San Diego Playwrights

An all-volunteer network supporting and promoting local playwrights

Cygnet Theatre’s Playwrights in Process: An Interview with Robert John Ford

Robert John Ford’s play Sleeping Dogs is featured in Cygnet Theatre’s Playwrights in Process: New Play Festival, in collaboration with Playwrights Project.
Robert John Ford

Robert John Ford

Tell us about yourself.
I am an Iowa-based award-winning playwright, composer and lyricist whose musicals and plays have been produced throughout the country.  Musicals for which I wrote the book, music and lyrics include: CAUCUS! THE MUSICAL (“the hottest new musical in the country” – Washington Post); SIX-ON-SIX – THE MUSICAL (“a slam dunk” – Des Moines Register); UTOPIA (“you will laugh…hard!”- Des Moines Register); and THE WORLD’S LARGEST ALUMINUM FOIL BALL (“must see” designation – St. Paul Pioneer Press).  Musicals for which I wrote the book and lyrics include: TRICE; CLEAN UP; and ROLF! (all currently in development in collaboration with various composers).  I also wrote the book for the musical FOREVER IN BLUE JEANS – A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH.  My plays include: SLEEPING DOGS (winner of the 2013 Ashland New Play Festival and the 2009 Iowa Playwrights Workshop new play competition); THE CASSEROLE BRIGADE; WAKE; MY DINNER WITH ANDREW (“must-see” designation – St. Paul Pioneer Press); and HAPPENSTANCE.  My work has been featured nationally in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, TIME Magazine, US News & World Report, and on CNN, CBS, ABC, BBC and National Public Radio, among others.  For 15 years I worked in the business and artistic departments at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, serving as the casting director and artistic administrator for four of those years.  I currently am a lyricist in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in NYC (where I am developing a musical version of the feature film WAKING NED DEVINE) and maintain my own theatre production company – Right Brain Productions – in my home state of Iowa.  Please visit, “like” my page on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter at @RobertJohnFord (although I have yet to Tweet anything yet!).
Tell us about Sleeping Dogs.
Two mothers are trying to uncover the facts surrounding a car accident that has left one woman’s son dead and the other woman’s son comatose.  Their investigation, which leads to surprising and disturbing revelations about the circumstances leading up to and immediately after the accident, ultimately forces the mothers to re-examine the identities of both themselves and the sons they thought they knew so well.  Loosely based on a true story, SLEEPING DOGS examines the complex and very personal reasons why some people are content to accept matters as they appear to be while others are compelled to seek the truth at any cost.
What are your challenges and successes with Sleeping Dogs?
I began developing the script, which is loosely based on a true story, in 2005 and completed a first draft in 2006.  But I set it aside for several years as other projects became more immediate priorities.  In 2009, I submitted it to a handful of theatres and contests for consideration; that year, it was selected as the winner of The Iowa Playwrights Workshop new play competition in connection with Tallgrass Theatre in Des Moines, where it received a non-professional workshop production after a series of revisions.  That was followed up by a reading of the play at the Dramatists Guild in NYC in spring 2011.  After these successes, I again set it aside to focus on other projects.
Earlier this year, I began the submission process again.  Over the summer, I received notice that it was selected as a winner of the 2013 Ashland New Play Festival in Oregon and Cygnet Theatre’s Playwrights in Process New Play Festival in San Diego.
As part of Cygnet Theatre’s process, I have been working with dramaturg Derek Livingston (who will also be directing the reading) and have done two revisions in preparation for the reading in November.  While I felt the script was in good shape when I first submitted it, working with Derek on the revisions has been a great experience and has helped me make significant improvements.
What is your next step for Sleeping Dogs?
Several regional theatres have expressed interest in producing SLEEPING DOGS, so I’m hoping that it will see at least one professional production in the next theatre season.  Also, I am working with producer Hugh Hysell on a NYC workshop production next spring with the goal of an off-Broadway production in 2014/15.
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