Thursday, December 22, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 899: Hortense Gerardo






Hortense Gerardo

Hometown: Middleburg Heights, Ohio

Current Town: Boston

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on a coming of age play about an immigrant Filipino girl and her family assimilating to life in an American suburb of Cleveland beginning with the Hough riots in the 60’s.

The play started out as a kind of creative non-fiction memoir about growing up in what I thought was a blissfully hermetically sealed environment that was the American Midwest suburban experience. But without my realizing it, the piece became an examination of race and class issues by virtue of writing from the perspective of a token person of color in a white, working-class neighborhood.

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 born in the States while my parents were on a work visa, so we had to go back to the Philippines when I was two years old. Two years later, we came back to America via a cruise liner that sailed via the Pacific Ocean for what seemed like months but was probably only a few weeks, till we landed in San Francisco. Because I was young and it seemed we’d been living on the boat for so long, I kind of forgot what it was like to live in a house with a yard and to have grass underfoot.

We stayed at a relative’s home for a few days while my parents regrouped for the long drive cross-country to the Midwest, where they had jobs as physicians waiting for them in Ohio.

On the first day off the boat, my uncle introduced me to grapes. I’d never had them before, and I loved the taste of them, the color and size, which were huge in my little palm at the time.

That first night back on American soil, I was sleeping in a guest room with my brother, in a sprawling, multi-level ranch house that I had never been in before, and I was really afraid of the dark but I had a powerful craving for the grapes that I knew were in the refrigerator.

Somehow, I got the courage in my four year-old self to sneak out of bed in the dark, grope my way along the walls of that big house, and found my way to the refrigerator.

I can still recall that my heart was pounding, because I wasn’t quite sure whether or not it was wrong to take some grapes, but I hadn’t asked permission. I remember taking a big clump of them with me, and crept back up a big flight of stairs and into the room where I was supposed to be sleeping, and I hid under the covers, quietly eating the grapes.

When I got to the last grape, I held it up outside of the sheets so I could look at it in the moonlight, and I remember saying a quiet prayer. I don’t recall the exact words, but it was a variation of the nightly prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord…to let me taste grapes another time.” Or something like that.

And I was really very serious about it, savoring the taste of that last grape, so that I would not forget it.

I think, whenever I am experiencing a moment of joy or pain or something that I really don’t want to forget, there’s a part of me that thinks of my four year-old self looking at that perfect orb of a grape in the moonlight.

The rest of me tries to get it down on paper.

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

A:  If I could change one “thing” about theater, it would be the perception of it as a purely frivolous, expendable, somewhat fusty form of entertainment engaged in by the very wealthy, elite and/or deluded. Of course, this “thing” is a complex, systemic hydra, and addressing its many heads would involve a paradigmatic, cultural shift in the way we perceive the significance of live performance. But some of the answers may lie in the economics of providing theater work that is relevant to diverse audiences, and one way to do that, is to present work by a diversity of writers.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  This list can be broken down into a kind of story in itself.

Act I: August Strindberg, Anton Chekov, Arthur Miller

Act II: Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard

Act III: Yazmina Reza, Lynn Nottage, Annie Baker

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind of theater that excites me introduces me to a new way of seeing something or someone that I thought I already knew before. Sometimes this happens because of a new way of storytelling, whether through the introduction of new technologies (Simon McBurney’s The Encounter, for example), breaking down the fourth wall and making it fully immersive (Gob Squad or Rimini Protokoll, for example) or adapting other literary forms for the stage (Elevator Repair Service, Big Dance Theater, for example.) Sometimes it might be because of the dazzling efforts of an ingenious theater design team. But telling a simple story that surprises me in some way, usually grabs me (i.e., any theater company that is dedicated to presenting new work.)

I began tweeting about the performances I attended during a recent sabbatical year as a kind of record-keeping. I was fairly diligent about posting during that time because I thought I’d have to write a big report to account for my time away. Nowadays, although I still attend a lot of plays and performance-related events, I tend to only tweet about stuff that really moves me in some way,

that make me want to tweet as soon as the lights go up in the theater. Lately this usually involves plays written by living playwrights, or old plays re-envisioned by edgy directors.

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

A:  I’m just echoing what my own teachers have told me, but they were right: try to see as much theater as you can. Read a lot. Not just plays, but anything that really interests you, whether it’s Greek mythology, manga, cook books, whatever. Keep a small journal with you all the time and write down stuff you overhear, thoughts that come to you. If recording on your phone helps, then do that.

But the best advice I’ve received can be applied to any endeavor in which you wish to excel, and that is, to really listen. Listen carefully not only to what is being said, but also to the spaces between the sounds.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  For more info, please check these sites:

WEBSITE: www.hortensegerardo.com

TWITTER: @hfgerardo

NEW PLAY EXCHANGE: http://tinyurl.com/hej9xjp

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