Some people make their discoveries through a map, directions, or even a little GPS. Playwrights do it through the body. Sometimes it is the literal body and sometimes the body of an idea, building, or even a city.
Today I am thinking a lot about how much I love actors. The way they move in space, but also in showing the expression of your thoughts and the interpretation of your story—all of it done through their amazing bodies. How extraordinary to think that those limbs are a tool and the rich tones of their voices make your words sound like poetry. If I was born in an earlier time, I am sure that I would have been a company writer for a repertory.
I fall in love with actors all the time. Not literally, because, hey, they are “actors” after all, and post your play, they have to move on, whether you like it or not. But for the moment, they are in my heart in such a deep and profound way. I listen to the rhythm of their voices, the cadences that are uniquely their own. Mostly I am looking for the authenticity of their character (not the one they are playing) and trying to write towards that tremendous strength.
On the actor level, Washington, DC has been a great love affair for me. Some of these artists I had known through seeing or hearing about their work. The director Lisa Peterson had told me that J.J. (Creon) was a special actor indeed. Natural and free on stage—she is right. Mando (Coro) is a talented playwright in his own right, whose production at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York I had heard good things about. David (Laius) is one of those celebrated New York LAByrinth Theatre actors with a body of work that I am in awe of. Gerard (Tiresias) is the local that is new to me, but he is lovely, funny, and a great conversationalist. I saw Andres (Oedipus) in a play by the great Naomi Iizuka where he played Orestes, and I was blown away by his tremendous talent. Jaime is new to me and yet we have had a series of conversations about art and journey that have given me so much hope. I love these guys. They feel like a band of older and younger brothers to me. As for the only female in the company, Romi Diaz, I am in total artistic crush with. Romi and I have already had a journey with Jocasta because she essayed the role in San Francisco. She not only makes me want to write—I am impassioned to think of all the roles I want to create for her.
The director, Michael Garcés is an actor, too. We have known each other for a long time. He is a great colleague, friend, and a fellow Angeleno who runs one of the most important community-based theatre companies in the US—Cornerstone Theater Company. But he’s also more than that. On a play, he is my confidant, my hand-holder, the interpreter of my vulnerability. And what’s really special about him is that he a great director. He brings himself into the work. If you read the script and then see the play, you know what he brings to the experience. When I look over during previews and he is going spastic watching something on stage, he is sharing it with me in a way that is profound, but also weirdly personal and shared at the same time.
So, how is the journey of this play different from the Getty Villa in Malibu, the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, or the Boston Court Theatre in Los Angeles? Well, this is a version of the play that has benefitted from watching things move in space and reaped the benefit of some wonderful actors who have handed over to me a bundle of emotions and ideas that I had not quite considered in this piece before.
It helps that the Artistic Director, “The Shalwitz”, (as he will be called), and dramaturgs that include John Baker and a fun focused staff make it all seem like a place you want to live in.
So, what about Washington itself? I love this city. We’ve just started dating, so it’s complicated. I’ve been doing these residencies across the country, some a year long, some shorter, and each city blooms beautiful colors and unwittingly reveals other shades as well. This is a racially complex city. It’s a rich and poor city as well. It’s obviously very politicized. I can feel it on the long walk from my rented apartment up in the U Street/Cardoza neighborhood all the way down to Woolly at 6th & D Streets. I’ve loved taking the Metro to work every day, because the beautiful faces of the city are as extraordinary as the history and the buildings themselves. I’ve been humbled to visit the universities here and I can see that it is also a city for the young and the old. Maybe, from the outsider’s perspective, a city that is wrestling with change (gentrification) and tradition, is what I am very conscious of.
The monuments are great, but one late Monday night, Michael Garcés and I were looking for a place to have a beer and nothing was open. We gave up and got on the Metro. Getting off in our neighborhood, we came across this Central American/Mexican place called El Paraiso. Michael leans his head in and asks what time they close. He says 2 am. Yay! We sit down for a Modelo and some pupusas, and suddenly we are in every city in America. We are at home.
~Luis Alfaro, Playwright