An interview with the writer
Jonathan Spector’s multi award-winning Eureka Day wowed critics and audiences across the pond. With a global pandemic throwing new light on the central question of ‘to vaccinate’ or ‘not to vaccinate’, we caught up with the writer to hear more about the play on its road to The Old Vic, in our brand new production starring Academy, Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets, The Sessions, Mad About You) and directed by Katy Rudd (Camp Siegfried, The Ocean at the End of the Lane).
Author Jonathan Spector
What would you say Eureka Day was about, in one sentence?
The impossibility of finding consensus when you can’t agree on the facts.
What originally inspired you to write Eureka Day?
I had the experience several times of being in conversation with people who were very much like me – at least as smart and well educated, who have the same politics and the same values – and then discovering they don’t vaccinate their kids. I was fascinated by the idea that we could basically share the exact same world view, but in this one specific area seemed to live in different realities.
Is any part of the play based on real-life experiences you’ve had? The characters in the play feel so real. What kind of preparation or research did you do to create them?
I started by conducting a number of interviews with parents who are vaccine hesitant or who exist somewhere along that spectrum, as well as with some public health doctors and experts. And read lots of books as well. I often think of beginning a play as launching an investigation, even if I initially don’t know what exactly it is I’m investigating.
Has the mumps vaccination topic in the play taken on a new significance for you since the Covid-19 pandemic happened?
I’m sure it has. It’s a hard thing for me to have perspective on. The play has had just a couple of productions since the start of the pandemic, and several people have said they found it cathartic. This was not a thing I ever heard said about the play prior to Covid, so that may be a way in which it’s shifted. These are now ideas and experiences we all have some connection to.
What are you most looking forward to about staging this play at The Old Vic?
So many things! First and foremost, working with this incredible cast and creative team. I’m also thrilled to have such a long preview period. The livestream scene is really impossible to work out past a certain point without a live audience, and although the play has had several productions in the U.S., none have had a preview period long enough that I could perfect it to my satisfaction.
What’s your favourite line in the play?
‘Let’s remember, no one here is a villain’.
What would be your top tips for aspiring playwrights?
1) Write first to please yourself. Early on you can’t know if anyone else will find your work funny or interesting or moving. You can only know if it brings you joy. Aim for that.
2) If at all possible, find a way to work in a literary office or on a reading committee. Seeing what you respond to (and don’t) in other people’s work can help you hone in on your own taste.
3) Find your people, and make a lot of work however you can.
The play is set in Berkeley, California. How would you describe Berkeley to UK audiences?
In the American consciousness, Berkeley has this reputation (that began in the 60s) as a beacon of lefty progressivism. And it works hard to live up to that reputation. Because people are so committed to living by their values, it was a good place to explore what happens when different aspects of these values come into conflict.
I was living in Berkeley at the time I wrote it, and the play was a commission from a Berkeley theatre, so I set out to write something that would feel as Berkeley as possible. I was imagining it as a gift to that audience. That first production in was extremely well received, but I really didn’t know to what degree that was just because people felt like they were seeing themselves on stage. It’s been very gratifying to see how it’s resonated with people so widely. The other aspect is, there’s a cliché that California is always a bit ahead of the rest of the country, culturally. Things that begin there tend to spread everywhere else. So I do think there are things in the play that felt very true and accurate to the San Francisco Bay Area circa 2017 that at the time were a little out there for the rest of the country, and are now kind of normative, at least in progressive circles.
How did you manage to strike the balance between comedy, drama and satire when writing this play and with this subject matter?
I wasn’t setting out to write a comedy or a satire. I was genuinely trying to portray the people in that community as authentically as possible. It just so happens that when you put the way people actually behave onstage, it can sometimes be very funny.