Anyway, I returned to the United States and finished my degree at Cornell. I knew I wanted to write more plays, so I applied to graduate programs at Yale and Columbia. I got into both, and everyone told me, “Go to Yale. You have to go to Yale.” So, of course, I went to Columbia. I found a fantastic mentor and really started to grow. My interest in writing plays really, truly deepened.
DTH: What do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
Mayer: Well, I’m very interested in drama. In my opinion, it encompasses everything, and it’s really got to be funny—but also funny about serious things. I write funny things, but I don’t write comedies. I write about serious stuff—lots of history. In the U.S., there are things we are certainly not proud of, I like to look at those. Like slavery, I’ve never really gotten over slavery, and I’ve written about it more than once. Anything having to do with injustice. I want to do something, so I write about it. There’s only so much that one person can do, but I write plays. It’s also an exercise in compassion, which is good for everyone, not just playwrights.
DTH: How do you draw inspiration? Do you have a fool-proof writer’s block aid?
Mayer: I get lots of inspiration from my students. I demand a certain level of bravery and commitment, and I know I need to have the qualities that I want to see in my students. So, I set high standards for myself as well. As for writer’s block—good question—I’m old-fashioned. I wake up every morning and read the paper. Although, I guess now it’s open a laptop or iPad or whatever. But I remember my mentor at Columbia asking the question, “Why doesn’t anyone write about what’s going on in the world?” And he’s slam the New York Times down on a table. But it’s true, you can always write about that—it’s happening. I understand getting stuck, but it’s important to just look around and open yourself up as a writer.
DTH: If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you want to be doing?
Mayer: Maybe a boxer. I used to box when I was younger, and I was pretty good. Of course, I was also really young. But yeah, I might have done that. Also, I’d really like to be a musician. I’m a singer and I can play some piano. I’ve always loved music. Ultimately, I like what I do, but I do also love music.
DTH: Tell me about your current project.
Mayer: It’s a piece called “Fortune is a Woman,” which a quote from Machiavelli. I tried to examine Machiavelli and the women in his life. If you look at him in his moment of most distress—he was exiled from Florence, from his home and his power, with no assurance for food on the table—that was when he wrote “The Prince.” That is, of course, his most famous work now, but it wasn’t successful during his lifetime. In fact, his fame came in the writing of a play. This play was very successful, he was asked to write more. Theatre threw him a lifeline. It was a community working together, that was the thing that saved him.
DTH: There are lots of budding writers at UNC. What advice can you offer them?
Mayer: There’s always the M.F.A. experience. But also, just write for yourself—do readings, go to plays. Most importantly, stay active and observant. The world will always give you something to write about; it up to you to be focused and receptive. Sometimes, a writer needs an educator, sometimes they can do it alone.
Mayer will speak today from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Room 102 of the Center for Dramatic Art.