A Q&A between Moscow native Sam Hunter and University of Idaho theater studentsBy Samantha Malott
Playwright Sam Hunter returned to his hometown of Moscow this past weekend to give the commencement address at a University of Idaho graduation ceremony, but first he made a pit stop by the Hartung Theater to answer a few questions from UI theater students and chow on some pizza.
After graduating from Moscow High School, Hunter was accepted at New York University. From there he earned his master’s degree through the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and studied for two years at the Juilliard School in New York City. He has received numerous awards and recognitions for his work, including a MacArthur Foundation grant. His work is now being performed across the U.S., bringing a little bit of Idaho culture to the rest of the nation.
Students: What was it like going to New York for the first time?
Sam Hunter: It was very overwhelming. School gave me structure, but there are a lot of theaters and a lot people working in theater. I think for awhile, maybe it shut me down, because you’re looking at this mountain you have to climb and you think there is no way you can do that. So much of it is determination not to quit.
Students: What is it like being the guy from Idaho?
Hunter: Sometimes it gets annoying when they treat you like you’re from this exotic place, but because I’ve grabbed a hold of it, it has become a point of identity for me. People can easily make assumptions if they don’t know about “the West.”
Students: Will you keep writing the Idaho plays?
Hunter: I will as long as they stay interesting. It grounds me immediately because it’s a landscape I feel so close to. I never sought out to be the “Idaho guy,” but it became more truthful to me.
Students: What is your writing process like?
Hunter: I find that it’s always different. It can be exciting and frustrating. Some can be written in a week and develop smoothly, while others can take one-and-a-half to two years to get a good first draft. It’s an organic process of seeing what the play needs, and of course there are days when it is rough.
Students: How do we find our voice?
Hunter: What you are going through right now is utterly essential. These fallow periods show you who you will be. I never thought I would be writing quiet realism set in Idaho. What I did at 21 is so far away from what I do now, but it helped me figure out who I am. You come out the other side and you’re going to be better for it.