Friday, July 10, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 21: Kristoffer Diaz

Kristoffer Diaz  
Hometown: Yonkers, NY

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Future Town: Minneapolis in five days.

Q; Tell me about the play you took up to the Orchard Project. What was that experience like?

A; I actually took two plays up there, both tangentially related to baseball. One was Rebecca Oaxaca Lays Down a Bunt, a three-act old-school farce about a young extreme sports star from Southern California who shoots a video of herself practicing bunting in her backyard, posts it on youtube, and inspires a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox for her services. It's ridiculous. I worked with Orchard Project Artistic Director Ari Edelson and their amazing apprentice acting company to do a bunch of pre-writing character research, including some Gmail chat-based improv projects that opened my eyes to the possibilites of using technology in all new ways to create pieces. The second piece was VORP: Value Over Replacement Player, a play about baseball statistics and statisticians. I realized while I was at the OP that VORP actually wanted to be a musical, so the apprentices and I wrote a ten minute, three-song musical piece in about twenty hours. Incredibly exciting, seat of your pants stuff -- and super helpful.

Q; Can you tell me a little about the thing you were just doing in Nebraska?

A: Every year, I go to Nebraska to teach at the International Thespian Festival -- a massive high school theater conference and competition. Usually, I'm there as a dramaturg on a student one-act. This year, I helped create a short performance piece written and performed by five high school actor/writers. It was a remarkable experience for me. Most of the high school theater that gets to national recognition at this festival is big and broad, usually musicals, rarely concerned with the lives of the students themselves. My kinds wrote about themselves and their issues, and it was all deep and passionate and beautiful. Looks like this is what we're going to do every year from now on.

Q: Now, you did the Ars Nova group this past year. How was that?

A: I love Ars Nova. Emily Shooltz is an amazing and tireless advocate for new playwriting voices, and she's put together a really exciting team of up-and-coming writers to share work. The other members of the group are Annie Baker, Bekah Brunstetter, Dylan Dawson, Zayd Dohrn, Tasha Gordon-Solomon, Amy Herzog, Samuel D. Hunter, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Steven Levenson, Matthew Lopez, Janine Nabers, and Samuel Brett Williams. They're uniformly strong writers with unique voices, and I'm thrilled to be a part of them (although I'm leaving the group now for my move to Minneapolis).

Q: Right, you're headed to a Jerome Fellowship in Minneapolis. Do you have plans for what you're going to work on during that long long winter? Have you bought long underwear yet?

A: I've got way too many plans for my Jerome year. It's probably not realistic. I've got a commission or two lined up, so those will probably take precedence. I'm also thinking about a one-man show/lecture that I'd write and perform myself about my complicated relationship to hip-hop music; it's kind of the play I've wanted to write all my life. In the short-term though, I plan on cooking everyday and learning to ride a bike. And of course, shopping for long underwear. And a North Face. Everyone says I need a North Face.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I love theater that is about something -- it doesn't have to be didactic or preachy, but it has to feel like it comes from a writer who needs to get something out into the world. I love theater that interacts with an audience, not in terms of audience participation necessarily, but in terms of acknowledging their presence and energy. I love theater that avoids being about rich people sitting in a room complaining about tiny problems, or about a playwright showing off how smart and well-read he or she is.. I want to see plays that speak to young people (and in theater, under 40 is young), people of color, people who consider live performance something thrilling and exciting, not something you go to either out of responsibility or to show off how cultured you are. Exciting theater, to me, celebrates community. That's the only thing theater can do better than film and TV. If you can't create community in your work, go write for the screen.

Q; What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A; Write things that you care deeply about. One playwright once told me that "everything you write should be as urgent as a suicide note." I believe that. Don't write for what you think the big mainstream theaters want; they'll come around to you eventually if you're doing great stuff. Learn your business -- the writing part of being a writer is actually pretty small.

Q: Any plugs for anything?

A: My show The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is having its world premiere at Victory Gardens in Chicago in September, followed by productions in Philadelphia (InterAct) and Minneapolis (Mixed Blood). Another play, Welcome to Arroyo's, debuts in April at American Theater Company, also in Chicago.


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