Friday, August 06, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 234: Ruben Carbajal

Ruben Carbajal

Hometown: Racine, Wisconsin

Current Town: Jersey City, NJ

Q:  Tell me about Subdivision.

A:  It's a play I developed with the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab and director Laramie Dennis. A decade after the first draft, it is at last being produced by Chicago’s Gorilla Tango Theater starting August 4th. It’s about a single mother and her two young sons who invent and converse with imaginary versions of their absent, hard-drinking Father. When he finally does show up, all hell breaks loose. It’s kind of a menacing comedy.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I'm kind of like a dog that buries bones and forgets where he hid them. I always have several scripts going at once. I lose track, rediscover them and pick up where I left off. Right now I'm extending this one-minute piece into a play made up entirely of death scenes. I’m midway through a holiday story, putting the finishing touches on a short that involves the last living man to have read a book. There’s also a screenplay.

Q:  Tell me about your day job(s). What is it like to work for the NBA?

A:  I've been freelancing for eleven years. One of my continuing gigs has been working in the script department at NBA Entertainment. I’m part of the team that produces the live elements of The All Star Games, exhibition matches in Europe/China, and other events. Entering an empty stadium and watching it gradually transform into a full-blown stage for performers like Beyoncé and Alicia Keys never fails to astound me. The job’s given me the opportunity to live in Athens for the Olympics, write a monologue for Arnold Schwarzenegger, script dozens of commercials for network TV, and know my way around Shanghai pretty well. I also love the people I work with—it’s really an all-around great gig. The only problem is that in the downturn of 08' I lost almost all of my other clients, and it’s been tough in this economic climate to find new ones.

Q:  Your bio describes you as "spending the first nineteen years of your life praying to get out of your hometown of Racine, Wisconsin" but goes on to say that you now spend much of your time "talking, writing and thinking about Racine, Wisconsin."

A:  You can leave Racine, but it never leaves you. It's a small city on Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Chicago, probably best known for cornering the market on kringle, a delicious Danish pastry. The New York Times recently referred to Racine as “The Hamptons of the Midwest”--which made many familiar with the city ponder the question: Was the reporter on street or prescription drugs? It’s also the prom capital of the world. If you don't believe me, you can check out The World’s Best Prom, a documentary I co-produced, on Netflix Instant or here for free. My first published play, The Gifted Program is set in my hometown circa 1986, and is about the last remaining members of Washington High's Dungeons & Dragons club.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  During a parent-teacher conference in grade school, my Mom was assured that I was a good student, but that whenever I had a book report or an assignment due, I would insist on creating a skit at the last minute as a substitute.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  In the early 90’s I saw some of David Bucci's work in Providence. He’s the reason I started writing plays. Keith Johnstone’s book Impro was and is a great influence. My original plan was to move to a mid-sized city and start a theatre company. I took what I thought would be a six-month detour to visit New York. I’ve been here fifteen years. So I have tremendous respect for Matt Slaybaugh, who is living out my dream with Available Light in Columbus-- he's also someone who really understands the contemporary landscape and has found a way for theatre to fit into it. I'd be lying if I didn't mention your plays and your blog (a resource I would’ve killed for starting out) as a kick in the ass.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Blame my Midwestern background, but I write mostly conventional, naturalistic plays. Personally, though, I love stuff that pushes boundaries. I like being placed off-center, challenged, scared. Stuff like Albee's Tiny Alice, Pinter's The Dwarfs. Young Jean Lee's The Shipment is one of the most daring and satisfying things I've seen in a while. Really loved Clubbed Thumb’s recent production of Anne Washburn’s The Small.

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

A:  Listen. Pay attention. If you don't write it down, it doesn't exist.

Everyone says this, but it’s true: make your own theatre. Lately I’ve been too exhausted to follow my own advice, but in the past this has paid off for me.

One of my favorite quotes on writing: “Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.” – Henry Miller

Q:  Plugs, please:

Subdivision, Directed by Kara Beth Karstedt at Gorilla Tango Theatre in Chicago opening August 4th

My short play Car & Carriage Collide will be in the August issue of Instigatorzine.

Adam and I both have a monologue in the recently-published DPS anthology Outstanding Men’s Monologues, Volume 2, edited by Craig Pospisil, another playwright you should most definitely check out.

A film adaptation of David Bucci’s explosive and hilarious play, Altamont Now is now out on DVD.

I’m looking forward to Daniel McCoy’s play GROUP, directed by Heidi Handlesman.

Heidi’s the founder of Potluck Plays, a reading series where I recently caught Larry Kunofsky’s Your Boyfriend May Be Imaginary. I was blown away with the script’s deft mix of humor and underlying sadness. If there’s a company out there full of ambitious twentysomethings looking for a play that feels like a party, but also has a lot going on, look no further. I’m dying to see this on its feet.


tdawg said...

Ruben Carbajal is one of the most criminally under produced playwrights around. This guy fucking rocks.

Mariah said...

So much love for "Your Boyfriend May Be Imaginary." Saw some mind-blowing site-specific theatre this past weekend that made me want to do "Your Boyfriend" as a site-specific traveling party.

Larry said...

I agree with tdawg.

Ruben is like the Travis York of playwrights, or something.