Category Archives: Interview

PLAY/ground Micro-interview: Carlos Murillo

carlosmurilloBoston Court: The protagonist of this play, a writer, has his authenticity questioned. Why is being considered inauthentic so abhorrent to a writer? 

Carlos Murillo: I’m not so sure it is abhorrent. I think it depends on how you define authenticity, who is making the determination of whether or not something is authentic, or even if you consider authenticity a necessarily positive value.

The play tells the story of two Latino playwrights in the late 80s who are sick of being pigeonholed by the expectations of their field to write a certain kind of play in a certain vernacular that people in power believe is an authentic expression of Latino experience. More interested in subverting monolithic notions of what constitutes “Latino experience” or a “Latino play,” they take on the true story of Danny Santiago, a young reclusive Chicano novelist who published FAMOUS ALL OVER TOWN, a critically acclaimed novel about growing up in the tough barrios of East LA. In virtually every review of the novel, the book was praised for it’s authentic depiction of Chicano life in Los Angeles. A literary scandal was unleashed when the New York Review of Books revealed that young Danny Santiago was in fact  Daniel Lewis James, a white, a 70 year old, ex-Communist, blacklisted screenwriter, and scion of a wealthy Kansas City Family – a figure that couldn’t exist in a world further from the one he portrayed in his novel. Reactions ranged from “who cares?” to accusations that James was a vampire, a fraudulent cultural thief who had no right to pen this story. Both of those extremes are deeply troubling to me – on the “who cares?” end of the spectrum there’s the implication that that there is no such thing as cultural theft, and James’ actions hurt no one; on the vampire fraud end of the spectrum, the implied suggestion is that 1) artists are not free to imagine worlds, characters and stories outside the narrow experience of their own culture; 2) that there exists some clear, authoritative standard for measuring “correct” and “incorrect” depictions any given culture; and 3) that . The Latino writers in the play are faced with this very dilemma when they decide to tell James’ story – can they “authentically” write in James’ voice, and convincingly depict his world, which is completely alien to them? Understanding and coming to terms with where my own beliefs and values fall on this spectrum drove me to write the play.

Interestingly, James himself described writing in the voice of Chato de Shamrock, the protagonist of FAMOUS, as the closest he ever came to finding an authentic authorial voice. (Having read much of his extant work, I would wholeheartedly agree with him). In a sense, writing the novel he found in his fictional Mexican American family a metaphor to express the crisis of his own, very different, American upbringing. After fifty years of failure as a writer, I applaud James for having stuck it out and finding, after a lifelong struggle, a kernel of truth by wearing the mask of Danny Santiago. I also curse him – his formidable connections in the literary world paved a back channel way for his novel to be published by a major house, while real Chicano writers, lacking access, barely registered a blip on the literary mainstream at the time. I also find hilarious and enervating the role critics played in the whole debacle – they were, after all, the ones that declared Santiago’s book authentic in the first place. How much experience did they have on the streets of East LA to make such an authoritative determination?

Who can really claim to own cultural expression, what is appropriate/inappropriate appropriation, what is authentic/inauthentic… Recently, while researching a musical I am presently writing, I read an article online about the Jay-Z song “Takeover” (http://www.ethanhein.com/wp/2011/jay-z-and-alan-lomax/) that sums up my ultimate feelings about the impossibility of answering these questions. Strangely, the estate of Alan Lomax, the legendary folklorist who spent his life collecting field recordings of “authentic” singers around the world from the 1930s through his death in 2002, owns a piece of that song. Why? Well, Jay-Z’s song, like so much hip hop, samples and quotes from a ton of pre-existing sources, including Bowie, The Doors and KRS-One. The KRS-One sample samples a riff from an earlier Grand Funk Railroad song, that’s actually a cover of a song by The Animals’ “Inside Looking Out,” which in turn is based on a song called “Rosie.” Where did “Rosie” come from? No one knows for sure – it’s one of those ancient African American tunes passed down from generation to generation, and whose author was lost to history. But Lomax was the first to record it when he heard a chain gang sing it at Parchman Farm, a prison-plantation in Mississippi.

Peel open that onion.

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Carlos Murillo’s play Your name Will Follow You Home, will be presented on Sunday, November 9th at 11am.

The reading is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended.

To reserve, call 626-683-6883 or email JoeM@BostonCourt.com

Carlos Murillo is a Chicago-based playwright, director and educator. His plays have been produced widely throughout the US and Europe. His most recent play, YOUR NAME WILL FOLLOW YOU HOME, originally commissioned by Steppenwolf will have its Spanish language premiere at Repertorio Espanol in NYC later this fall. Other plays include A Thick Description of Harry Smith (P73 in NYC), Diagram of a Paper Airplane (Commissioned by The Goodman, Sundance Theatre Lab), Augusta and Noble (Adventure Stage), dark play or stories for boys (Humana Festival, Theatre der Stadt Aalen, Germany, Vigszinhaz, Budapest, Hungary), Unfinished American Highwayscape #9 & 32 (Theatre @ Boston Court, LA), Mimesophobia (NYC Summer Play Festival, Theatre Seven), A Human Interest Story (or the Gory Details and All) (Theater der Stadt Aalen, Germany, Walkabout Theatre, Hangar Theatre, Son of Semele in LA), Offspring of the Cold War (Walkabout Theatre, Sundance), Schadenfreude (Circle X in LA, Sundance), Never Whistle While You’re Pissing (Group Theatre Seattle, South Coast Rep HPP) and Near Death Experiences with Leni Riefenstahl (Red Eye, Minneapolis.) His work has been commissioned by Steppenwolf, The Goodman, Berkeley Rep, South Coast Rep, The Public Theater and the University of Iowa International Writers Program. His work has been published by Dramatists Play Service, Smith & Kraus’ New Playwrights: Best New Plays of 2007, Heinmann, and Theatre Forum. The Javier Plays, a trilogy of works, is forthcoming from 53rd State Press. Awards include: Met Life Nuestros Voces Award from Repertorio Espanol, the Frederick Loewe Award from New Dramatists, two National Latino Playwriting Awards from Arizona Theatre Company, the Ofner Prize from The Goodman, and the Otis Guernsey Award from the William Inge Festival. He is currently enjoying a year long residency at The Goodman Theatre where he is working on a play about the murder of Colombian soccer player Andres Escobar in 1994. Carlos is an alumnus of New Dramatists in NY and a former Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists.  He heads the Playwriting Program at The Theatre School of DePaul University. He lives in the South Side of Chicago with his wife Lisa Portes and their two children Eva and Carlitos.

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What is a ‘Boston Court’ play?

A Conversation with our Literary Managers

EMILIE: We are often asked what a “Boston Court” play is, and that’s both a difficult and easy question to answer. In some ways, it’s like any art: we know it when we see it. This is particularly true because we look for scripts that break known boundaries; if we could tell each other what those looked like, they would already be known entities. But we wanted to share some thoughts that could be helpful in identifying our brand.

We tend to respond to deep human themes; stories that are more investigative than they are clever; and perhaps most importantly, plays that make us talk more about ideas than about plot. In general, we like plays that ask more than answer. And, in all of that, a story told with a strong voice, a unique vision, that breaks boundaries not for the sake of breaking them, but because that’s the only way to tell that particular story.

And by the way, I offer none of this as an absolute prescription, simply as an articulation of what we’re often attracted to.

AARON: Our mission makes clear that we appreciate and celebrate work that is “inherently theatrical,” but what does that phrase mean? In the simplest sense, it means that the work could not exist in another form. For any variety of reasons, be they about style or thematic explorations, this piece of writing would not be at home on a television screen or in a movie theater. In addition, for us, “inherently theatrical” also means that the work does not always strictly adhere to the perceived rules of our world. Instead, it may create its own rules and ask us to participate in the endeavor.

Here’s what, stylistically, is up our alley. While we enjoy and program work in a wide variety of styles, I think it is safe to say that a Boston Court Play only truly lives when it is fully staged and realized. Any piece that can accomplish all, or even most, of its narrative goals in a reading, for example, would not be for us. Many of the plays we produce have fractured or non-linear narratives, poetic dialogue, and physical explorations that are non-naturalistic.

Many are also what some would call “expressionistic”, meaning that everything from monologues and movement to the structure of the pieces themselves are vehicles to allow the inner working of the characters, and the story, to be externalized.

As mentioned earlier in this conversation, these are not hard and fast rules–we have certainly programmed plays that do not meet every single one of these points of interest–but they are techniques and choices with which we often work.

EMILIE: Aaron, you speak about creating rules, and I want to riff on that a little. You have to know the rules to break them, and then you have to know what rules you’ve broken in order to create your own. The plays that pique our interest often have at least some of this in the way they’ve been mapped. An obvious way to make an example of this would be to look at Nancy Keystone’s Alcestis, which we produced last year. We can point to the original play, and then look at the ways Nancy busted it open. The story is the same, but it hasn’t been plotted in the same way. Nancy used the play as a way to explore grief, but then she circled back and conveyed the story of Alcestis using her own language. There was deep thought in the process in which it was created, in form as much as content. And I think this is an important piece to us: that structure is equal to content; one defines the other.

AARON: Absolutely. The idea that form and function are intertwined is integral to the work we produce. The stylistic choices cannot be separated from the content of the material. Nor can the style be separated from the metaphoric resonances with which the pieces are engaged. Additionally, the plays that we choose ask for a certain kind of focused attention in which there is no opportunity to detach from the experience. Instead, they require a high degree of investment, both intellectual and emotional, on the audience’s part.

Another example is Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, a modern-day adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. This piece utilizes the bones of The Seagull‘s narrative to create an exploration of art’s value, inherent and otherwise, to society. This is accomplished partially through meta-theatrical moments, in which characters/actors blatantly call out the artifice of this theatrical experience, while also honoring it fully and being inside the experience. It may sound like a trick or a device, but it is not. These moments get to the heart of what this new piece, as well as Chekhov’s original, is about.

EMILIE: Yes, SFB accomplishes in a different way what Michael Elyanow’s The Children–based on Medea–did a few seasons ago. Each remains loyal in certain ways to the original, and each also succeeds in becoming a new play of its own making. These versions are heightened if you’re familiar with the original plays, but that isn’t necessary for the emotional or intellectual experience of viewing the updated incarnation.

And we’ve now named several plays based on earlier plays, so let me open this up to say that what’s exciting is when we read a script – new or adapted – that is deeply exploring something. The kind of exploration that we’re drawn to can sometimes feel big enough to almost seem convoluted or unwieldy, but if we have a sense that the playwright is trying to drive toward a specific, powerful idea, we are excited by that diamond in the rough. We love plays that are messy but deep, as opposed to plays we read that are slick and shiny but thin. It’s difficult, as we’ve found, to flesh something out, and much more interesting to work with a playwright on paring something back.

And this goes back to your earlier point, Aaron, about the kind of work we do being different to what can be found on a screen. We aren’t doing kitchen-sink dramas, unless there’s maybe an actor playing a kitchen sink. (That sounds like a joke, but we did have actors playing objects in our most recent show: Sheila Callaghan’s Everything You Touch. They played ashtrays and telephones and coat racks, among many other things, as a way of showing society’s objectification of women.)

AARON: We should also mention that we have some practical considerations as well. We do love world premieres, but we’re also interested in producing a play that would give the playwright a second production of the work. Playwrights find getting second and third productions as difficult or more difficult than getting an initial production. It’s really only after a play has found three or more productions that it tends to find its own momentum. But for us, it’s always about our excitement about what the play is up to, rather than the status of it as a world premiere.

Conversely, I will say that sometimes, we’ll find a script that has had five or six productions elsewhere in the country, and though none of them are in our backyard, we know that someone else in Los Angeles will likely produce that play. We would rather give our programming space to plays that other theaters tend to think of as too challenging, risky, or even too flawed. Dan Dietz’s American Misfit and David Wiener’s Cassiopeia were both scripts that had gathered dust in their respective playwrights’ drawers for a decade before we programmed them.

EMILIE: Yes, and we also understand that a play sometimes can’t find its voice without all the elements of a full production. Sometimes that means we take a risk by agreeing to give a production to a script that hasn’t yet fully come together on the page. But part of that risk is because we want to offer the playwright the opportunity to discover the alchemy of all the elements that are impossible to pursue on the single dimension of the page. We take a calculated risk that the play’s discovery of itself fully realized will be far richer than purely the text on the page.

And so, it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that we’re very interested in working with playwrights who want to dig into their scripts. Not everyone is interested in this, and we respect that. But we’re always going to look for people who want to engage with us on the work.

AARON: Emilie, I think that’s a great place to leave us, with the idea that we, at Boston Court, are hoping to interact with writers who will find it exciting to be in an environment where the desire is to help the play become its best self–not to try to mold it into something else, but to have a collaboration that deepens the scope of the work and expands the possibilities of the ways in which their own voice and their own creation can most effectively communicate.

THE VISION STATEMENT: The Theatre @ Boston Court produces passionate, artist-driven theatre that challenges both artist and audience. The Theatre @ Boston Court urges its artists to fearlessly and passionately pursue their unique voice and vision. Play selection encompasses a wide variety of genres (classics, musicals and world premieres, with a special emphasis on nurturing playwrights and new play development) which are inherently theatrical, textually rich, and visually arresting.

On Writing Se Llama Cristina, by Octavio Solis

Octavio Solis #2The title character of the play is invisible. But Cristina is very present in every choice that is made on the stage. As she is present in every decision I make in my life. After all, she is based on my daughter. Or so it seemed to me at first. Now I think not. I think she is based on my terror.

About 20 years ago, when I learned that my wife was pregnant and that I was going to be a father, I began to write this play. I was feeling scared at the prospect of this new little life coming into our home, and I had paralyzing doubts about my ability to carry out my fatherly duties, and even wondered whether I deserved her. So I started to write this strange play. In it, I meant to express all my fears and anxieties about becoming a dad. I thought I might be terrible at performing my duties; I was afraid that I would be cruel and violent or, at the very least, cold and uncaring. But my greatest fear was that I would abandon my daughter, that I would on one final disheartening occasion wish her away. The world is filled with too many accounts of men who are done in by the challenges of fatherhood, and I wondered if mine would be one of them.

At any rate, without knowing what I was really writing about, I found myself in a bare room with two people waking up from a deep sleep to discover that they had forgotten everything they knew before. I made the discoveries as they made them, I saw the crib when they saw it, I found their memories when their bodies remembered. The play was vague and unruly and I didn’t know where it was going; I only knew I needed it to help purge me of what I called my “night terrors” (yes, parents have them too.). At some point, I hit a wall. I didn’t know where to go next, I couldn’t write any further, and so I put the play on a floppy and consigned it to my Fail File. I guess I was in the belly of the beast, where my perspective was necessarily skewed.

A few years ago, Kent Thompson of The Denver Center for the Performing Arts offered me a commission to write his company a play and I accepted. It was then that I took that disk off the file and read the play again and suddenly I knew what the play was about. I knew how to finish it. I knew how the story would resolve itself because I know how mine turned out. My daughter is grown into a beautiful young lady with a bright future and she is the evidence that it turned out okay. Fatherhood simply required me to be there when she needed me, and though, I haven’t been perfect, this play is poignantly telling me today, as it attempted to do so twenty years ago, that I didn’t do too badly. But Se Llama Cristina is also reminding me that the terrors of fatherhood never go away.

PLAY/ground micro-interview with George Brant

Brant PicBoston Court: “Dark Room” is inspired by a real life figure, the photographer Francesca Woodman, and her work. How much did the facts of her life influence the piece, and how did you go about translating the emotional content of her photos into your writing?

George: Woodman’s biography definitely influenced the play, but my goal was to keep it at bay as much as possible, in an attempt to let the play be more about her work than her life.  Inevitably though, her life permeates the play. As far as the process of writing the play, I first came across her photographs while at a residency at MacDowell, and as Woodman had spent time at the Colony herself years earlier, I felt in some ways in communion with her as I responded to her work from a theatrical angle.

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PLAY/ground micro-interview with Eric Coble

Eric Coble 8x8 RGBBoston Court: “My Barking Dog” asks some big questions about the ways in which we live in this world and our complex relationship to nature, largely through the depiction of an animal that many of us in Southern California encounter regularly: the coyote. What was the jumping off point for this particular treatment of those questions.

Eric: I wanted to explore what would happen when two desperately lonely people encountered an utterly profound and incomprehensible mystery.  What if something deeply deeply wild just walked onto the back stoop of their apartments?  What if it reached out to each of them in very different ways and they had to deal with that?  Those were my starting points, then I just wrote scenes and moments and let Melinda and Toby react and proact in their new world.  And the ultimate shape of what happened to them was startling.  And while it makes sense to me, it’s still a little terrifying and awe-inspiring.  Like a coyote standing five feet away from you on your back porch.

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PLAY/ground micro-interview with Emilie Beck

EmSeriousShotBoston Court: “Habeas Corpus” allows its audience a view into the many people and concerns surrounding our justice system, and is specifically focused on the death penalty. When researching, what most surprised or moved you and how did these revelations come to influence the piece and its interests?

Emilie: One of the first people I interviewed as I was doing research, was a judge who had just retired from the New York Supreme Court. At the end of our interview, he said he was going to make one request of me, and that was to not make my character on Death Row innocent. Of course, this would have been the most straightforward choice, so if I were to honor that request, I would be thrown off the most seemingly dramatic telling of this story. But his point was that the argument over the death penalty isn’t that someone might be innocent; the root of it is that even the worst of the worst shouldn’t be murdered by the State. I did choose to honor his request, and that meant that instead of a linear plot, this play came to be revealed through a layering of stories, allowing me to compare and contrast, and show the good and the bad in all of us. The result is a spectrum rather than a pointed journey. Not where I thought I was going originally, but a much more satisfying outcome in its complexity.

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PLAY/ground micro-interview with Lily Blau

Lily Blau sm fileBoston Court: “The Missing Pages of Lewis Carroll” take a detailed look at the ways in which desire, fantasy and creation can intersect. What inspired the exploration of the real life figures connected to “Alice in Wonderland,” and to what extent does the play use fact to inspire fantasy?

Lily: “Alice in Wonderland,” like any good fairytale or myth, is the sort of story that grows with you. When I was a kid, the absurd logic and imagery simply made my imagination soar. But when I came back into contact with the story, around age 12, I felt a depth that I hadn’t previously been able to understand. There was a stark sadness to the story, a sense of frustration and longing that was even clearer in “Through the Looking Glass.”  But at that age, I didn’t think to wonder why. Only years later, when I learned there really was a little girl named Alice, did the pieces start to come together.

It can be dangerous to comb for autobiography in an author’s work — as a writer I should certainly know better. But whether or not “Missing Pages” comes close to the truth of Lewis Carroll — or rather Charles Dodgson’s — story, I do think creation of any sort comes out of love. And in Dodgson’s own words, the book was “the love-gift of a fairytale.” The play is one possible love story.

While “Missing Pages” is not wedded to facts, the play does hinge on a true story. Before the publication of Dodgson’s diaries, three entries were cut out of one of the notebooks with a razor: June 27th, 28th, and 29th of 1863. There is no way to know what was actually contained in the pages, or even who got rid of them — a niece in care of the books, or Dodgson, himself. But one fact does remain: for the five months following those entries, not Alice, nor any member of the Liddell family is mentioned.

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