Aug 3, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 372: Octavio Solis
Hometown: El Paso.
Current Town: San Francisco.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Several commissions. One for the Denver Center, one for South Coast Rep, two for Yale Rep, and one brand new one for the Magic Theatre in San Francisco.
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 about 12, I was bicycling with my friend along the levee of the Rio Grande right by my house. We were performing stunts on the gradient of the ditch and drinking cokes and throwing stones into the sludgy brown water of the river. A US Border Patrol cruiser drove up and the officer asked us what we were doing. We told him we were just hanging around. Then he gave us a hard steely look and asked us for our identification. I told him I was an American citizen and a kid besides, and that I didn't need identification. He leaned down to me and took off his sunglasses and told me I would never be an American, no matter how hard I tried. In his eyes, and in the eyes of the world, I was and would forever be a Mexican. He almost cuffed me and took me in, but he laughed and drove off.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: America's infatuation with British drama. Having once been an Anglophile, I can understand the preoccupation with English plays, but as the American theatre movement persists in ignoring the diverse voices on its own shores, it's starting to feel a little classist.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Maria Irene Fornes and Shakespeare are my foremost influences. They changed the way I wrote. Sam Shepard also. But I think it is literature which has influenced me the most. I read a lot. Poetry, fiction, etc.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The kind that rattles me to the core. That scares the fuck out of me. The kind of theatre that keeps me up at night and possesses me during the day.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don't wait for to be discovered. Don't wait for some champion to come along and produce your work. Do it yourself. Make it happen. Define your terms and go. That way, you own your art and make your own mistakes and learn all the facets of theatre-making. From the ticket booth to cleaning the toilets to working with the actors: apply yourself to it. You'll either trust yourself in this or you won't.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I have a new musical, Cloudlands with music by Adam Gwon (Lyrics by both of us) opening at South Coast Repertory Theatre in April, 2012.