A question for Justin Neal ('96), playwright

How do your own life experiences influence your plays?

If I have a character based on a real person, I can never remember what that person actually says, but I can hear them speak – the tenor of their voice – so writing for them can be so much fun and invigorating. And this is good, because I prefer to free myself from the literal dynamics I've had with a certain person or the lives they lead because it starts to get limiting.

When a certain character needs some kind of development – more detail, a stronger backstory – I will pull from my own experience. For example, in one of my plays, a main character needed a story to show that she had a soft side, as she is drawn in a hardened way. So, I took a story from my childhood and wrote it in for her. In the play, it's told by her brother to her boyfriend – and it's something she wouldn't disclose to others, to be sure. Sharing with my characters feels like a secret gift I get to share with the world.

Neal (Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration) is working on new plays, including "You Move On," which highlights the Musqueam First Nation's territory on which the University of British Columbia campus was settled.

Justin Neal