Nothing Gold Can Stay: Interview with Playwright Chad Beckim

Nothing Gold Can Stay
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a new play by Chad Beckim that focuses on two young lovers residing in Maine.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a new play by Chad Beckim that focuses on two young lovers residing in Maine. Clay and Jess hope to attend college and escape both their meager career and paycheck options and the bitter cold winters of their home state. When Jess gets into an argument with her stepfather, she moves into Clay’s house, with his mother, while Clay finally makes his way to college. Yet escaping the destiny of geography isn’t easy and the opioid era looms large in this piece.

Recently, Chad discussed this play, his writing career, and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (M)M): How did you get into writing and what drew you to playwriting in particular?

Chad Beckim (CB): I moved to New York City to be Chad Pitt… Seriously. I was doing soap operas after winning a talent show in Maine and had a very strange career as a downtown theater actor. I had always written for myself, but my dear friend and mentor Robert O’Hara (who was directing me in a show at the Flea Theater at the time) read some weird short story I’d written and said I should write a play. And over the next year, I would send him scenes, and he slowly but surely helped me shape those into a play (“…a matter of choice,” which was produced in 2005).

MM: How would you describe your style and what most inspires your plays?

CB: Someone once described my style as bare knuckle theater, which I think fits the bill. I like theater with heart and teeth and claws. I like theater when you’re laughing one minute, and crying the next, and never quite sure of your bearings. As for inspiration, most of my plays have a theme that somehow involves family. I come from a pretty strong nuclear family in Maine, and moved to New York City where I found all of these new little subsets of families, from my acting days, through my company at Partial Comfort Productions, and now today with my own wife and children. I’m also really interested in the intersections of race and class. The race aspect isn’t so prevalent in this play (Maine is the whitest state in the union), but it’s definitely super present in everything else I’ve written.

MM: What inspired “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and is this story personal to you in any way?

CB: My home state is being ravaged by the opioid epidemic, and my cousin is one of a handful of female EMT workers in southern Maine. During one family gathering as she was telling me some choice on-the-job horror stories, something sparked and the idea slowly took root. Each of the characters in “Nothing Gold” are composites of people I know or once knew. Family members, friends, random people I met… I would say all of my work is personal, but this one is definitely more so than most.

MM: How did you go about getting this play cast and staged?

CB: I pitched this play to my producing partner and the director Shelley Butler, who is also from Maine, 18 months ago. I hadn’t written a word yet, and when I finished my pitch, both of them said, all right, let’s do it. Over the next 18 months, I worked furiously to get my bearings. This was an exhaustive and enormous undertaking. I believe I wrote eight different drafts and each time I had a new draft we had a new stage reading with actors. Around April I started to lose my mind a little bit — I just could not get my bearings — and over a conference call with Molly and Shelley they pointed out that everything was there and I just needed to sift through the drafts to find the through line. Which I did, and which seems to really work. I’m generally not a fan of auditions, because I think it’s easy for folks to come in and bang out 10 minutes’ worth of prepared material. Because of that, I generally try to cast from readings, and we found three of the five actors that way. The other two were cast via auditions, and we knew pretty quickly that they were the right match.

MM: What’s your favorite scene and line in the show and why?

CB: I think my favorite scene is the penultimate scene of the play. It’s the longest scene, and it’s the one that always makes me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. (I don’t want to say too much more about that because I don’t wanna give away any major plot points.) As for lines, “useless as a white crayon” tends to stick out, and there’s also a line earlier in the play where a character says his biggest regret was not being young when he could afford to be young. People usually say, mmm-hmmm, when they hear that line, because it really resonates.

MM: What do you hope audiences take away from the play?

CB: I hope you feel something. I hope you identify and empathize with the characters. I hope you leave the theater the play sticks with you. If you walk out and immediately forget about it, then it didn’t do its job.

MM: What other plays have you written and what are they about?

CB: Some of my favorites are “…a matter of choice,” “‘nami,” and “After.” All of them deal with the intersection of race and class, and again, that family theme that I mentioned earlier. I had a weird introduction to the city, where for the first four years I was here I lived in apartments with full families (for example, my first place was in pre-gentrified Washington Heights, and there were three generations of a family that I lived with – 10 of us to a three-bedroom apartment.) Very different experiences from my own, and those moments really shaped by the way I think and operate.

MM: Do you have other theatrical or writing projects coming up that you would like to discuss?

CB: Not right now. That’s probably blasphemous to say, but it’s the truth. I have to wake up at 4 AM to write, as I have a full-time day job and two small children, and the only thing I’m thinking about right now is taking a little break and seeing where the muse steers me next.