Jul 6, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 206: Michael Golamco
The San Francisco Bay Area from the peninsula to Marin County to all points in between.
Los Angeles! As a Northern Californian I used to hate on LA, but I have to say that this city’s really grown on me.
Q: Tell me about Year Zero that went up recently at Second Stage and Victory Gardens.
A: Year Zero is a play about a sixteen year old kid that loves Dungeons and Dragons, hip hop, and talking to a skull. It’s a dramatic comedy about the Cambodian Genocide, and there aren’t a lot of those around so I felt like one needed to be written.
The play world premiered at Victory Gardens alongside my pal Kris Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, which is one of my favorite plays of the year. Seriously, have you seen this thing?
Anyway, Victory Gardens is full of wonderful, caring people, and Year Zero grew immensely as a result of that premiere. Plus have you had the hot dogs in Chicago? Amazing. The foie gras hot dog at Hot Doug’s is incredible. Beyond that Chicago is a great place to do work -- they really embrace you and make you feel at home. It’s perhaps the most welcoming city I’ve ever worked in.
The second production of YZ took place at Second Stage, alongside Chad Deity again. Dude, what are the odds? Anyway, I love working in New York. I have a lot of friends there and it feels like a true home base. Any time you need to, you can go lounge at the library at New Dramatists and just read a book and leave the cares of the world outside. And Second Stage was an awesome place to work on the play -- it felt like a true second production in that the play got a lot tighter and more focused. They really take care of you as a playwright there, and we had a lot of fun working in the rehearsal room. Will Frears (our director) is a hilarious, really smart guy.
Q: Tell me please about Cowboy v Samurai going up at Jobsite in FL this August.
A: Cowboy is best described as “Cyrano de Bergerac with race as the big nose”. There is also a ninja in it, or rather a man who thinks of himself as a ninja but really isn't a very good one. All plays should have ninjas.
Florida’s great! I think the folks that are doing it are great as well! Also, Cowboy should also be coming back to Minneapolis later in the year, from what they tell me.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I live in LA so I’m required by law to write for the screen as well as the stage -- otherwise I might get deported to another state. I’m not kidding -- there’s a guy that comes over twice a week to scan my hard drive.
So I’ve sold two features so far this year, and I’m continuing to do film work while I move into TV writing. Theater-wise, I’m working on a commission for South Coast Rep, plus a couple of other things that are rattling around looking for cohesion. Also I want to get a dog in the next couple of months. I know, I’ve been talking about getting a dog for years, but I think I’m finally going to pull the trigger. I’m probably going to name him/her Spaghetti or Omelette or Egon.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: When I was ten my dad brought home a Commdore 64. You should’ve seen this thing: Beige. Yeah, remember when computers were beige?.. A big old keyboard with the entire computer built into it. It used CASSETTE TAPE DRIVES to store data. Here’s the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_64
Anyway, I used to mess around with that thing for hours. Back then magazines like BYTE and Compute had programs printed in them that you would type into your computer, line by line, and run. This was before the Internet or modems even. I would spend days doing that, taking the programs apart and modifying them and seeing how they worked. How to change them. I taught myself how to program in BASIC doing that, which translated to C, Java, PHP, later on. I may be the only playwright that is also a subscriber to the Apple iOS developer program. But who knows -- maybe Sam Shepard’s working on an iPhone app in Objective C right now…
Anyway anyway, those formative experiences taught me a lot about structure, elegance, keeping things simple and precise. A lot of that knowledge transferred to writing and storytelling. It sounds kind of kooky and a bit demystifying, but I think programming and creative writing are linked in a lot of ways. In one activity you’re writing code that compiles for machines; in another you’re writing code that compiles for humans.
That sounds totally nerdy. Please don’t take my lunch money, I need it to buy milk so I can grow.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The economics problem. Expensive tickets, (in)accessibility. At the same time, the nuts and bolts of the enterprise itself is, by its nature, a very expensive and time-consuming process. Plus how do you pay playwrights a living wage, etc., etc.. A lot of the stuff that’s covered in TDF’s Outrageous Fortune.
This is a devil of a problem that I don’t have a solution to. But something needs to change. It’s going to take all of us putting our heads together as a community. Good work needs to get out there, and there are things that theater can do that no other medium on earth can do. I’m pretty sure we’ll figure something out -- I’m an optimist about it.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I’ve always loved Neil Simon’s plays. There’s a comedic wit and charm present in them that I really admire. I think that there are some very smart people working in the theater right now: Adam Rapp, Sarah Ruhl, Lynn Nottage, Guirgis, Julia Cho, Lloyd Suh. Confession: Sometimes I like reading plays more than I like seeing them (because I can study the intricacies of the language in my own time, etc., etc.), and I always get a kick out of reading these guys’ plays. Maybe that’s because I can cast them in any way I wish in my imagination.
Also actors are my heroes. I’m talking about the ones that work their asses off because they love doing what they do. I’m specifically talking about actors who will bake delicious cookies for everyone and bring them to a Saturday rehearsal. You know who you are, and you are my hero.
You know who else are my heroes? Stage managers, designers, house managers, ushers, and everyone else that keeps the whole shebang going.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Stuff that, while I’m watching it, gives me a sort of out-of-body experience. I love theater where the energy is so palpable that it’s contagious. I think it’s the one-to-one live nature of the thing -- when I see really good theater I connect with it on a visceral, autonomic level. I hope that doesn’t sound too weird. I really get energized by it.
I usually have a good time watching any theater. If people care enough to be up there, giving a hundred percent, then I’m usually there with them from the audience. Doing that stuff’s hard.
Q; What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I think the thing that helped me a lot when I started was to just shut up and listen. Take peoples’ notes, understand them and see where they’re coming from. Be open minded. Don’t close up or get defensive. Also, write a lot and send your stuff out to every contest, call for material, etc., that’s out there. Get eyes on your work. Keep writing new work while you’re waiting for a response. Do new drafts of the stuff you’ve got. The things that you’re writing now, even if they become drawer plays, will probably inform your later work in important ways. If you have questions contact me through my website: www.michaelgolamco.com. It may take a while for me to respond, but I’ll do my best.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Red Dead Redemption on the XBOX 360 is a mighty fine video game. I just got to Mexico in it, you should check it out. Also, Fallout: New Vegas is lookin pretty good. It comes out in the fall. Oh you know what else is really good? Plants Vs. Zombies on the iPad. Though once you get the watermelons that freeze zombies (“wintermelons”) it gets a bit lopsided.