Thursday, June 09, 2011

I Interview Playwrights Part 361: Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro



Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro

Hometown: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Current Town: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Q: Tell me about your play next season with the Huntington Theatre.

A: I have lived in Harvard Square for 46 years and been a playwright for 30 years so it was time to write a Cambridge comedy about friends on the cusp of old age. In Before I Leave You, Emily’s cozy world threatens to fall apart: her husband Koji suddenly embraces his Asian roots as his theater career takes off; her best friend Jeremy has a mysterious illness and stops work on his novel; her son leaves home to live with a grocery checkout girl; and her girlfriend Trish has her eyes on Koji. Longtime friendships morph and crumble in the blink of an eye.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: For the last year I have been researching and writing the first draft of Mammal Heat, my golem/robot play. The four characters are Golp, a humanoid with feelings (and with all of Google poured into his head); Maggie, the scientist who created him; Maggie’s 8-year-old daughter, Abigail, who plays with him; and Maggie’s embittered 59-year-old mother, who teaches him about the facts of life. Mammal Heat is a domestic robot play with a window, via TV, to the war raging on the other side of the world.

Q: Tell me about the Huntington Playwright Fellows Program.

A: I am very happy being a Huntington Fellow. Playwrights often feel like itinerant peddlers as they wander from theater to theater, displaying their wares. It’s extremely nice to have a professional roof over your head, especially one that invites its HPFs to all its performances (as well as opening night parties), and makes you eligible for a reading at the end of your tenure. There’s a forty-year age span in our small group and an exciting range of styles and subject matter. Our bi-weekly discussions, under the sharp and genial direction of Lisa Timmel and Charles Haugland, are lively, helpful, and fun. It’s surprising that I enjoy the TPFs so much, being the sort that usually works slowly over time (and also the sort that tends to overanalyze my critics), but I find “the rose, the thorn, the bud” approach to the TPF discussions very nurturing. Most of my writing life I’ve felt like a part-timer; now at 72 I’m finally working full-time.

Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A: As an Asian American woman playwright, I would like the audience to park its assumptions at the theater door. I realize that’s impossible - I admit I tend to be excited by and supersensitive to Asian American plays because it’s like seeing something done by my family. But as a playwright I tend to write what I feel like writing; I don’t let someone else dictate the terms. I believe if you write on what moves you, everything you are will go into your play. One more thing - I think my Asian American characters should be judged like any of my other characters, not just as representatives of a group, but on their own terms.

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

A: Keep a journal, write two hours a day, read hundreds of plays, go to a play a week, get to know your local playwrights and rush to see their plays, when you have writer’s block distract yourself with a 10-minute play and submit it to the innumerable festivals in your favorite cities all over the country, have close friends (other than yourself) that you study and know inside out. Never give up, never despair – after three decades of doing what you love most, the Huntington might give you a call.

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