May 7, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 448: Monet Hurst-Mendoza
Hometown: Pasadena, CA
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: Tell me about Veil'd.
A: Veilʼd began as my undergraduate playwriting thesis at Marymount Manhattan College. During my fall semester I was lucky enough to stumble upon an article by Naomi Wolf in which she interviews Afghani women about their burqas. Two groups emerged: 1) women thoroughly opposed to wearing burqas, and 2) women who saw the burqa as a symbol of sexuality, protection, and empowerment. I thought the latter was an interesting viewpoint that I, as an American woman, had never been exposed to. Shortly after reading this, I was visiting my niece, Elle, in California. As a toddler she was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), a condition on the Autism spectrum. Symptoms can include a range of complications, including difficulty socializing with others, repetitive behaviors, and heightened sensitivities to certain stimuli, etc. When Elle was very young, she had a particular aversion to being touched (that has since passed). She once told me that it felt “like fire” when I brushed against her arm; somehow this phrase always stuck with me. Every time I see my niece, I find myself looking at the world with new eyes because she sees everything so differently; everything about nature is precious to her and sheʼs always asking questions without provocation. It makes me wonder how we, as adults, lose that raw, honest instinct that we had as children. I wanted to explore these themes in Veilʼd, so I model a lot of my protagonist, Dima, after Elle and my thoughts on the article. As for the rest? Sharks, magical realism, Ebay, hipsters and fairy tales are all irrational obsessions that I have and refuse to answer for.
Since then, Veil'd has gone on receive various development opportunities from Rising Circle Theater Collective, The Kupferberg Center, |the claque|, and The Lark. It's been a very exciting process!
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: My friend, Karron Karr, and I are currently collaborating on a performance piece about online dating. We are interested in how it's changing the way we communicate, court; that it's essentially changing our culture. The piece will be multimedia, incorporating live actors, video, projection, and possibly even live feed on the internet. We are applying for a space grant for performance space some time in June, July or August. The space is a windowed storefront, so the performance will be free and accessible to everyone. If this goes well, we hope the piece will have a longer life in venues more equipped to deal with pieces dealing with technology.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: One of my most defining childhood moments was the day I stopped believing in Peter Pan.
I was 4, and I was sitting on the top bunk of the Ikea bunk bed set my sister, Esprit, and I shared. Esprit and I were playing and at some point, she left me to go to the bathroom. In an effort to keep me safe (or trapped), she took the ladder off the bunk bed, so that I wouldn't fall. Big mistake. She must have found something else of interest because she was gone for a lot longer than she said she would be. I wanted to get down, but I couldn't.
At the time, I was obsessed with Mary Martin in the musical version of Peter Pan -- I even had a costume my mom made for me that I would wear all the time and refuse to take off! So, I figured, "think a happy thought" and I jumped off and landed head first on a chair, splitting my head open. I ran into the kitchen, blood rushing out, and I think my dad nearly fainted. 5 stitches. I just remember crying the entire car ride, not from the pain, but from the sheer fact that Peter Pan was a liar. And ever since then, I've been trying to find alternate ways to fly.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: More women. More artists of color. More opportunities for "emerging" writers that are actually "emerging."
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Oh gosh, there are so many. Sarah Kane, JoAnne Akalaitis, Deborah Warner, Naomi Iizuka, Young Jean Lee, Anne Bogart, Sarah Ruhl, Sheila Callaghan, Katori Hall, Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, Mac Wellman, Rollin Jones, Samuel Beckett, Jules Feiffer, Jean-Paul Sartre.... I could go on forever.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Variety excites me. I like seeing a-typical stories told from various perspectives. Subjects that make me want to laugh, cry, dry heave, clench my fists, and stand up & make something out of my life are always winners in my book. There are 4 specific theatrical experiences whose stories got to the core of me that I always bring up in conversation because I was so moved. They are, Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann at Women's Project, Iphigenia 2.0 by Chuck Mee at Signature Theatre, Blasted by Sarah Kane at Soho Rep, and Lear by Young Jean Lee, also at Soho Rep.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I myself am still starting out, but this is what has worked for me:
Find an artistic home with people who believe in your work -- friends, other artists, theatre company big wigs, anyone who is positive and loves to read/see your work. Support is so important to your well-being as an artist and a person. Theatre that you create in your living room is just as relevant and wonderful as packing a full house at Lincoln Center. See plays. Read plays. When opportunities rain, it pours; if it's been a dry season, you're not a failure. Try something new that scares you as a writer. Don't give up on yourself. Be persistent. Apply, apply, apply. Sooner or later, someone cool will read your play, love it, and ask you to be interviewed for their blog :)
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Veil'd is having a workshop with simple design elements at Queens College May 12 & 13th. It's directed by Nicole A. Watson and will be co-presented by Rising Circle Theater Collective and the Kupferberg Center for the Performing Arts. http://kupferbergcenter.org/veild.htm
I'm also co-producing the PlayRISE Summer Play Festival for Rising Circle Theater Collective at Theater Row June 6th-10th. It's a celebration for emerging writers of color who have gone through our 12-week play lab intensive, INKtank. This year we are presenting readings of plays by Matthew Paul Olmos, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, Susan Soon-He Stanton, and Raquel Almazan. www.risingcircle.org
I try to maintain a blog (and do podcasts!) here: www.angrypatrons.com