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Listen: Conor McPherson on Bob Dylan and Why All Plays Aspire to Be Music

When Bob Dylan’s management team first approached playwright Conor McPherson to create a theater piece using Dylan’s songs, the Irish playwright didn’t exactly leap at the chance.

“My first reaction is that it was kind of a bad idea,” McPherson said on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. But then, as he was taking a meandering walk in his Dublin neighborhood, a setting came to him — Minnesota during the Depression — that seemed a perfect fit for Dylan’s tunes. The result is the play-with-music “Girl From the North Country,” now playing Off Broadway at the Public Theater after popular runs at London’s Old Vic and on the West End.

McPherson had previously only written plays, often mysterious and touched by the supernatural (“The Weir,” “Shining City”). But for him, writing a play with music wasn’t that much of a stretch. “I think most playwrights that I know sort of think of plays as songs, in a funny way. And probably plays should be closer to that than to literature, in a funny way,” he said.

He went on to explain, “Beyond logic, beyond simple narrative structure, [a play] should have a feeling that what’s most important is not really happening in front of us, but we’re feeling it in the darkness and at the edges of the play and underneath the play, and we’re connecting to it in a kind of physical way. For me, in theater, that’s what I aspire to and that’s what sometimes I would say feels more like music.”

McPherson also directed “Girl From the North Country,” and it was his first time staging one — but after this, he might just do it again. “For me, it just makes a lot of sense, people singing onstage, now,” he said. “Whereas before I don’t know that I could have figured out to make that work. Now I think there’s a way for me that it works, and yeah, I could see myself doing it again.”

New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available every Tuesday. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on iTunesStitcher, or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.

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