Monday, October 29, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 516: J. Julian Christopher
J. Julian Christopher
Hometown: I was born and raised in Levittown, Long Island. Actually the first full-length play I wrote was about my experiences living in Levittown. It is an interesting place. I still go back there often, not by choice really. My sister bought the house we grew up in. It's very odd to go back. It feels like a lifetime ago. Levittown is not necessarily a place I associate with positive memories. My family was great, but outside of the house within the rest of the community I was always an outsider. Qué sera, sera... right?
Current Town: Currently I reside in Briarwood, Queens New York... but I seem to have lived a nomadic existence for the past decade (13 moves in 10 years) so... who knows?
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now I'm working on two new plays, one revision on an older play and a pilot. I'm definitely A.D.D. when it comes to writing. If I get stuck, I need to move on to something else or I'll obsess which is never good for anyone!!!
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: This relates to what I began to touch on about living in white, suburban, Levittown Long Island. I grew up as a “white boy." As a child, I never really had the understanding of what it meant to be Dominican and Puerto Rican. As my parents, sister and I could “pass” for white, my parents kept the “white” façade up and even furthered it by never teaching their children Spanish. I understand why they took these actions, to keep me from experiencing the prejudice they had experienced during their childhood. But I wasn’t white. My name made that apparent to people. But neither was I Latino. This “Americanization” alienated me from my Latino roots as well as distanced me from White America. I was in the middle somewhere -- stuck between the Latino I am and the Latino I was supposed to be. The disassociation I felt towards my heritage continued throughout my adult life extending far into my career. Casting directors and agents saw my name (Christopher Julian Jiménez) and automatically assumed I could speak Spanish. Upon discovering that I could not, they did not know where to place me. And I didn’t know where to place myself. I felt divorced from the name Jiménez, but I wasn’t quite ready to give it up completely. I changed my name professionally to J. Julian Christopher, placing my last name first. That way, for me, it was the most prominent, but I didn’t have to answer the questions that have plagued me most of my life: What are you? How could you not speak Spanish? Aren’t you ashamed that you can’t speak Spanish? Do you eat tacos?
These identity issues manifest itself all over my writing. I'm constantly writing about identity.
Q: How does your directing inform your playwriting and vice-versa?
A: I sort of fell into directing. I was actually an actor for many years before writing or directing so actually my experience as an actor informs my writing tremendously. My first drafts tend to be double of what anyone actually gets to read. I come at writing from an acting standpoint so I end up writing everything down, every thought and feeling a character may have. I find that writing out the subtext helps me discover what the character really needs to keep private. I have had drafts where there was a four-page monologue that ended up becoming one word, "No."
Directing has come mostly from a dramaturgical need. When I'm directing anything, I'm trying to make sure the story is clear. Many times an actor and playwright can lose sight of that because they are too attached and precious about the words. Directing has informed how I approach a script and has given me a great revising eye towards my own plays. I do not like to direct my own work though. I thrive on collaboration and I need that give and take. Recently during the workshop of my play Animals Commit Suicide at terraNova Collective, José Zayas would challenge me to re-examine the script and get to the heart of the story. Since working with him I cut about 24 pages. The play in its current state wouldn't exist without him and I now can't see it any other way. A good director challenges me and I appreciate that.
Q: Tell me about Bulk.
A: BULK-The Series is a webseries created by myself and a dear friend of mine, D.R. Knott. D.R. and I went to high school together. She went to Columbia for film, and we had been looking for a way to collaborate. We wanted to write about under-represented communities and I automatically thought, “Why don’t we do something in regards to the Gay Bear Community?” A Gay Bear, according to the always reliable *ahem* Wikipedia is, "an LGBT slang term for men that are commonly, but not always, overweight and often having hairy bodies and facial hair. It is a subculture in the gay and bisexual male communities and to an emerging subset of LGBT communities with events, codes, and a culture-specific identity." These types of gay male characters are not the norm in mainstream media so we thought that creating a story within the backdrop of the bear community would be an interesting perspective for a webseries. It also doesn't hurt that I'm a member of the Gay Bear Community. We got together, wrote the characters, and created a series from it. You can see the first season at www.bulktheseries.com.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I would say Clifford Odets, Paddy Chayefsky, and Federico García Lorca are my theatrical heroes. The beauty of their language, the power of their message and the brilliance in structure... I just marvel at the craftsmanship without it ever feeling like a craft. Their work feels like life, so effortless. I am in awe every time I read or see one of their plays. I'll never forget reading Chayefsky's THE LATENT HETEROSEXUAL... changed my life.
I also would be completely ridiculous not to mention Martha Graham, José Limón, and Merce Cunningham. It's a toss-up between playwrights and choreographers for me. Well... they are one and the same, really. The body doesn't lie so when I can't intellectually get to the truth of a scene and I need a way to unlock it... I dance it. Works every time.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I'm excited when I see theater that challenges the way I think. I'm excited then I see theater that makes me angry. I'm excited when I see theater that takes risks. No further explanation necessary.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Honestly, sometimes it feels like I'm just starting out and could use advice myself. I've been writing plays since 2008 and from what I have learned thus far is to write everyday. Even if you think it's crap. It's really hard to write and not judge the writing as you go. I'm still learning that. Sometimes you just have to get whatever is in your head, out. Maybe it will be good. Maybe it won't. Maybe there will be a moment that is excellent and will take you to place you never thought you'd go. But I try to write at least an hour everyday.
Also get your work out there and submit it. It's the only way to make it happen, because no one is certainly going to seek your play out when they don't know it exists. Send it out. You have nothing to lose.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I just completed a workshop of my play Animals Commit Suicide with terraNova Collective, directed by José Zayas as part of the Fall Groundbreakers Series. In Animals Commit Suicide, Chance Stevens has a high-end job, classic good looks, and the attention of anyone he wants in the NYC gay scene. Yet something is missing in his life that he cannot live without. He embarks on a dangerous journey of self-discovery only to find the very best and the very worst of a new community of which he so desperately wants to be a part.
Locusts Have No King will appear in the November installment of Salvaged Space Reading Series at Personal Space Theatrics (PST) . In Locusts, four closeted gay men get together for a dinner party and, over the course of the evening, all hell breaks loose…literally.
Nico was a Fashion Model will be workshopped with Variations Theatre Group at The Chain Theater in Long Island City this winter. Set on closing night of the NYC punk club CBGB's, Nico Was A Fashion Model is an intimate look at race relations from a suburban teenage perspective.