Friday, September 20, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 606: Tony Meneses

Tony Meneses

Hometown: Dallas

Current Town: Brooklyn

Q:  Tell me about Guadalupe in the Guest Room.

A:  The play is about the titular Guadalupe, a Mexican mother who just lost her daughter and now has to deal with being in this country and not really knowing the language and then also having to deal with the grief-stricken American husband her daughter left behind too.

The inspiration for this play was basically how I grew up and seeing my own parents struggle with language barriers. I was raised within an immigrant family where the kids all spoke English (including with one another) and the only Spanish in the household was solely with my parents. Eventually I started to wonder if this ever made them feel isolated or even lonely. How did it feel to not have a literal voice in the world sometimes, even with those you love? This play is ultimately an attempt to give voice to that experience.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  The piece I’m working on currently (“School Play”) is a sort of treatise on how race, gender, and sexuality is treated in theatre. (Yes, I’m writing a play about theatre). I’ve been struck for a while about the arguments we have about representation (we aren’t producing enough writers of color or women, this play has characters whose identities are nothing more than stereotype). I wanted to tackle these issues not within one isolated group but within all of them, and hopefully broaden the discourse that sometimes isn’t had laterally with each population.

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

A:  I was pretty much always a well-behaved kid, but apparently there was one night where I refused to take a bath and I kept rebelliously standing up in the tub. My mom got so frustrated with me that she grabbed onto my hair tightly and sternly told me to sit down. Without missing a beat I looked at her dead in the eye and a single tear came running down my cheek. She said she could never punish me again after that.

In short, I am one sensitive little bastard (even when I’m in the wrong…) And that sensitivity, for better or worse, really does kind of translate into how I operate and write plays.

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

A:  Oh man, I miss seeing big, ensemble casts. Like 10+ characters. Totally wish that happened more. Seeing shows now with like 6 characters, I’m like ‘oh my god, how did they do that!’

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Thornton Wilder- for his time, he was doing some truly innovative stuff, all the while preserving a sense of humanity we could all connect to. I also weep whenever I see those videos about Shakespeare programs in prisons. How can you not be moved by these men who find expression and even purpose by doing theatre? Isn’t that what this whole thing is all about?

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Ambitious plays. Plays where I really see writers take a risk with what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. I don’t think we talk about big ideas and even uneasy topics as much as we should. Also, I get very, very excited when I see a cast onstage that isn’t all white, halleloo!

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

A:  Never isolate yourself because you “have” to write. What the hell are you writing about if you deny yourself the company of people?

Q:  Plugs, please

A:  Guadalupe is part of LARK Playwrights Week next week, Thurs. Sept. 26th @7pm. It’s directed by Daniella Topol who is every kind of amazing.

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