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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Mar 14, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 644: Brian Otaño

Brian Otaño

Hometown: Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY

Current Town: Harlem, New York, NY

Q:  Tell me about your Amoralists reading.

A:  Between the Sandbar and the Shore is the first play in a trilogy about two young couples who move in next door to each other, start families, get close and eventually start to cannibalize each other, figuratively speaking. Play one is set in the early 80’s in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, which was such a nutty time. On the surface, everything seemed pretty idyllic, but every now and again, you'd find a corpse shoved between two cars. This entire trilogy takes place outside the bounds of the digital age, when people knew their neighbors, had way less distractions and, you know, had to really face each other! It’s crawling with ghosts, there are a couple of creepy puppet children in it-- it’s got a real horror streak. It’s a fun, heartfelt, vicious play, which puts it right in the Amoralists' sweet spot!

Q:  Why did you decide to write a trilogy?

A:  I set out to reckon with how a person’s relationship with the truth changes when they become a parent. That’s where What We Told the Neighbors (play two) comes from. Then, I wrote Sandbar (play one). While developing play one, Superstorm Sandy hit and I got the inspiration for The Ocean At Your Door (play three). I made some changes to the origin stories while writing play three, so I had to go back to play one and do some adjusting. I don’t know why I decided to write a trilogy. It’s kind of a huge gamble, but I’ll say this: if I were to drop dead after putting the finishing touches on play one, I’d be happy that I left these behind. You know?

Q:  Dark. What are you working on now?

A:   I’m in the thick of writing a new play called Clean Work, or Zero Feet Away. It’s about a gay couple that decides to explore non-monogamy and how that warps their relationship with each other and their friends. There are hook-up app interactions. There’s a botched threeway. There’s some unexpected romance. And paint. One of the major settings in the play is a scenic art shop.

Q:  A scenic art shop?

A:  A shop where theater scenery is built and painted. It’s dirty work, hard work, it’s where fine visual art and construction meet to play dominos and throw shade.

Q:  Do you believe in non-monogamy?

A:  Yes, for those who can do it without hurting anyone. HA! There’s the rub.

Q:  Did you watch Looking on HBO? Will there be some similarities?

A:  I’m sure there’s an overlap in the territory covered but I’d like to hope our voices are distinctive, yet harmonious? I’m waiting until I have time to binge-watch the entire first season. I’m excited to get into it.

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 won't tell a story, I will tell you this... I'm a gay Puerto Rican who was raised on thirteen years of Catholic education and a steady diet of horror movies. Make of that what you will.

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

A:  JESUS, ADAM. One thing? One... I want to say something about access here. Access to funding for artists and projects, access to affordable theater, but most importantly, access to affordable theater education. OH MY GOD. Hello! Education! Can we get some BFA Dramatic Writing programs in NY that won’t run students into six-figure debt? I’m from one of the last BFA Dramatic Writing graduating classes to come out of SUNY Purchase College. I went on my own dime and came out without a mountain of loan debt because the school was affordable. The President and Provost of the school (along with the Chair of the School of Humanities) TORPEDOED that BFA DW program, despite some uproar from Conservatory students and faculty, because they wanted to save the school some money. For a few extra bucks, they basically priced out kids who may have to forego pursuing a BFA in Dramatic Writing if they can’t find the means to pay what it costs to attend BFA programs at private colleges and universities. The dramatic writing teachers up there are top shelf and having access to them on a consistent (often one-on-one) basis in a conservatory setting made a HUGE difference. BA programs: larger class size, less access to overworked teachers, less workshop time, no showcase… There are many, many strengths to the freedom and flexibility of a BA writing program— which Purchase offers— but it’s a shame that a BFA in Dramatic Writing is no longer an option there. Rant over.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I’m gonna list my heroes, period. Some are theatre makers. Some are just theatrical. In no particular order: JT Rogers, Mimi O’Donnell, Emily Morse, Stephen King, Daniel Reitz, Nick Gandiello, David Nellis, Francine Volpe, Kris Diaz, Kander and Ebb, Leonard Bernstein, Adam Bock, Tonya Pinkins, Karen O., Doug Lebrecht, Butch Vig, Mark Englert, Stephen Adly Guirgis, scenic designers Christine Jones, Rob Jones and John Macfarlane, Emily Shooltz, Billy Corgan and Alan Ball. To name a few.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I’ve become one of those people who can fall asleep in the theater once the house lights go out. I'm 31. Sad sad. At this rate, if you can keep me awake, you're ahead of the game.

That said... hmm... I'm excited by theater that requires engages with a range of elements-- language is our main ingredient, sure, but I'm also excited by ingenuity with puppets, video, site-specificity. When I write, I think about the juicy bits I'm offering for actors as well as the designers, dramaturgs and directors.

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

A:  Some of your other previous interviewees have given some awesome advice so my first thing would be to READ THIS BLOG.

ALSO, figure out what your best writing model is-- where can you concentrate best, what’s the ideal time of day, amount of hours per day, etc-- and facilitate that as much as possible. Your work and state of mind will totally improve. I’ve tried different models and I’ve found that the one I’m working with now needs some overhauling.

Lastly, I leave you with the Manhattan Theatre Source house rules: Clean up after yourself, practice generosity of spirit, share your information, principles before personalities.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  OK, I leave you with a plug: Between the Sandbar and the Shore, directed by the illustrious Jay Stull!

Monday, 3/17, 8pm, Walkerspace @ 46 Walker Street! Get into it.

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