Hometown: It's a point of contention between me and my friends. I like saying it's Bronx, NY where I lived the first 13 or so years of my life. Some might say Orlando, FL where I went to High School, but if my legend is to be written by me, then my hometown is The Bronx.
Current Town: West Los Angeles
Q: Tell me about Watson and Watson/Houdini:
A: I wanted to write something for my closest friends and what I knew to be their strengths as performers as well as tell as big a "Lawrence of Arabia"-type epic adventure as I could on an empty stage with no budget. So It began as a lark for a late night serialized sketch comedy show called Serial Killers. The tagline for that show is "Five plays enter and three plays leave." If the audience likes your short play, you get to continue the story the next week. This culminates into a playoffs where the the winner gets a trophy, some cash, and glory. Watson went 21 weeks and won the playoffs.
I took the first fifteen or so episodes and fashioned a full-length play "Watson: The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes" after a six month workshop process. The last six episodes eventually became the sequel "Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini" which premiered earlier this year. "Watson/Houdini" is a much darker, more mysterious, and much more emotional piece. Both were produced by Sacred Fools Theater Company and they gave me as much free rein as any 99-seat LA waiver theater could give. From there it became way more successful than any first play had the right to be.
I am a fan of big-canvas story telling so I never let silly things like budget or stage space deter me from writing as large as my imagination would let me. I was also the director of both pieces so I gave myself permission to paint myself into a corner, I just had to find a way to be able to leap outside of it.
Besides telling outsized tales, both Watsons are really about the underdog, Sherlock Holmes' sidekick John H. Watson, and his struggles with love and friendship as the world shifts around him. Whether he is racing through Europe on horseback to prevent world war or navigating a demented Hall of Mirrors to catch a mass killer; at the center of it, it's really about Watson's heart and for whom he does the extraordinary.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Currently I am workshopping "Deadly", a musical about America's first serial killer H.H. Holmes with playwright Vanessa Stewart and composer Ryan Johnson (I'm directing). Besides that a few small projects to close out 2013. I have some big things in store for 2014. Check out my website for updates. I also recently signed with a manager so I'll be writing a lot more television that will, for the most part, never be seen...until I get television work.
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 big into wrestling, WWF, NWA, AWA. You name it, I watched it. I really was less interested in the athleticism of it all. I took to the storytelling and drama of it all. It really fascinated me why heroes turned heel, villains turned face, the jealousies surrounding valets like Miss Elizabeth and where exactly "Parts Unknown" was. Not satisfied with just watching wrestling every weekend, I bought every wrestling toy my allowance could afford and created my own world. I would even make up my own fight cards.
I was a lonely kid.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I wish theater were a more viable place to earn a living. I'd love something like a return of the Federal Theater Project. If more artists were secure in their living they wouldn't have to compromise their time and passions.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: It begins and ends with Sondheim and travels through Des MacAnuff, Ibsen, Kushner, Tracy Letts, George C. Wolfe and a stay at a cottage in Our Town.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I'm a fan of the immersive, the visceral, the ingenious. My favorite moment of theater in the last couple of years was in David Cromer's production of Our Town that came to LA. It was staged with minimal props in modern dress. It felt like you were watching the play in an gymnasium. You could see the people in the risers the entire show. The Stage Manager, played by Helen Hunt walked in and around the audience. You were not just watching the denizens of Grover's Corners, you were one of them. You could have easily have fallen in love with the person in the row across from you as you could George or Emily. And then, a curtain is pulled, and we lose the convention and enter a fully-realized early 20th kitchen...complete with real sizzling bacon. Brilliant! That's the kind of thing that truly excites me.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Make mistakes. Don't be aftaid of being bad. You will be for a while until you're not.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Both Watson are available for production through Steele Spring Theatrical Licensing. www.steelespring.com. And you can visit jrobledo.com for more info.
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