100 Years of Magic

Talks about his Experiences as a Playwright
 by Iride Aparicio

Playwright MATTHEW LOPEZ  Photo credit: Henry DiRocco

NEW YORK, N.Y. --- In a phone interview, we talked with  MATTHEW LOPEZ, author of The Whipping Man  that  premiered on Broadway last year, about Somewhere another one of his plays which in a Regional Premiere is being presented in California at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts  in Mountain view,  by Theatre Works, Silicon valley,  until February l0th.

The semi-auto biographical play with music and lots of dancing, is about the Candelaria's , a Puerto Rican family (Lopez father is Puerto Rican) now living in New York. There are four members in the family: Inez, the mother, (who is represented in the play by Tony-Award-winner PRICILLA LOPEZ  his aunt) and his three teenage children:  Francisco, who wants to be an actor, Rebecca, who wants to be a dancer, and Alejandro, the oldest and most talented of the three, who after burying his dreams of becoming a great dancer, now works as a clerk in a supermarket to supply the groceries for his family.

In Somewhere, (The play named after one of the songs in the musical West Side Story) every member of the Candelaria family, except Alejandro, dreams of acting  or dancing in Broadway. During the year l959, in which the play takes place,  both Francisco and Rebecca have a chance to “make it” because Inez, their mother, works as an usherette in the New York Theatre where the musical “West Side Story” (Which relates the story of the two fighting gangs:  “The Sharks” the Puerto Rican gang and the "Jets" the American gang) is being casted, and the musical's director needs Puerto Rican young actors and dancers. CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL asks the young actor turned playwright:

C.W.B.  What induced you to write Somewhere?

LOPEZ:   “A number of things: as an actor, I did a lot of doodling but I never really thought that what I was doodling was going to be successful. I was doing it for myself until one day, when after I showed what I was writing to someone,  I got encouragement. I was told that it was good and that I should do more of it, which is what every writer needs at the beginning.”

“Thinking of myself as a writer was a very slow process.  I had spent most of my life thinking of myself as an actor.  I studied acting in college, I came to New York to be an actor, so it was very hard for me to let go of that identity. But things really happened simultaneously. I was not driving any fulfillment from acting. It was not what I thought it could be, specially when you had spent your entire childhood and early adulthood thinking about it."

C.W.B. As an actor,  did you act in many productions?

LOPEZ:  I acted in plays in high school and in college, and when I got to New York, I auditioned a lot. I auditioned 95 per cent of the time. I worked five percent of the time. This little bit of work satisfied me, but the demoralization of the actors life was far too crushing  for my soul to take. The joke is on me, because it is as bad as a writer”

He laughs, and then continues:

LOPEZ:  “In college, I had an opportunity to work with one of my own plays and it was fulfilling so, like a drug addict, I wanted more. But what really attracted me as a writer was the sense of ownership, of  being able to change things. I liked the idea of the responsibility and the opportunity that came with it.  To this day, I am never more alive than when I am in production (writing a play) I really relish the challenge of sitting alone in a quiet room with a piece of paper and creating. I am learning not to be afraid of that. Yet, I am alive in the rehearsal theatre, working with the actors and the directors and I like the interaction with the audience. I like the give and  take of rehearsals. I am a essentially a social person, which is ironic because writing is a solitary endeavor.”

“Becoming a writer is a two step process: first, you have to give yourself permission to do it and then you have to have permission from other people to do it. No one can stop you from writing a play, however, they can decline to produce it. So a lot of my process (becoming a playwright)  was giving myself the courage to say: As an artist, this is what I will do. This is how I want to be known in the world.”

“Then, there is the  business side of writing.  When you have to go out into the world and become known. At  the beginning of his career, a writer spends a lot of time meeting people, making himself available, applying for fellowships,  trying to get known.  This is the writer’s version of auditioning.

“In my case, once I decided I was trying to get into this career, I spend a lot of time doing what I call “the writer’s audition,” because you have to establish yourself, and you don’t establish yourself  working, but by the people you meet. Writing is a business and it is all about letting people know that you are opened for business. Producing a new play is a very dubious situation for anybody. The producers  are taking a risk in an unknown writer, so you have to prove yourself. I was very fortunate. I had many opportunities to prove myself. Lots of people who wanted to take a chance on my plays.

Discussing  "Somewhere” and its good reviews, Lopez tells us  that he never reads any reviews of his own plays because he interprets all reviews as  “prescriptions” (given by reviewers)  for perfecting  his plays. “For me, reading those reviews will involve and overwhelming barrage of advice which will cause me  to lose my own understanding  of  my  plays.” He says. Discussing the characters in his play, we ask him if he thinks that the  “forshadowing”  of Alejandro (the principal character in Somewhere) is sufficient to help the audience  understand his motivation in the action he takes at the end of the play.

LOPEZ: “I wanted to give Alejandro an incredible complex  and inner journey.  In a play, when you have a “secret” that is revealed at the end, you don’t need forshadowing. (Which is giving small hints about the character's motivation, in his dialogue or actions, to help the audience understand the reason for his actions better) In my first play  I learned that you have to put your characters  there without tipping your hat to the audience. You don’t reveal too much about what your intentions are to the audience because when you do, they get ahead of you."

C.W.B.  Did Alejandro do what he did at the end of the play  because he thought it was his duty?

LOPEZ:  Alejandro is a dutiful man.  He has a very strong sense of duty. He is also a very poor Puerto Rican  man in New York City at the time where there were very few options for men. The war was looming so it was something that a man like Alejandro would like. He is right when he says: “There is a difference between daydreaming and living and Alejandro is not living into the fantasy world that his family is. He lives in "the real world" and  the “real world” eats men like Alejandro. The interesting thing about the play is that I never answered the question of: What happened to Alejandro?

“I write plays that end ambiguously. I don’t want to do the thinking for the audience. Too much information about how a story ends, gives them nothing to think about when they go home.” That’s why  my plays don’t end… they just stop.”

The cast of  Somewhere written by Matthew Lopez      Photo Credit Tracy Martin

Those readers interested in reading the review of Somewhere, can read it online in www.culturalworldbilingual.com  under Reviews/Interview Theatre