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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...

Nov 27, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1018: Ren Dara Santiago

Ren Dara Santiago

Hometown:  I was born in the Bronx, lived in Puerto Rico for the first year of my life. Then Yonkers. We moved to Harlem in 2002.

Current Town:  Harlem. I am re-experiencing it now with my roommates: one a devout James Baldwin-head, Alexander Lambie and the other is my future president, Cesar J Rosado who buys me bacalaito on 116. They’re both gorgeous actors I came up with.

Q:  Congrats on winning the Cornelia Street American Playwriting Award. Can you tell me about that?

A:  Absolutely. It’s a huge honor. I haven’t fully realized the scope of it, I’m sure. I can’t say enough about the depth of love, confidence, and trust I feel being bestowed upon me as the inaugural recipient of this award from Rising Phoenix Rep, honoring the spirit and legacy of Joe Cino. So, one of the members who chose me for this award is Daniel. I met Daniel as a teenager. Lucy was like, “my brother saw your play,” and I was like, “oh shit.” He’d come to see a workshop production of COME TO STARR STREET and it excited him. His confidence gives me faith in myself. Then I acted in a play written by Catya McMullen for Cino Nights, directed by Jenna Worsham. And he gave me and a few fam a Shakespeare workshop at Belvedere Castle. Then he directed the shit out of The Siblings Play in PlayLabs at MCC. He let me rewrite the play twice that week. And the Talbott’s put me up when I got in to Ojai Playwrights Conference. He and Addie have become these beautiful guides for truth and love in the theater. It’s an honor that they chose me. I’m burning with the desire to live up to this legacy and uphold the honor and integrity that the members of Rising Phoenix Rep holistically embody in all facets of themselves. There’s going to be a ceremony in February at Rattlestick. At Rattlestick; where Daniel was mentored by David Van Asselt; who asked Lucy to start an apprentice company; who invited a handful of her former MCC Youth Company students into and we called it The Middle Voice; that’s our family home. I am in awe of how romantic my life is at this moment. I am in awe of the people surrounding me and I can’t wait for us to rise together, building each other up. I recognize the ways in which I am continually lifted and I live to pay that forward and make my theater family proud.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  My Rising Phoenix Rep membership was just announced so I’m pretty hype. I’m excited for their co-pro of Jessica Dickey’s Play: The Convent coming to A.R.T/ New York Theatres. I have one or two more meetings with Playgrounds at the Lark where I’m workshopping the fantasy scenes for an educational-theater piece. I’m heading to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center for Playwrights & Librettists at NTI and I get to do a lil exercise with them for the weekend. I’m in Middle Voice at Rattlestick and we have an exciting new theater artist running the program but until that really gets running we’ve got some development hours and I’m just feenin to stretch those producer muscles and cast some members in some plays I been reading; like I want some of my boys to tear up We Are Proud to Present A Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 so we can have some Baldwin-style discussions. I may use some hours to hear a rewrite of my play Something in the Balete Tree before Gingold Theatrical Group sets up a reading for me in the new year. I am applying to some grad programs for Playwriting which are due very soon and please cross your fingers for me because my spirit has never demanded a prize like this education. Whattup Yale?!

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

A:  So there's two parts of me that are married when I write; the spiritual and the inherited. I saw God as a kid once. My father was Rasta; he actually hung out with some Bobo Shanti in Yonkers but he couldn’t officially join them. So, God wasn’t an untouchable existence to me. When I told my grandma about my dream all my titi’s made a big deal out of it. They weren’t surprised he came to me. Later, I’d start seeing demons. Before writing the play Daniel came to see, I’d seen the devil a few times in my dreams and we began forging a deal for my soul. That play was my way out of our contract. And that’s just part of my understanding of the world... I put all that impossible shit into my plays and it helps guide me through the conversations I want to have with the people coming into my spaces. I’ve always lived in sort of adjacent realities. Like, my parents are people that don’t exist anywhere else, even within their families and I’m a product of that and in a lot of ways we grew up together. My mother is a Filipina who emigrated at 2; who dodged her inheritance to pursue a career in fashion; who didn’t marry who they expected her to; who accepted that scorn to be with my father and give birth to me and my siblings. My father is a second generation Boricua. He grew up in Cali, a total surfer brah and came to Brooklyn with an orange Mohawk talking about Dub when everybody and they mother was rocking to Big Daddy Kane and the like. My dad is a self-educated scholar. He had me read A People’s History in middle school. I grew up on indies and Japanese anime’s and ska, dub, roots reggae, System of a Down, and goth. Miyazaki’s worlds are over-layed onto my perception of nature and industry. Yeah. They never told me how to look at the world. They told me how to look at each other. Yeah. Neither of my parents fit. Anywhere. They stood out. They were loved but they didn’t fit. I found a place where I fit and where I could fulfill my potential. And my potential is making at least one difference in this short time we have. That’s kind of why I am who I am.

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

A:  Laziness. I see a lot of laziness. It’s in the tiny things sometimes- not casting in honor of heritage or it’s big like letting a draft that’s mainly diary, not dialogue, make it all the way to production. The worst is laziness in watching a play. That’s the worst. How dare you praise a smart-but-easy play and scorn the ones with all the heart and soul? That might be talking about people you never met or experiences you’ve never had. Why did you come to the theater? Watching the theater should inspire community.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Lucy Thurber is my hero. She’s a warrior. She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had and she loves doing it in this way that you can only experience to understand. Her plays are these endless black holes filled with her love and her brain and I love that woman. Jenna Worsham just never stops. She’s my best friend and nobody can stop her from fighting for social justice fucking everywhere she goes. Adam Bock is a genius and the funniest, kindest person I’ve ever met. And every play blows my mind. Daniel Talbott is a triple threat? Quadruple threat AND an amazing dad. And I’m in love with his characters- like I’m haunted by all of his characters. Addie Talbott is a queen and I want to be as brave, smart, and badass and genuine as her. Sam Soule is an epic Greek titan in the form a petite human. David Zheng and Cesar J Rosado are my brothers and my pride and joy. Rachel Jett running things at NTI like the boss she is. Those are the OG’s. This month I am in love with Ngozi Anyanwu, Alexander Lambie, Jordana De La Cruz, Christopher Gabriel Nunez, Julissa Contreras, Jeremy O Harris, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, TJ Weaver, Robert Lee Leng, Guadalis Del Carmen... I am forgetting some. I’m sorry. That’s just this week having me so grateful for their work.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Brave, unapologetic, heart-open, thoughtful, critical, deeply explored, wild, funny, real shit.

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

A:  Remember who you are writing for, so you can keep going. Write as much as you see and read. Talk to the collaborators you like, and spend a lot of time listening and learning from and trusting what you have to offer. That when you’re just getting to know artists the best way to get love is to give it freely first. That’s not a recipe that’s a religion. Save everything to the cloud or wherever before you move from where you are writing in case you spill or drop your shit and lose that draft.

Q:  Plugs, please:


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