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Alejandro Morales talks art-making for 30/30: US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme blog

[Alejandro Morales’ play On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

CARIDAD SVICH: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. this divide or, shall we call it a "gap?," has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. in effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. devisers are seen as being on trend, text-makers are seen as behind the times. it is exactly this kind of oppositional thinking that can be so damaging not only to those of us making art but those on the "outside" perceiving what is happening in art. (more on that later).a) how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: I really haven’t.  All of my work began with me and I sought out development and production opportunities for it.  I did have a long relationship with director Scott Ebersold, however, and we shared many aesthetic values so in many ways I would craft plays that I knew he would want to direct.  We also co-produced these plays so I was very much involved in the complete presentation of my work from page to stage.

CARIDAD SVICH: how do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: I jumped around these lines a lot out of necessity.  No major theater with money was producing me despite being a favorite with many of the literary managers.  I had to hustle to get my plays done.   I was very lucky to have been trained as an actor, director, writer, dramaturg and designer during my undergraduate work at NYU, so I pretty much did everything I could possibly do in addition to writing the play. 

I will say something in terms of the culture of theatermaking and criticism regarding the way I put on my work.  Very often there were these assumptions from critics about what Scott did and what I did.  Not to take away from Scott’s incredible work on my plays, but often I would read critics giving Scott credit for elements of the play that were written in the script (one example was a dance number I had written into a play).  My plays have always been written with the intent that there would be some sort of production concept around it.  I always work with writing in performance conventions, style, suggestion for design or production elements, etc.  I envision an entire three-dimensional experience in addition to the characters, plot, theme, etc. and I try to make it all a cohesive whole.  With each play I’ve learned more and more how to structure my scripts to give readers as many clues as to what my vision is (and really I am not all that avant-garde) but I am not sure if there are people making decisions at agencies or theaters who know how to read plays this way.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)? and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists? and are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: I have tried very hard (along with Scott) to create my own process.  I have always wanted to work in the way Caryl Churchill and Max Stafford Clark did with Joint Stock.  Scott and I have always had this as an ideal, but the reality of paying for rehearsal space and actors always collapses the process.  Not to mention, I am not sure if the actors we had access to were always willing to work this way.  I felt the realities of producing work off-off Broadway on an Equity Showcase contract really defined our process. 

Not to mention, there was the reality of Scott and I having day jobs and other responsibilities, so by the time we had planned to meet and discuss a project, I am well underway with the script and we’d be back to the traditional mode of working.

One thing we really wanted to do was begin working with actors and designers right away and get them committed to projects in their infancy so we could get talent in on the ground floor and they would have some sort of ownership of their role and process (in exchange for the pittance we could pay them with our budget).  Again, the reality of scheduling, people needing to make a living, etc. would jettison this and many times we’d have to end up recasting projects due to conflicts. 

Lastly, I would also say that the traditional play model is so prevalent that it is easy for it to become a default.  Scott and I were always experimenting and trying to reinvent the wheel and without mentors or folks who could show us how to do it at the off-off-Broadway level, while working day jobs, etc. we just ended up falling back on what we knew.  It was a vicious circle.

I’m struggling with my role as an artist in the local and global dialogue, to be honest.  I felt that I could never quite do this at the level I wanted to as a playwright and I have burned out lighting the proverbial candle at both ends.  I’m working with prose at the moment as a way to refresh the muse (and because I just think my canvas kept wanting to grow and grow and I wasn’t seeing opportunities for me to do that on a production level in theater).  I feel my aesthetic concerns around cultural and sexual identity are important.  My play On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday feels incredibly timely with the anti-gay policing going on in Russia at the moment and I would so want this play to be out in the world speaking to people about the effects and repercussions of sexual repression by the government and society.   I am saddened I have no idea how to make it part of the conversation, but I hope that perhaps prose with the ease of print on demand and e-books might help me to bring these issues to a wider audience.  I think there are stories about the breadth of the Hispanic/Latino community in the US and the LGBT/Queer community around the world that need to be heard not just by those respective communities, but everyone.  These stories are human stories and they need a very very very wide audience.

CARIDAD SVICH: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of? what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: I have never seen Latino spelled with an ampersand. I Googled the term and saw it is a gender neutral term which I really like.

I personally refer to myself as US-born Cuban or Hispanic even though I know I am also Latino.  I think that the Latino umbrella is very large (something many non-Latinos don’t understand) and there are elements of the Latino experience that may be true for me which may not be true for others and vice-versa.  I’ve been claiming Hispanic (even though it may not be the most PC thing to do) because my family does have strong Spanish ties and artistically I am definitely a son of Lorca so it’s something I want to honor. 

I do also feel that being a South Floridian and a New Yorker is a very big part of who I am.  Both places are places of incredible cultures clashing, improvising and collaborating.  I grew up feeling weird that I wasn’t like the people on TV.  I spoke two languages and they spoke only one.  I grew up navigating my way from one culture to another (and boy that has led to some interesting formative experiences), so I am incredibly comfortable with living in a multi-language, multi-cultural environment.  So much of my work incorporates multiple languages, translation, and/or appropriation.  Growing up in the US in a Cuban immigrant family really helped me see from the get-go that US culture is not homogenous.  People approach the American experience from different points of view, which is something someone should inform Fox News about.

CARIDAD SVICH: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: Honestly this changes from play to play.  Like I said before every one of my plays carries with it a seed for how the text exists in performance.  My last play was pretty straightforward textually, but the characters spoke Russian and Spanish and we needed to hear all of it in English, so I had to devise a convention for the use of accents to denote when a character was not speaking their native tongue.  This is written into the play. 

Having my plays carry a consistency in the language is key.  Again, I am an artistic son of Lorca’s, so looking at the plays as poems laced with motifs is something I always strive for—maybe the audience isn’t conscious of this in the language, but I think this gives a play a texture that a director or actor or designer can latch on to.   I also say that I work musically.  The work of Stephen Sondheim was an early influence (and lately I am listening to a lot of opera).  Studying the way he laces structure into his scores taught me a great deal about the use of details to tell story or reveal character.  I always tried to give the actors dictation by using line breaks, verse, or pauses that are written into the dialogue to incorporate a dramatic musicality to the text.

I think when I go back to writing for the stage, I would like to work more with music.   There is something about the idea of characters getting arias that I would love to explore.  I worked more with monologue in my earlier work and I have moved away from that.   I would love to figure out ways to open up pure emotional expression using text and music, in the way an aria de capo by Handel or a coloratura mad scene by Donizetti might. 

CARIDAD SVICH: casting is a tough and thorny aspect of our art and business. i think we all know plenty of terrific actors who wait and wait for that one or two gigs every year that ask for their "type" to be cast. i am personally of the mind that the more expansive casting can be, especially in theatre, which is, after all, not a photographically representational art form but an abstract one in its essence, the richer an audience's understanding of the form can be. but i know that this may not be everyone's pov. understandably. what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?' what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: This is tough.  I write gay characters and Latino characters a lot.  I also like to write for women who are not ingenues.  These are the people who live in my head and I feel obligated to make sure they get to live on stage (as we all should).  I do everything I can to make sure this happens.  Again, in the world of off-off-Broadway Equity Showcase, this can get really tough.  I even wanted to just start writing culturally non-specific characters because it was hard to get appropriate actors who could do my work.  That became very hard for me because … well, cultural identity is something I write about . . . so how do I write these culturally non-specific characters?

I have often felt limited as well from writing about certain subject matter—particularly the body and the way culture defines gender, power and beauty around certain physical attributes and that starts to winnow down my casting pool big time. 

It’s tricky because as a producer beginning a draft I will think “can I cast this?” and writing based on what I can realistically do as a producer just doesn’t work for me (sadly).   I need to write from a place free of these practical consideration and make productions that result from solving the challenges plays free of practical considerations pose.  Please see what I said about burnout earlier.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how? and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all? 

ALEJANDRO MORALES: As I’ve mentioned before I do this all the time.  My reality has never been multi-lingual.  I have always juggled not just verbal language but unspoken cultural languages as well.  I have always been translating ever since I was a kid (when my kindergarten teacher couldn’t pronounce Alejandro, I became Alex until my 30s).   My father was an opera fan and I grew up looking through his records and seeing these libretti that contained the text in Italian, French, English and German.  I now go to the opera and part of my experience at the Met is navigating the Met Titles in front of me as I follow a performance.  In Japan, I went to a kabuki performance and watched two plays with a headphone commentary going on in my ear.  My brain can function with these two different language tracks going on at the same time.

There is no way my plays will not reflect this. 

I think about Junot Diaz writing about the copious amounts of Spanish in his novels and the criticism he has received for this and he said, “Motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they [white people] think we’re taking over.”  Reading this helped me deal with a lot of the narrow minded criticism of my work including multi-language text. 

This multi-language idea isn’t limited to national languages.  I try to have the language of music or movement or visuals live in my work.  As a writer, I take umbrage at the fact that dialogue is the only language I should concern myself with in the script.   There are many languages I can use to tell my story and I try to employ as many of them as I can

CARIDAD SVICH: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: I’m a little down on theater at the moment and most of the live performance I am seeing these days is opera, which music snobs be damned, I consider to also be theater.   In opera, I have experienced time stopping during an aria in Giulio Cesare or the experience of falling in love in La Traviata or what it is like to touch the divine in Wagner’s Parsifal.  I just don’t see this too much in contemporary theater, despite theater being more than capable of giving us these experiences.  I don’t know how to describe the quality of these experiences and why they are different from much of what I have seen produced on and off-Broadway in New York City . . . but it’s what I want to put in my plays.  It’s what I want to give to my audiences.

CARIDAD SVICH: what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: I honestly don’t know.  I feel alienated from the theater these days.  When I used to have these conversations on Twitter or on panels I got exhausted from all this need to be relevant.  I feel like arts education at early ages for children, cheaper ticket prices and a focus on creating an authentic emotional experience and more arts funding would be a start. 

I don’t think we need to allow texting or tweeting or twerking in the audience.   I don’t think talkbacks are the way either.  I think these conversations are about trying to squeeze blood out of a stone. 

I feel that it could be text-based play theater might be a thing of the past in this era of online life.  Why would someone go pay all this money and sit in a room for 2-3 hours to get a dramatic narrative when they can get it on Netflix?  Maybe this goes back to this devised work question above—is what is going to get people into the theater more of an immersive experience like Sleep No More, The Lily’s Revenge or some site-specific thing that challenges the way we commune in public to experience a story?  Perhaps it needs to go back to the beginning and function like the Greek plays did, as a means for creating some mass catharsis through ritual? 

CARIDAD SVICH: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?

ALEJANDRO MORALES: I am inspired by opera.  I am inspired by the advances in LGBT rights.  I am inspired by fiction.  I am inspired by Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name which I would give my left something or other to get close to the brilliance of that writing.  I am inspired by American Horror Story: Coven and the fact that camp is alive and well in American culture.  I am inspired by feminists.  I am still inspired by Lorca, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams, and Sondheim.  I am inspired by amount of love I see amongst my peers as we try to keep ourselves writing. 

I am troubled by what is happening in Russia and India and Africa with LGBT rights.  I am troubled by the religious right in this country and the mockery they make of spirituality.  I am troubled by how much more we have to go to be liberated of the patriarchy.  I am troubled by the lack of poetry in our theater and cinema lately.  I am troubled by the death of the great American artform of musical theater and the jukebox shows that have replaced it.  I am troubled by the economy and how capitalism has lost the plot.    I am troubled that we are more connected to Facebook than to nature. 

 

 

 

Edwin Sanchez talks art-making for 30/30: US Latin@/NoPassport’s reading scheme

 

[Edwin Sanchez’s play La Bella Familia is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

Caridad Svich: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

 

EDWIN SANCHEZ:  I jump from one medium to the next.  Plays, film scripts, I just finished my first novel.

CARIDAD SVICH: how do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: I simply ignore these lines.  Who’s making them up?  Who’s deciding "better like this, better like that" "this is art, this is not art" I think to pay attention to this is to take away time from your work.  At the end of the day it is about writing the best and most honest work you can.  One’s voice can grow and change with time but it shouldn’t be
beholden to what’s trending at the moment.

CARIDAD SVICH: as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)?and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local
and global dialogue with citizens and artists? and are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: When I’m working on something I try to write ten pages a day, in long hand.  I let it wander a bit, let it find where it feels right to me.  And I’m always watching people.  Moments of theatre are happening all around us, all the time.  I’ve learned so many things as a writer, that sometimes even when you aren’t physically writing, you are writing. 
That it’s sometimes hard for people to get that you’re writing when it just seems to them that you are staring into space or nodding your head.  And that sometimes you have to push yourself to write.  As to the kind of work I want to write it is always, for me, character driven. That’s what fascinates me.  That, and I always have a question I hope to answer by the time I finish the piece.

CARIDAD SVICH: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of? what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: It makes me think of a community of writers.  To some it may seem as a way to put us all in a neat little box, and I think it has been used to do that, but I also know that when I’ve participated in events with other Latin writers I feel very proud and happy to be in their company.

CARIDAD SVICH: what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?' what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own
political power?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: I’m very much in favor of color blind casting in as many instances as possible, but some characters are written with a culturally specific character and to ignore that is to not fully realize the work.  I’ve faced, many times, places that will say "we just don’t have Latino actors", what I find it usually means is "we’ve never had any come to any audition so we don’t know of any"  Perhaps the reason they don’t come is that they don’t think they’ll be considered for a role that isn’t Latino.  I was very proud that after a theatre had done a play of mine, with four Latino actors (all of which had to be brought in from out of town) they cast one of the actresses in their upcoming Shakespearean play.  Would they have even have thought of using a Latin before this?  I don’t know.  I know that they were impressed with the quality of the acting and at the end of the day that’s what matters.  One more anecdote, some years ago a theatre did a reading of ICARUS, a play of mine, in Los Angeles.  Apparently it went very well because they wanted to do a full production.  However the two leads, which were very specifically Latino characters, were read by two non Latino actors.  Very well know actors, and very talented.  When I informed the theatre that I really could only have Latino actors in those roles we reached an impasse and the production fell through.  One of the reasons I became a writer was because I didn’t see myself or people like me on stage, so that is very important to me.  I have seen Latino actors/actresses give performances that have blown me away, so I have to and want to honor their craft and talent and be a part of their journey.

CARIDAD SVICH: it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how? and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: Honestly no.  I don’t do much in my work, but I have seen and read others who do it beautifully and seamlessly.

CARIDAD SVICH: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: The fact that it happens while we are all breathing at the same time. Film is beautiful, but the actors are on celluloid and what you see is what the next audience will see, and the next and the next and world without end. But theatre, is happening as we breathe.  The moment when the audience falls silent, when it gasps or laughs is this communal
experience that is unlike any other.  The fact that each performance is slightly different from any other.  That’s magic.

CARIDAD SVICH: what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: When Hartford Stage did my play DIOSA, they very specifically hired a separate Public Relations person to do outreach to the Latino community.  It worked.  Like gangbusters.  DIOSA became their second biggest money maker of the year (after Christmas Carol, and nothing beats that!)  What I noticed was that whole families came.  That’s important.  Have parents and their kids come and afterwards engage them in a dialogue about the play.  Sometimes people feel that "art" or "theatre" is going to be something they won’t understand.  Encourage them to talk about what they saw.  There are no right or wrong answers if they are being honest about what they saw.

CARIDAD SVICH: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?
 

EDWIN SANCHEZ: Without question, teaching is inspiring me as a writer.  I teach at ESPA at Primary Stages in New York and I’ve had some really amazing students.  Their talent is both humbling and exciting.  What’s troubling me?  I want to see more of us, in every medium.

 

 

 

 

Michael Mejias talks about keeping the dramatic question alive and more for NoPassport’s #3030NP salon

[Michael Mejias’ play Ghetto Babylon is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

CARIDAD SVICH: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. this divide or, shall we call it a "gap?," has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. in effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. devisers are seen as being on trend, text-makers are seen as behind the times. it is exactly this kind of oppositional thinking that can be so damaging not only to those of us making art but those on the "outside" perceiving what is happening in art. (more on that later).  how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Admittedly, I was unaware of the Sharks v. Jets nature of things, now that I do, it’s head-scratching; especially, when you consider devisers have been around since, at least, 1947 (the Living Theatre). You’d think the conversation between both parties would have grown beyond dissention. Personally, as a playwright, I’m interested in alchemizing some of the techniques routinely used by devisers into new play development methodologies. I think there is a lot to be gained there.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: how do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: I’m uncertain who is drawing the lines or how often they are drawing them. I’ll tell you what, whoever is doing the drawing needs a new hobby. Maybe yoga? In any case, I suppose the point to consider here is the role theatre plays in our American experience and in our Latino communities in particular. Theatre ranks behind music, movies, television, video games, fashion, clubbing, and stand-up comedy with regards to how impacting and regular it is in our life. If we surveyed our communities, theatre might rank behind shit like glass blowing and yodeling. So, whatever the role is that theatre is currently playing in the Latino community, I expect it’s a pretty small one. That’s a big problem and this is why:

1. If we agree in the uniqueness of theatre to tell our stories, if we agree that theatre has the power to move us on a personal level, raise our level of discourse, trigger civic action, challenge social norms, and tackle taboos, in ways other disciplines can’t, then, I expect we agree the absence of theatre in our Latino communities is culturally, socially, and politically disadvantageous to us moving forward.

2. If there isn’t a regular and robust Latino theatre audience in NYC and across America, there isn’t much incentive to hire Latino actors, directors, and designers or do plays by Latino playwrights that share our diverse points of view. If this happens, and Latinos remain only nominally represented on American stages, then, an important, vital, and vibrant plotline in our national narrative is omitted. It’s on us – artists and audiences – to discourage that. We have to respond to that.

 

My response was to co-found a playwright’s theatre, the Dramatic Question Theatre (DQT). The DQT member-playwrights make both the artistic and business decisions and have stake in its future. Beyond developing and producing plays that regularly speak to Latino, African-American, and others on the margins of the American experience, we’ve implemented audience-building initiatives with enrichment programs like Girls Write Now, Harlem RBI, Urban Art Beat, and LitWorld. Ideally, these partnerships will build our theater audiences of the future. My fingers are crossed.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Chiefly, these days, my process involves a whole lot of reconciling. I’ve written 26 plays and each, in its own way, has been a fucking drag for me (albeit, on the road to being something joyous for me). I never devised it this way, it is simply what has happened and, after several decades of struggling against it, I’m reconciled. I’m reconciled I’m simply not going to sit down and type out a play over a rainy weekend. I’m reconciled whiskey won’t make me a genius. I’m reconciled I don’t always have the best ideas. I’m reconciled I’m not the smartest guy in the room (My girlfriend is!). I’m reconciled I’m not the starting centerfielder for the Yankees or the author of The Catcher in the Rye.  For me, clearing out all that space in my “closet” advances my process. Beyond that, on a more practical front, since I’m one of the decision-makers at DQT, I know my plays have, at the very least, a customized development platform in place and in waiting; that is to say, I don’t have to keep my fingers crossed in the thereafter that my play is picked for development by some other entity or have to solicit anyone else’s interest.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Mentoring is a dynamic way for me to engage with community. Lately, I’m feeling a need to find more ways to connect to young people; specifically, Latino and African-American interested in playwriting. On behalf of the Dramatic Question Theatre, I’ve reached-out to educational enrichment programs, for instance, the Wadleigh Scholars Program in Harlem, with the hopes of establishing a young playwright’s workshop.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: and are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: There is agency in starting your own non-profit, community-building around your work, and self-producing. The member-playwrights of the Dramatic Question Theatre have benefitted from this model. DQT playwrights have won national awards, have been invited to speak at local public schools, been signed by agents, and are the recipients of grants and fellowships. The plays have received positive notices from many relevant media outlets and are performed to sold-out audiences. It’s a model worth serious consideration; especially, if you regularly find yourself outside the current play selection-making metrics.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of? what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Immediately, I think that there are a lot of us all over this city (New York), this country, this continent, and the globe. I also think we’ve a lot of purchasing power; so, how do we best exercise our financial influence? As it stands, Latinos aren’t purchasing theatre tickets at the same rate as our white counterparts; so, we, as Latino theatre artists, aren’t as represented on our stages. Let’s not ignore the correlation. The good news is that this is something we can fix by being a regular presence on the American theatre scene. I’ll invite everyone to explain this to both friends and family members. Our steady participation on this front will translate into more professional opportunities for Latino artists and increase our cultural currency. I know I already said this, but it’s worth repeating.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Embodied speech and action is how you might define a character in a play. So, what I think you are asking is how do I write my characters? I’ll answer that: Routinely, when I write a character, I start with someone I know. As the character evolves, I’m delivered to a point wherein I no longer need the original source material. I no longer need that someone I know. The character has his/ her own way. Even though I’m the playwright; sometimes, I don’t know exactly what that means: HIS/ HER OWN WAY. What is that? However, when my collaborators arrive – the director, the actor – we drink many, many coffees and figure it out.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: casting is a tough and thorny aspect of our art and business. i think we all know plenty of terrific actors who wait and wait for that one or two gigs every year that ask for their "type" to be cast. i am personally of the mind that the more expansive casting can be, especially in theatre, which is, after all, not a photographically representational art form but an abstract one in its essence, the richer an audience's understanding of the form can be. but i know that this may not be everyone's pov. understandably. what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?'

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Well, I know a ton of talented “culturally specific actors.” They’re experienced and well trained. So, I’d place the load on myself to make it happen. I’d be quick to recommend these actors to the theatre that’s interested. Further still, if they’re still game, I’d raise the completion money necessary to transport and house them for both the duration of the rehearsal period and run of performances. It’s also worth mentioning, Latinos are the fastest growing group in the U.S. We’re arrived at the point where it’s simply good business for American theatres to have an apparatus in place for casting diverse plays.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS:  For me, the casting conversation is always about how to best tell the story of the play and who we feel is best suited to the task. I don’t know if I’m looking to make a political or socio-political statement in this sense, probably not. I want the actors I want, but that has more to do with my overbearing personality than anything political. That said, since every play is inherently different and comes with its own specific needs, it’s difficult to conclude there’s just one true way to cast. Ideally, the play receives many productions; this way, many different casting philosophies can be practiced.

 

CARIDAD SVICH:  it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Although I’d like them to, until there is an economic incentive, I don’t think the regional or major NYC stages will see any real need to move away from their current practices. Like I’ve said throughout this interview, we need demonstrate our purchasing power. In the meantime, what’s wrong with building a coalition of new, smaller theatres that are about diversity and inclusion? In the meantime, let’s contribute, in big and small ways, to the fortification and general well-being, of our small and mid-sized theatres that are about our experience?

 

CARIDAD SVICH: and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Since personal experience is my primary source material, my plays are regularly informed by my Nuyoricaness, my Catholic upbringing, and my Bronx childhood. My work is also informed by my love of books, movies, TV shows, and 80’s music. Consequently, the way my characters express themselves reflects all that: My characters speak Spanish, English, and Spanglish. Language, the way they express themselves, often affords insight into whom each character is or who each character wants to be. Oh, yeah, there is also a lot of cursing.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Writing is lonely stuff; so, it’s great when you get to the point you can invite others to participate. For me, that means getting my director, Gregory Simmons, involved. We’re both chatty-as-all-hell. We’ll routinely close cafés, restaurants, diners, you name it. We’ll discuss every word, every beat, every scene, and every act. I go home and re-write like crazy. Then, we start again! A little later in the process, actors get involved and the play changes some more. I love that theatre can work this way.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: much is made at theatre conferences (esp) about where and how will we find the new audiences for the work. i think i have been hearing this for about 20 years now. and every year new marketing approaches are discussed and studies are done and surveys get passed around and so forth. lots of data gets crunched. but there is a bottom line, I think, and you may disagree, but what I see as the bottom line is: if you change the programming, lower ticket prices, do work for free even (see Mixed Blood's radical hospitality model), move out of the building(s), maybe just maybe that elusive "new" audience may be nurtured. but it ain't gonna happen sitting inside the building thinking about it or tweeting about it either. okay. wee rant over. but seriously, what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

 

MICHAEL MEJIAS: Since we haven’t a building, it was easy for the Dramatic Question Theatre to recognize the importance of doing work in spaces our target audience already collected in (like bars); and, to that end, in our first two seasons, we presented the Bar Play Series – plays set in

bars, performed in bars. The tickets were very reasonably priced, as, of course, were the drinks. A lot of our current supporters were introduced to DQT through the Bar Play Series. Nowadays, they even go inside buildings, with traditional theatres in them, to see our plays. Also, it’s easier than you might think to get a venue’s cooperation. Remember, in a recession economy, there is equity in being able to deliver 40 people a night for 16 nights to a bar, restaurant, café, museum, art gallery, night club, etc. We’ve been successful in trading off of that and, as a direct result, grow our audience.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?

MICHAEL MEJIAS: I’m inspired by expertise. It could be in anything; you can be a rodeo clown, slight-of-hand artist, or a beekeeper. If you’re expert, you’re bad-ass in my book. While I’ll stop short of calling it troubling, I’m bored by the over-abundance of irony in plays; its overuse is the skinny jeans of literary devices. One day, fingers crossed, these guys are going to look back and feel like assholes for confusing it for cool.

 

Interview with Elaine Avila for 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme salon

[Elaine Avila’s play At Water’s Edge is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

CARIDAD SVICH: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. this divide or, shall we call it a "gap?," has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. in effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. devisers are seen as being on trend, text-makers are seen as behind the times. it is exactly this kind of oppositional thinking that can be so damaging not only to those of us making art but those on the "outside" perceiving what is happening in art. (more on that later).

 

ELAINE AVILA: I wish the term “devising” was more inclusive of all people who make theatre. I love actor-creators, and have worked as one. To some in Canada, devising has become a dated term—new companies here want to use the best of creation techniques and tell a great story—they don’t reject writing or writers.

Sometimes devising is about disdain for playwrights. This is too bad, because I use and dig devising techniques, even if I don’t always label them as such.

Let’s bridge this gap. I wrote an article for Canadian Theatre Review (issue 135, “Theatrical Devising”) about how I “devised” my play Quality. My director, Kate Weiss, also framed directing the play as “devising.”  This play went on to productions in London, England (Nordic Nomad at Tracey Neuls Shoes); Albuquerque, New Mexico (Tricklock at Terra Firma);  Edmonton, Alberta (Vault at Gravity Pope); and was performed throughout Panamá.  I agree with Oliver Mayer, playwrights are the first devisers, we work in our rooms with all the elements before anyone else arrives.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all? how do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture? as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)? and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists? and are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

ELAINE AVILA: If I have to choose between marketing an older piece and making a new one, I will make a new one. 

I love connecting and engaging with artists around the globe—my play Burn Gloom was a favorite project. I am currently working on projects involving China, Portugal, and the Azores.

I recently made a huge life change—it involved focusing less on the politics of my immediate situation and more on international politics, our food supply, and the environment. It is amazing the people I have been able to connect to since I made this change. Through Caridad Svich, I have become involved in many Gun Control Theatre Actions throughout North America and Australia. Erik Ehn invited me to write a piece for the victims of the Station Fire in Rhode Island.   Daniel Banks invited me to be part of Theatre Without Borders.  I’ve written a short play about immigration that has been performed in New York City, by three different companies. I am about to interview Roberta Levitow, for the New York League of Professional Women’s Women in Theatre Magazine’s International Issue. Roberta is the Senior Program Associate-International of Sundance East Africa, and one of the founders, long time director and co-director of Theatre Without Borders. At fifty, she found her career as a director in the American theatre dissatisfying, and completely re-invented herself.

I am learning to believe that my impulses of what to write next have value even if it is not immediately apparent. I thought this might get easier the more experience I have, but taking risks can get harder. One renown playwright I know said it is because she thinks the longer we practice this art, the more it is like climbing high mountains or deep sea diving—the air gets thinner. We need to keep breathing, keep having faith. For example, my next play is about fado, a Portuguese form of the blues. A friend recently pointed out that if we faced our sadness, as fadistas do (a word meaning fado singers and passionate listeners), the world might be a better place. I had not made the connection. I never would have if I hadn’t embarked on the voyage of writing this play.

CARIDAD SVICH: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of? what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

ELAINE AVILA: I think of my theatrical, artistic family who constantly inspire and challenge me to excellence. I am a writer of Portuguese descent who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada.

Recently, I have decided to “de-assimilate,” to go backwards in order to go forwards in my writing, by exploring my Portuguese, Azorean roots. The journey is already astonishing. For example, I recently learned that men from my grandparents’ island of Pico married and/or had children with the Inuit in Rankin Inlet and the Coast Salish who lived in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.  This means that I share a common ancestry with some Aboriginal groups of Canada, which has already led to some amazing theatrical collaborations.  I love that James Baldwin says “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

CARIDAD SVICH: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

ELAINE AVILA: Making a text for live performance is a tremendous leap of faith.  Each play I have written finds homes that greatly exceed my expectations—for example, one play was performed in a beautiful old theatre space in the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panamá City and in an incredible shoe boutique on an ancient lane in London, England; another production opened on the Pacific Ocean, with actors singing in Spanish, about the New World/Mundo Nuevo. Yet I seem to forget how my plays find beautiful homes. As I write each new play, I need to learn (or remember) optimism.

CARIDAD SVICH: casting is a tough and thorny aspect of our art and business. i think we all know plenty of terrific actors who wait and wait for that one or two gigs every year that ask for their "type" to be cast. i am personally of the mind that the more expansive casting can be, especially in theatre, which is, after all, not a photographically representational art form but an abstract one in its essence, the richer an audience's understanding of the form can be. but i know that this may not be everyone's pov. understandably. what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?' what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

ELAINE AVILA: My favorite experiences have come from expansive casting. African American and Latin@ actors have played “English” roles in my plays inspired by Shakespeare’s clown and Jane Austen; actors of Chinese, European, African-American, Latin@ descent have played roles which I describe as “open to any ethnicity.” In my play, At Water’s Edge, both an Inuit and a Japanese actress have been cast as the Japanese character (a fascinating reversal, as often Japanese actors play Inuit in movies).  The role of Paulo has only been performed by a Portuguese actor once, a rare treat. Often he is cast as Greek, Caucasian or Latino.

In many ways, casting issues are only beginning to be explored and point to fascinating potential. I love David Henry Hwang’s play Yellow Face, one of the first plays ever produced for you tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Krlv9cyn9Hc and Dr. Daniel Banks’ article “The Welcome Table: Casting for an Integrated Society”  (Theatre Topics Journal, published 2013) which shows how many casting notions based on families and history are wrong.  Dr. Brian Herrera of Princeton, a former colleague, is doing incredible work on the history of casting.

If you live in a context where you “don't have culturally specific actors” in your town, do the play you love and want to explore anyway. Start somewhere.

CARIDAD SVICH: it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how? and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all? 

ELAINE AVILA: I’ve written plays that include Chichewa, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Navajo..but I’ve learned the most about multi-linguality from my students. When I headed the MFA program in Dramatic Writing in New Mexico, my former graduate student, a terrific writer and educator, Leonard Madrid, organized a forum on multi-linguality. Most of my students wrote and thought in multiple languages (Spanish, Urdu, Farsi, Navajo, Comanche). We all got awfully tired of what I called the “Dora the Explora” effect, where you write a line in Spanish, and then immediately translate it. I began collecting examples of how multiple languages can work more artfully in plays (Migdalia Cruz’s Fur Carmen Aguirre’s The Refugee Hotel, and Jose Rivera’s Cloud Tectonics, for example). 

The student forum on multi-linguality unearthed some powerful revelations. 1. No-one has a problem with multi-linguality in opera, or in Europe, where multiple languages happen in plays all the time. 2. People particularly object to Spanish in plays, one student said “it is the language of the laborer.” Some people can easily tolerate multiple languages and various levels of comprehension, others cannot.  This question has much more to do with class, tolerance, assimilation and willing curiosity about other people than it may appear.

CARIDAD SVICH: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

ELAINE AVILA: My husband is a musician, so I have learned about sympathetic vibration. When a string is plucked in one corner of a room, it can cause another string to vibrate, across the room. My body resonates in a live experience—dance, theatre, music. There is nothing like it.

CARIDAD SVICH: much is made at theatre conferences (esp) about where and how will we find the new audiences for the work. i think i have been hearing this for about 20 years now. and every year new marketing approaches are discussed and studies are done and surveys get passed around and so forth. lots of data gets crunched. but there is a bottom line, I think, and you may disagree, but what I see as the bottom line is: if you change the programming, lower ticket prices, do work for free even (see Mixed Blood's radical hospitality model), move out of the building(s), maybe just maybe that elusive "new" audience may be nurtured. but it ain't gonna happen sitting inside the building thinking about it or tweeting about it either. okay. wee rant over. but seriously, what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

ELAINE AVILA: If you want new audiences, include new people. The brilliant and marvelous playwright Luis Alfaro does some great things to include people—he has lunch with critics to have heart to hearts about theatre, he talks to everyone in the theatre organization about what is going on—like the box office staff, and at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he asked for a taco truck to be outside the theatre, which was very welcoming to Latin@ audiences.

CARIDAD SVICH: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?

ELAINE AVILA: Inspiring—The Wayfinders by Wade Davis, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative by Thomas King, which are about story telling in indigeneous/first nations traditions.  Reading these two CBC Massey Lectures (available in book form from House of Anasazi Press and for listening online) led me to work with Inuit storyteller Michael Kusugak and Pangaea Arts on their latest play, Arvaarluk: an Inuit Tale.

Troubling: we are due to lose 50% of the languages on earth in the next 100 years. Imagine all of geographic, plant, and historical knowledge we will lose. Imagine if you were the last speaker of your language—what would you want to save from your words, stories and traditions?

As Wade Davis writes, “Language isn't just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules; it's a flash of the human spirit, the vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. When you and I were born there were 6,000 languages spoken on Earth. Now, fully half are not being taught to schoolchildren. Effectively, they're already dead unless something changes. What this means is that we are living through a period of time in which, within a single generation or two, by definition half of humanity's cultural legacy is being lost in a single generation….. Some people say: "What does it matter if these cultures fade away." The answer is simple. When asked the meaning of being human, all the diverse cultures of the world respond with 10,000 different voices. Distinct cultures represent unique visions of life itself, morally inspired and inherently right. And those different voices become part of the overall repertoire of humanity for coping with challenges confronting us in the future. As we drift toward a blandly amorphous, generic world, as cultures disappear and life becomes more uniform, we as a people and a species, and Earth itself, will be deeply impoverished.”

Oliver Mayer talks Dark Matters for 30/30 blog

Interview QUESTIONS FOR TCG 2.0 and NoPassport #3030NP salon with OLIVER MAYER

[Oliver Mayer’s play Dark Matters is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

CARIDAD SVICH: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. this divide or, shall we call it a "gap?," has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. in effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. devisers are seen as being on trend, text-makers are seen as behind the times. it is exactly this kind of oppositional thinking that can be so damaging not only to those of us making art but those on the "outside" perceiving what is happening in art. (more on that later). how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?  how do you negotiate the very real dividing lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture? as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)? and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists? and are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

 

OLIVER MAYER: What we do is very old and very sacred – also very profane. I like to think that we are halfway between the church and the whorehouse, and that we tend to see the same people coming and going. I am firmly a writer (that would be text-driven) but I think my best writing is often gestural and highly visual; I take not backseat to any deviser out there. As a dramatist we simply have to do it all – direct, design, act, dance, sing and be the audience as well as write – and we have to do it first.

 

In terms of engaging in a global dialogue I am all for it, as long as it occurs one person at a time. That is what gets lost in blockbusters in other media, and what we can hold onto: the ability to use our plays to open another person’s eyes and heart at his or her own pace and ability.

 

 

CARIDAD SVICH: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of?

 

OLIVER MAYER: I don’t use that phrase. I am a United Statesian and a Latino, but I have tended to use Mexican-American to describe myself; I like the hyphen. US Latin@ seems to me transitional at best. Someone soon has to give us a new way to describe ourselves in an active way. Anybody out there have a good name for us?

 

CARIDAD SVICH: what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

 

OLIVER MAYER: I love my particular context, as I must, because I live there both as an artist and as a citizen. Again, I prefer the hyphen which feels to me like a bridge – and a precarious one – between walled cities. That bridge helps me write on both sides as well as in the middle.

 

 

CARIDAD SVICH: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

 

OLIVER MAYER: Text is life, but music must be there in some way. The poetic consciousness demands an elevated sense of musicality in the words on the page. The duende demands that it be performed live and that the performer and writer stretch their abilities to the breaking point. That’s what it’s all about. I am prepared to spend a lifetime extending my abilities to and past my breaking point, as dramatists have done since the Greeks – and probably before.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: casting is a tough and thorny aspect of our art and business. i think we all know plenty of terrific actors who wait and wait for that one or two gigs every year that ask for their "type" to be cast. i am personally of the mind that the more expansive casting can be, especially in theatre, which is, after all, not a photographically representational art form but an abstract one in its essence, the richer an audience's understanding of the form can be. but i know that this may not be everyone's pov. understandably.what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?' what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

 

OLIVER MAYER: Casting is thorny because, like many other things in our country, it’s been so unequal for so long. After nearly 30 years of experience, I want the best actor for the part – but what constitutes the best? Ours is not a photographic art or an expository or overly explained argument – but a play. I want the actors that know how to play best in the hyphenated world of my plays. It makes me very sad how many theaters over the years have eschewed my plays or placed themselves outside the worlds I have created because they believe they cannot cast them or are not willing to try. It makes me very hopeful that the few theaters that have tried have opened their own ideas on what makes an actor the best actor for the part. Some of that involves identity – history, language, culture – but the preponderance of what makes an actor the right one is mysterious, poetic, romantic: chemical.

 

CARIDAD SVICH:  it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how?

 

OLIVER MAYER: Plays are growing more multilingual as our country integrates itself. What our godfathers and sisters started as Spanglish has now blossomed into mixes of Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, French, Patois, you name it. It gives strength to the music in our texts and muscle to our stories, not to mention sexuality and fire to our characters. Any theater that is not taking advantage is not just behind the times, they are mastadons.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all? 

 

OLIVER MAYER: I am happy, in my way, to blaze a trail the best I can, particularly as a guy who speaks Spanish pretty badly. I believe in private languages, interior languages that subsets of us know but that large groups are unaware of; and I think that these have a kind of poetry and hieroglyphic power that ought to live onstage, and I’ve written towards that goal for most of my career.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

 

OLIVER MAYER: We may be the oldest profession, standing alongside the other shamans and prostitutes and bridging them with our observations on life and death and sex; but we are also the most immediate form of connecting select groups of people and making them feel something and see something that matters, that has substance. No app or artificial intelligence comes close and we are becoming more important with every passing hacking and phishing scandal, every virtual community that will never feel quite real, and every person who feels diminished and lonely at the end of the day having hardly ever looked up from his/her screen of choice, craving bodies and feelings and wanting more than ever to discuss a play over several drinks late into the evening – the way we do in this vida that is very very loca.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: much is made at theatre conferences (esp) about where and how will we find the new audiences for the work. i think i have been hearing this for about 20 years now. and every year new marketing approaches are discussed and studies are done and surveys get passed around and so forth. lots of data gets crunched. but there is a bottom line, I think, and you may disagree, but what I see as the bottom line is: if you change the programming, lower ticket prices, do work for free even (see Mixed Blood's radical hospitality model), move out of the building(s), maybe just maybe that elusive "new" audience may be nurtured. but it ain't gonna happen sitting inside the building thinking about it or tweeting about it either. okay. wee rant over. but seriously, what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

 

OLIVER MAYER: I believe in doing great work for free – it is one of the last quality things that we can point to in this country that we do for reasons other than money, and that makes it quite literally invaluable. I like flash plays, I like going to elementary schools and entertaining kids and taking questions, I like taking over alternate spaces and turning them into theatre spaces. We must be inventive; we’re in charge on the page, but off the page we may well have just as much to give.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?

 

OLIVER MAYER: I’m inspired by enduring love – wife, dog. The cycle of life is fast-moving, so it’s good to be inspired by death too. I’m inspired by sports when they’re good, immediate, exciting and fully committed. I’m inspired by trovadores like Silvio Rodriguez. I’m inspired by how much I don’t know. I’m troubled by liars and people who can’t or won’t cross bridges into the world around them, who can’t or won’t get out of their skin for a blessed moment and see the world with new eyes. In the end I’m more inspired than troubled, but I’m lucky that way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amparo Garcia-Crow talks 30/30

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW for 30/30: US Latin@/NoPassport scheme blog salon

 

[Amparo Garcia-Crow’s play The Bonobos is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

 

CARIDAD SVICH: A false (I think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. This divide (or shall we call it a "gap?") has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. In effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. Devisers are seen as being on trend, text-makers are seen as behind the times. it is exactly this kind of oppositional thinking that can be so damaging not only to those of us making art but those on the "outside" perceiving what is happening in art. (More on that later).  How do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: What others might experience as a gap for me is a bridge since I enjoy both sides and for different reasons.  As a writer and director, text-based is the grist for the mill and as a performer/director--devised work is the free for all.  Both are satisfying and inspiring and for different reasons.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: How do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I do not allow the perceived (and largely manufactured) division to be corrosive.  I adapt accordingly to stay creative and to stay active.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: As a playwright, how do you devise your own process? Dramatic project (life goals as artist)? And how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: Process is defined by what I am doing at the time.  Because I am inter-disciplinary, I have more than one plate spinning at the same time.  The life goals then are what supports my living healthfully and creatively.  And when I can be engaged locally and in any significant global dialogue with citizens and artists, I thrive.  I am inspired by the dialogue and grateful for whatever work inspires it.

 

 CARIDAD SVICH: And are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? Or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: Being a theatre artist is my mindful practice.  It is what keeps me engaged, inspired and in good attention and presence with what is my daily Life.  Like the Magritte painting of the apple and his text: THIS IS NOT AN APPLE, I remain aware that TALKING about my art is not doing it.  However, in refining HOW I talk about my art, my art benefits.  My rendering of “the apple” is the art.  Everything I do, think, say can be art full. Having that kind of curiosity keeps me wild-eyed and fascinated with the mundane because inevitably the next line, the next character or story comes from the next conversation or from whatever table I sit at the restaurant when I lean back and overhear the perfect strangers’ conversation going on behind me.  I can hardly wait to discover what I did not plan for but which births the next big (and hopefully great) idea.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: Family.  Roots.  Passion.  The Spanish language and how I butcher it.  And how I miss it and want to see “it all”--all things Latin around me.  I want more and in all shapes and colors.  And ever since attending the Latino Commons Convening in Boston, I miss the community I reconnected with there and miss them.  It was a utopia of sorts that re-membered all that is Latin in me.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I have felt a real love for wanting to tell what is “US Latin@” as I have experienced it as Mexican American woman from South Texas.  And when I veer off the track and get interested in non-Latin subjects, it’s still the deepest part of the Latin in me that tells it.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I love that speech and action is the most exciting for me when it is deeply embodied in the actor’s physical body.  I love very expressive physicality on the stage.  I like to push the boundaries of what is realistic in a very pedestrian way so that it is on one hand recognizable but on the other hand, sublime.  I also love playing with the cinematic image and how visual the internet’s ways has altered our brains and the way in which we perceive information now.  I am curious to see how the marriage of all of these elements succeeds (or not) to create that moment that ‘awes” us in the way that only poetry can--but in this case, in motion.  And/or through the use of sound and music combined to support the actor’s almost acrobatic presence.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: Casting is a tough and thorny aspect of our art and business. I think we all know plenty of terrific actors who wait and wait for that one or two gigs every year that ask for their "type" to be cast. I am personally of the mind that the more expansive casting can be, especially in theatre, which is, after all, not a photographically representational art form but an abstract one in its essence, the richer an audience's understanding of the form can be. But I know that this may not be everyone's p.o.v. understandably. what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?'

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I attempt to educate them about what appears to be their ‘unquestioned’ beliefs and short-sightedness in ways that they can hear it and not feel attacked. And if I succeed and if they listen, I begin a new collaboration and/or friendship.  Otherwise I know immediately that it is not a match.  And go on to the next possibility. 

 

CARIDAD SVICH: What do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I say everything I can to make the intended reality as written on paper a possibility.  And/or argue for the complete opposite.  For example, in my piece STRIP, the musical I am currently in development with, it is purposefully meant to push every boundary about race and gender by playfully presenting three famous icons in that wildly Caryl Churchill CLOUD NINE kind of way--meaning the subject is questioning the ideas about what it takes to ‘strip’ ourselves of our previously taboo notions about obscenity.  Lenny Bruce is a character in this piece, and because historically he was arrested for saying the ‘f’ word, he argued many times:  “I’m saying it, not DOING it”---there’s a big difference.  The casting is similar.  We know Lenny wasn’t a woman but in this piece there are three of them.  So why not make one of them everything he wasn’t?  Including Mexican.  And maybe even a woman.  (Since he cross-dressed in the Navy)

  

CARIDAD SVICH: it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. Do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? If so, how?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I think the play is the thing and if the characters are multi-lingual, make them that way and allow that to be what and who they are.  Subtitles can be an interesting possibility for the stage.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all? 

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: They talk the way they talk. Or the way my ear heard them talk.  And if they are hybrid, they define their own aesthetics by being the most authentically rendered selves.  On the page.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: As a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: Everything about live performance is thrilling!  I am still so in love, like the first day I fell in love with it, I haven’t fallen out of love.  And it was even love at first sight.  I am so proud to be a part of its magical, spiritual life line.  I admire every living and dead theatre practitioner who married it!  I still have that goofy, fool for Love goose-bumpy--’I just had sex for the first time’ ‘ feel with it all.  And I know, without a doubt, that it’s a match made in heaven!

 

CARIDAD SVICH: Much is made at theatre conferences (esp.) about where and how will we find the new audiences for the work. I think I have been hearing this for about 20 years now. And every year new marketing approaches are discussed and studies are done and surveys get passed around and so forth. Lots of data gets crunched. but there is a bottom line, I think, and you may disagree, but what I see as the bottom line is: if you change the programming, lower ticket prices, do work for free even (see, for example, Mixed Blood Theatre's radical hospitality model), move out of the building(s), maybe just maybe that elusive "new" audience may be nurtured. But it isn’t going to happen sitting inside the building thinking about it or tweeting about it either. Okay. Wee rant over.  But seriously, what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I am proud of the fact that more than once I have found new audiences for the work I do.  And I’m not greedy about it.  It doesn’t have to be the multitudes.  Meaning, the audiences we dream about are at heart-- our next door neighbors, the mail man/woman and/or the college student that bags my groceries.  It’s still about the connection we make.   The invitation we extend.  And then if we’re lucky they ask:  ‘what’s your next project? Or do you have a mailing list?”  And so our relationship begins.  Wherever two or more are gathered begins the new audience for me.  And we remain faithful to the other, I find.  It’s not an abstraction.  It’s a relationship. We often know each other’s name.  And often they bring their friends.  And family.  And I notice, that there’s enough audience to go around!  No worries that we’re going to run out of them once we find them.

 

CARIDAD SVICH: What's inspiring you these days? And/or what's troubling you these days?

 

AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: I am a cheap date.   So easily inspired.  However, I recently bought a converter for my old floppy disks.  And I am discovering old plays or unfinished work I began in the 1990s when the dinosaur computers started to crop up.  The same is true for old cassettes of old original musical.  I am inspired to breathe life into these projects again.  Some are surprisingly worth revisiting!  

 

What is troubling me is that I am obviously getting older if more and more friends (who are ten or twenty years older) are dying suddenly and more regularly.  I am discovering that grief is something you manage as you begin to age even gracefully.  I am practicing “the good cry” like yoga these days.  I sometimes cry for no good reason other than what Beckett said so much better in ENDGAME:

 

“You are alive, there is no cure for that.” 

 

What I do with my aliveness then is what inspires.  And what I do not accomplish is what is troubling.  The peace I manage to find comes from cultivating a middle ground between the two.  

 

 

 

 

 

glow - a poem by Caridad Svich

glow
by Caridad Svich
 
(for Thanksgiving 2013)
 
1.
 
in wintry dark
the spectral ire
of mischief
folds the night.
 
reverie
and silent tears,
a glass of wine or two
 
to friends lost
others won,
to others fast and true,
and talk of this and that rare book
held in the heart with rue.
 
it is said that thanks
is more than Fridays black
and Wednesdays red,
but little else is in the news
 
save for the pale rage
and ghastly scorn
of typhoon Haiyan's residue.
 
bitter tears
amongst the vanished
and those now left to muddle through
without homes
or clothes to wear
or even a cup of brew.
 
a lonely pall
a mournful call
 
what will we say we knew
when records show
this day of thanks
levelled another home or two?
 
 
2.
 
in cities wide
across the miles
she sits in some corner booth
 
the forgotten girl
of yesterday's reel
the image of slender youth
 
remembered now for
a commercial's smile
and a viral misstep or two
 
in sudden morn
o'er brow forlorn
she rests upon the proof
 
of surveillance's dawn
lingering on
a march of privacy's mis-use.
 
who is she now?
 
who are the others
in this calamitous parade,
 
where rights are lost
at mighty cost
while someone somewhere gets paid?
 
who renders this
the everyday?
 
how is it one cannot choose?
 
did someone win
this battle waged
called once a health care boost? 
 
beg my tone
she cries at night
while others hang loose
 
i once recall
a lovely fall
of promises and truth.
 
 
3.
 
an ocean's tide
a fine paid twice
the poor remain the poor
 
as countless more
surrender scores
of bits and files in view.
 
"the cloud is full."
"a portal blew"
will be deliverance's cue
 
for a reign of tales
told to those
who will in time make news,
 
while we sit 
before sorrow's bits
in our humble pews.
 
4.
 
pray those that went
and those that came
while we praised the crews
 
who touched down
with grace
and called that foul
and let the world suspend
 
in games and songs
sung loud and long
with no hidden acumen.
 
oh reason, world,
do not forget
the waves of those you blessed.
 
stir not the fire
of greed's callous desire
to render even more dispossessed.
 
for if the 99 are here
multiplied ten thousand fold
then listen now
to their vows
their truths need be told.
 
5.
 
pretty things
are pretty still
but they leave me pretty cold,
 
when i see that man,
woman or child
left unconsoled
on streets of mist
ice and rain
no legends here to behold,
 
save the endless one
of power's song
and resignation's hue.
 
another day,
cry you one,
let down by the many
and few
 
pray we learn
this lesson true
rather than make a show
 
of rancorous bluster
and impressive woe
to chastise history's wounds
 
 
we are it
there's no one else
to call on
in the morning dew
 
we are history.
gather round.
for in the debter's prison
salvation's overdue.
 
candle lit.
bargain struck.
flicker.
 
that's all we knew.

some thoughts on poetry and life by Caridad Svich

some thoughts on poetry and life
 
As I have said before, to me, poetry and drama are twins. I have translated poetry and written/write it. It is for many a fearsome form, but I think it is only because over the years poetry has much of the time been set aside in culture (outside of spoken word, where it is/has been in culture) and made to seem an "elitist" form. Quite the contrary. Poets ask the deep questions of and about our culture, histories and world. The demands of language - formal or in the vernacular- are bountiful. Novelist and essayist Jeanette Winterson talks about how when she visits small towns in her country of England, she often encounters amongst the older generation in particularly folks who can recite poems from memory at the drop of a hat, and these are not poets but just, you know, "regular" folks like or me. Winterson has remarked in her writings that the generations that were taught in school to memorize poems - to put them to heart- on a fairly regular basis, and thus came to poetry as a living, breathing form, made poetry part of their lives. It was not an elitist practice from a writer or readers perspective. It's when poetry was made "special" (again to paraphrase Winterson) that it became the nearly exclusive province of the academy and academic poets, which is a shame indeed, for poetry belongs to us all because it teaches us to face the tough world with language that is precise, muscular, sharp, and laser-focused.
 
In our everyday lives, poetry is most often experienced, unless you move amongst the world of arts and letters, through ceremonies: the Presidential Inaugural, elegies, weddings, songs of praise, hymns, and sometimes, song lyrics (though not ALL song lyrics are poetry). The public art movement has initiatives for poetry in the streets, most often through the posting of poems on subway cars and other publicly transited areas.
 
When I write poetry, it usually stems from a desire to articulate something about the condition of the world that I cannot articulate in any other way but through a poem. It couldn't be an essay or prose piece or dramatic scene. It has to be a poem because the intimate quality of the poetry allows for a different expression of thought and feeling. Eminent poet Mark Doty talks often about how poetry "is feeling." Its pure expression in abstract terms, because of course, as we all know, language is a system of signs and already an abstraction. Poetry crystallizes emotion. It distills it. Down to the bone. And sometimes, if you are influenced by William Blake, Rimbaud and more, toward the ecstatic, feverish and rhapsodic. New Jersey's own Patti Smith talks about that in her memoir Just Kids.
 
The songwriter and musician Lou Reed passed away recently. While many of us in the world of arts and music mourned his loss and recognized the impact of his legacy, it is also true that part of that legacy is a poetic one. Not all of his wide body of work, of course, was poetry, but some of it was, and the ferocity and sharpness of his approach to the lyric (influenced by his own love of poetry and prose stylists) is rather a lesson that outlives his passing.
 
The great Doris Lessing also passed away recently and to witness, even from afar, and through her vast body of work, was another lesson in how to keep striving, changing, challenging the form itself and making all of us see anew. Consider how many lives Lessing altered when people read The Golden Notebooks alone!
 
So, I was thinking last night deep into the wee hours about Lou Reed and Doris Lessing and poetry and poetic lives - and how writing can and does save us, at its best, if we meet it full-on, and not shy away from it or treat it as a soft machine to merely get by.
 
Writing may be all we got, to use the vernacular. Its power is in our hands.
 
Caridad Svich
 
November 27, 2013

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