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Man of mystery: Goodrich crafts career as playwright in NYC theatrical world

Joseph Goodrich

NEW YORK -- Last month, Joseph Goodrich flew from New York City to the Twin Cities to be on hand for the opening night of a production of his play, "Panic." Making appearances at such events is part of his job as a playwright.

"My play, 'Panic,' has been published by Samuel French, and there have been any number of productions across the country -- six or seven or eight productions at this point," explained Goodrich. "It was chosen to close Park Square Theatre's 2010-'11 season. I was in St. Paul for the opening night of production, to do some press and publicity, a preshow talk for the Saturday night audience, and to be there to have the pleasure of seeing my show, to talk with donors and subscribers -- people who go to the theater and make it possible.

"My main job is writing. The other is being an ambassador for these plays. If it's possible for me to go to the play, I will go, for any of my works, because showing up for the production is part of the job."

The groundwork for Goodrich's career in the theater was laid during his high school days at Worthington High School. A member of WHS class of 1981, Goodrich was a frequent player in school productions.

"I did a lot of acting in the high school plays with Mrs. (Ellen) Copperud directing," he recalled. "There weren't many outlets for theater in Worthington, but whatever there were, I tried to take advantage of it, tried to get one's dose of theatricality that way."

Some especially memorable high school moments occurred onstage with Goodrich's lifelong friend and classmate, Kevin Egeland.

"Kevin and I did 'Harvey,' with Mrs. Copperud directing. Kevin was Elwood Dowd, and I was Dr. Chumley. ... I got him into theater -- at least that's the way I remember it; he may have a different memory. He was going to be an architect. I got him to design the program for 'Dracula,' and from that his interest began."

Egeland's theatrical interests took a different path, and he now works in movie and TV design in California.

"Kevin is my oldest friend in the world, like family, but he's really an L.A. person," Goodrich noted. "He loves the way film changes, doing 25 sets for a production, and the improvisatory, spontaneous nature. I'm more a theater person and a New York person. But we've both been all over the world. Kevin and I took a trip to Morocco about 10 years ago, and what we both realized is that, boy, we're not only Americans, we're Minnesotans."

Minnesota was where Goodrich continued to hone his skills, studying theatrical arts at Hamline University in St. Paul and earning a bachelor's degree.

"From 1984 to 1990, I worked in the theater scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul, mostly as an actor," Goodrich said. "I became a playwright, as most do, getting my start as an actor. They take what they've learned from the craft of acting and apply it. In the late '80s and early '90s, I realized I could combine my two interests -- theater and writing could easily be combined. You can go sit in a room alone, and when you can't stand that anymore, go into a room with a bunch of people, all of whom are glad to see you because you've written the play they're about to do."

A stint in Los Angeles from 1991-'95 confirmed for Goodrich what his "real course" should be.

"Of all the places I'd have thought of not living, Los Angeles would have been first on the list," he said. "... I went out to participate in the Padua Hills Playwright Festival, which was founded by Sam Shepherd, Irene Fornes and Murray Mednick -- all pioneers of the Off -and Off-Off-Broadway scene. I went out there in 1990 as a student in their workshop and came back in 1991 as an intern. In 1995, I got invited back as a playwright. It was tremendously rewarding, and I learned so much from the various teachers, marvelous playwrights.

"I feel I made a real leap from playwright-in-training to real playwriting. At the end of the summer of 1991, I simply stayed on in L.A.," Goodrich continued. "A friend of mine from Hamline worked in a bookstore on Sunset Strip, and they needed extra help, so I walked into a job, wrestled up an apartment and spent the next four years making theater in Los Angeles. It was an absolute adventure. You're free to do what you want there. There's this fantastic acting pool, but the main emphasis is on film, and theater is a neglected art there. It was a great opportunity to work and experiment and continue to hone my craft there. It was a formative time in my life, although not always a happy time."

Since he doesn't drive, getting around in California was difficult, and Goodrich opted not to have a phone to save money.

"Phones and cars -- that's Los Angeles," he recalled with a laugh. "But I felt I learned what I needed, and I survived earthquakes, mud slides, rainstorms -- everything but frogs falling from the sky. I came back to St. Paul in '95 and continued to pursue writing and acting."

Through to a connection with a producer he met in California, Goodrich later had a short-lived career in low-budget horror movies, which he refers to as "one of the weirder aspects" of his life.

"I racked up appearances in such 'classics' as 'Gacy,' about John Wayne Gacy; 'Monster Man,' 'I Can't Sleep,'" Goodrich listed. "I wouldn't say I try to forget them, but I don't work hard at remembering them. In 'Ax,' I play the sleazy owner of a motel out in the high desert who gets an ax in the chest from the man he sent to prison. These are not classics, but they were fun, and I got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card. It was worth it for that. I don't want to do any more horror movies, but it was fun and a learning experience. I know how to get fake blood off really well."

These days, Goodrich feels fortunate to be able to support himself primarily as a writer and an actor, although that hasn't always been the case.

"As of the last several years, it's been what I do for a living," he said. "I spent a lot of years while I was living in St. Paul working in the mailroom of American Express. I know what it is to slog through the banalities of a 9- to 5- money gig, and I'll tell you, writing plays, as hard as it can be, as difficult as the theater can be, as hard as the review can be, it beats the American Express mailroom hands down. Fake blood is much better than arranging financial statements for American Express investors."

Goodrich currently lives and works in New York City, where he is a member of the New Dramatists, the oldest playwright organization in the world. He initially was accepted for a seven-year residency, which allowed him to use all the New Dramatists' resources while he commuted back and forth from St. Paul. Eventually, he decided to make NYC his permanent base of operations.

He spends most of his time writing and has lengthy list of plays that have been produced, including the aforementioned "Panic," "White Russian," "Smoke and Mirrors," "An Opening for Murder" and "Medea," to name a few.

Much of Goodrich's writing is in the mystery vein, although he's dabbled in other genres.

"My work has always drawn upon various conventions of the mystery world, mostly film noire -- that dark, troubled world of the '40s, and in contemporary writers like James Ellroy," he explained.

On occasion, Goodrich has drawn on his experiences growing up in Worthington. One of his plays, "Captain 11," is loosely based on the children's TV show that aired from Sioux Falls, S.D.

"We are the 'Captain 11' generation," said Goodrich. "It was one of the seminal shows of many children's lives. ... I was also fond of 'Canyon Kid,' who was actually the weatherman at the television station in Sioux City, Iowa. ... I wrote a play called 'Paycheck' as well. It's not been published or done yet, but it's about a group of turkey aficionados who take their turkey to Texas for the second half of a race, and the unfortunate incidents that befall them while they're there. The various ways life in southwest Minnesota has infiltrated my work -- 'Captain 11' and the Great Gobbler Gallop."

Besides plays, Goodrich's publications also include a Spider-Man comic for Marvel comics, poetry and fiction that have appeared in magazines and online sites and a screenplay, "Symbiotica," that was filmed in 2005 in Indiana.

Among Goodrich's awards are the New Dramatists residency; a Calderwood Fellowship; 2008 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Play for "Panic"; Lippmann Family New Frontier Award for "Starboard Home"; and a Royal Court New York City residency.

"My real work as an actor is essentially in new work for the theater," said Goodrich about how he continues to combine acting and writing. "As a playwright and member of New Dramatists, I participate in any number of plays, productions and readings. It's another way I give back to the theater -- through the creation of new works, as a writer of my own and as an actor for others."

Currently, Goodrich is in the midst of writing a new play as well as a mystery novel. He's disciplined in his writing habits and sets strict deadlines for himself.

"It's the only way to get things done," he said. "You can wait for inspiration, which has a way of being rather slow in coming, but if you sit down and create a home for it, it generally arrives. That's where discipline and habit come in.

"I was not a particularly athletic lad, but I run every day now, and I quit smoking as well -- smoked for a quarter of a century. Now I have the energy and lung capacity to run as well. A good deal of thought goes on during those runs. Discipline is discipline -- it can be applied to any aspect of one's life."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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