Q&A With American Rex Playwright Joshua Rollins

Playwright Joshua Rollins

Q: Where did the material for this play come from? 

I grew up in West Virginia.  Both grandfathers were lifelong coal miners.  In the late 80's and early 90's, large coal companies did a systematic union breaking that reached far and wide.  Their goal was to hire people without having to pay pensions or medical benefits.  The only way to do that was to make life living hell for anyone who was union, and that is what they did. They also started the horrible practice of mountaintop removal mining- deciding it was much cheaper to blow the tops off mountains and scrape the coal out.  This has caused horrible environmental devastation.  People who live in the blasting oath are having their wells poisoned, their foundations are crumbling- and there is no legal recourse.
Q: What sort of research did you conduct about coal mining and West Virginia culture?
I have been very active in the debate on mountiantop removal mining.  I've read multiple books, including Coal Mountain and Big Coal-  two wonderful accounts of what has happened.  More importantly, I lived it.  My grandfather was pushed into early retirement and families I know have been blown out of their homes.  This is really happening now.
Q: Does the set, which includes vintage appliance and out-of-date decor, accurately depict what you had in mind when you wrote the play?
Totally.  Most of the applainces from the 60's were built so well, my grandfather still has them.  
Q: What sort of collaboration do you have with the Directors Traci Brant and Jonni Pera?
Traci and Jonni and I have worked really well together.  They would either send e-mails or we would talk on the phone as questions arose and I sent them many links and research documents to help the cast.
Q: Chicago Street first presented this play in the form of a staged reading more than a year ago. Did that experience and the audience response prompt any editing on your part?
Yes.  The play as it stands now is quite a bit shorter.  It was easy to see during the reading what parts were too long and confusing.  The play is streamlined quite a bit, but the meat is still there.
Q: What is your connection to Chicago Street Theatre? 
Three years ago, Jim Henry read American Rex as a mentor at Chicago Dramatists and we have stayed in contact ever since.  I'm really happy with the work they are doing and excited to see this world come to life.