But you’re happily married now, so what do you draw on for inspiration if you’re no longer heartbroken?
I met my wife when I was 32, so I pull from the 32 other years of life when I had some of the most anticlimactic relationships known to mankind. (Laughs) It would take me two lifetimes to write about them.
You not only write plays, you also have written for film and television. How does your writing process differ when you’re writing for the different forms of media?
Each medium, you have to learn. My plays [are] a collaborative effort with the audience, and it’s how the audience hears the story. In a novel, it’s how the audience visualizes the story because it’s theater of the mind. In film, people see the story; it’s a visual medium. For [television] and film, I have to change hats from the writer who wants to tell the story to the director who needs to show it, because you don’t want to see people on the screen talking all the time. That’s boring.
You write and direct all your stage and film work. Have you ever considered turning something over to someone else to direct?
I only write to bring things to life, to bring characters to life; I don’t write to direct. But I’m so married to the story … I think it would be interesting if someone else directed my work. But then, I’d probably be pining away. (Laughs) I’d be coming on the set all the time, making sure everything’s all right, carrying on until they kicked me off …
Did you see a lot of plays as a child?
My mother claims she took me to a lot of plays. Now that I’m a famous playwright, she says she took me to see plays all the time. But I don’t remember going to any. (Laughs) My theater was the black church. There’s no better group of characters and emotions and comedy and inspiration and music than in the black church. I write for emotion. The playwright I kind of pattern my style after is Neil Simon. He also wrote for the emotion, or what’s dramatic, or what the scene is about.
When you write, are you consciously writing for an African-American audience? Do you feel as if the urban theater label limits your potential audience?
I think it’s a base. I think that as the mediums I work in grow, the audience will expand. Urban theater is a niche audience that is a core audience. If I had a play that made it on Broadway, that would expand my audience. And I think that will happen when we release First Sunday . But I don’t have a problem with a core group of people, of African-Americans, patronizing my work. It is meant for them, too.
Why is music such an important element of plays?
We are a rhythmic people; the drum was our original form of communication. As a storyteller, I think my stories will resonate more and connect more when there is music attached to them.
Were you a voracious reader as a child?
My wife laughs at me because the first novel I read was the [first] one I wrote.
When you write, is there a blueprint you follow? Or do you discover the story as you go along?
My process starts with an inspiration; something affects me. I let that marinate for a while. Then I start creating a scenario and scenes around what it was that affected me, and let that blossom into a story. Then I start telling my friends about it, adding different things with different friends. And when I can’t take it anymore, I sit down at the computer and start to download what has been marinating in my heart and soul and mind for however long.
How did you approach collaborating on new work with Snoop Dogg and Jamie Foxx?
With Jamie, [I] sat down with him and listened to what he had to say and if anything affected me, I would work on it. And it did … we had the same background. Like with Snoop Dogg, once you shake the tree and get down to who [he] is, we have the same background: Snoop was raised by a single mother, his grandmother was his [hero], he grew up in the church. Because we have a common background … it was as much my story as it was his.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Passion. Passion … or writing stories that matter. (Long pause) Actually, I don’t really care if people remember me for anything. What most concerns me is that the work I create … that my Creator, wherever he or she or whatever is, is looking down and smiling. I want to contribute, to be something of value to the universe, and not just sucking up air, taking up space.
Love in the Nick of Tyme plays The Fabulous Fox Theatre May 22-27 .