DREAM BOSTON: Playwright Q&A

Playwright Q&As by J. Sebastián Alberdi and Melory Mirashrafi

We asked our Wave 1 playwrights (Kirsten Greenidge, Melinda Lopez, Kate Snodgrass, Brenda Withers)

What is your favorite Boston landmark of fun fact? 
What is your favorite 4th of July tradition? 
What is the last book you checked out of the library or what book would you like to check out? 
What is your favorite Boston date spot? 

We asked our Wave 2 playwrights (John ADEkoje, Miranda ADEkoje, J. Sebastian Alberdi, Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro, Elle Borders, Pat Gabridge, Johnny Kuntz)

What song makes you know you're with your community/family? 
What advice made you think about your life differently? A phrase? A motto? A mantra? A conversation?
What do you think you’ll smile about at 85?
What is a place in Boston that you’d like to know the history of better?
What do you want to eat at 2am?
Where do you feel the past of Boston is most present?
What visual artist represents your essence as a human being?

For Melinda Lopez’s play, By the Rude Bridge we asked the playwrights: 

What is your favorite Boston landmark or fun fact?

Brenda Withers: The Longfellow Bridge, it's not that exciting, I just like how it makes me feel. Because when I first started coming to Boston it was under construction forever, it had been under construction, it would be under construction, and everyone I talked to about it, was like yeah obviously, what's the problem. And you know I didn't grow up in a place where construction was such an anomaly. But there was something about the fortitude of the people about being like 'it's going to take 7 years,' same with the Big Dig! Same with the Big Dig actually, I'd put them both up there. With people saying yeah, we're just going to have to suffer through that, and we're good with it. Bad answer!

Kirsten Greenidge: So, Myles Standish Hall on Boston University’s campus. I think Eugene O'Neill… died there? He was born in a hotel and died in a hotel. And apparently he haunts that dorm. The fourth floor or the top floor. I believe that is the lore. And I love ghost stories, love them. Just this afternoon I fell asleep reading an article called “If you’re quarantined with a ghost, what do you do?” I’m half laughing, half terrified out of my mind because… what the hell? What would you do?! I don’t know because I fell asleep… I’m gonna go back and read it. My sisters were talking about it, because they see a ghost in here—I’ve never seen her, but they’ve seen her. So when I drive by, and one way to get into BU is to drive by that dormitory, sometimes I’m just like, please don’t let there be traffic by this hall, because I will lose my mind if I drive by that window and see Eugene O'Neill's ghost just like… waving at me.

Melinda Lopez: Thoreau, when he was writing Walden about eating and being alone in the woods, went home to his mother's occasionally for lunch and she made him lunch and baked for him.

Kate Snodgrass: Hmm, I love that dome… but when I first came to Boston, this is over 30 years ago now, I was driving along Massachusetts Avenue, and if you cross the Massachusetts Avenue bridge toward MIT, there are two lights. There’s one light that’s a crosswalk, and then you hit the next light. And if you are stopped at that light and look to your left across the street, there is the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse. And on the side of the building it says, Metropolitan Storage Warehouse: Fireproof. But. If you’re stopped at the light, the corner of the building juts out and you can’t read the whole thing. What it does say is, Metropolitan Rage Warehouse: Ireproof. It’s wonderful. That is my favorite, favorite place. Rage Warehouse, Ireproof… you can’t beat it. I’d like to think it was on purpose, I’m just not sure. Those MIT people. You never know.

For Kate Snodgrass’s play Overture, we asked the playwrights:

What is your favorite 4th of July tradition? 

Brenda Withers: Well on the 4th of July my theater company Harbor Stage closes because no one comes to a play on the 4th of July so my favorite tradition on the 4th of July is to do nothing. (laughs) It's to go to a parade, have a Bloody Mary at 11 in the morning and then keep going because suddenly, it's the one time all summer I have off. It's the best day in the summer. It's a little irritating because everyone else is also like celebrating. And they don't know it's like, this is my day off, this is my Independence Day.

Kirsten Greenidge: We watch the Boston Pops every year, no matter where we are. I get really weird about the fourth of July: I want to actively discuss the things that are wrong and celebrate simultaneously. And so what will often happen is, if we’re invited someplace, I get upset. Like, how could people invite us someplace? This is my time to talk about the Fourth of July with my family, and just be here, and watch the Boston Pops. But then, if we don’t get invited anywhere, I turn around and get really upset, like why isn’t anyone having a party? We’ve got to celebrate the United States. It’s crazy. But if we get invited someplace, then I’ll turn on the Boston Pops, and usually we’re heading home by the time they’re on. I love the fireworks. I love the idea of going to the esplanade… everyone in my family, they’re mostly introverted people… I’m a Leo. I would love to go to the esplanade and just be in the crowd, but no one will go with me. No one will go. I would go by myself if I didn’t think it would scar them. Like, “Mom left us here by ourselves!” That day will come. I will go down there. They will see me on TV. I will be the one dancing by myself. Like, “Is my mom drunk?” No, I’m not drunk. I’m just by myself dancing. I’m fine. Thank you.

Melinda Lopez: A pig roast with a lot of rum and a lot of family.

Kate Snodgrass: Oddly enough, I’m afraid of crowds, so I’ve never been to the Boston pops or the amphitheater to listen because it is so crowded. I’m from Kansas and there’s a lot of space out there, here in Boston everything is very closed off, and I start to feel anxious. So I don’t go where there are crowds, but near me there’s a highway that has a bridge that goes high up onto stilts, and cars on the Fourth of July park on either side of bridge, and families get out, and they watch the fireworks over the Museum of Science and along the river. We’re very close, so that’s what I do, and I feel like it’s a good thing for me because then I can enter in and still be part of everything, and not feel claustrophobic.

For Brenda Withers' play McKim, we asked the playwrights:

What is the last book you checked out of the library or what book would you like to check out?  

Brenda: I think it's probably an old book. I have a lot of copies of certain books, books I love, which seems actually very selfish right now. I'm like, "I don't need two copies of Franny and Zooey, someone could be reading this," but I think I'd like to get my hands on a hardbound copy of Leaves of Grass. That'd be great. Not to check out, but just to look at.

Kirsten: You know, this is embarrassing, but I never read The Pillowman. And I’ve never seen it. So that’s my next thing to read. I’ve been teaching a class for emerging playwrights at Company One, where I’m a Mellon Fellow, and since they don’t have in-person programming right now we’ve been doing workshops once a month, and we brought in designers to talk to those emerging playwrights. And so I asked one of those designers what play they would want to design, and they said “The Pillowman,” and then the sound designer was like, “Yeah, me too.” And I was just like, oh… that’s embarrassing. Why haven’t I read that? Or seen it?

Melinda: Some giant illustrated copy of 100 Years of Solitude that is too big to put in your purse that has like art. Is that a thing? It should be a thing.

Kate: One book I recently checked out was Bright Air Black by David Vann. It’s a wonderful, poetic story of Medea from her point of view. I cannot say enough wonderful things about it. It’s rough reading. It slows you down, because you feel everything that she does, and it’s just a spectacular book.

For Kirsten Greenidge's play The 54th in the 22', we asked the playwrights:

What is your favorite Boston date spot? 

Brenda: I think it's like... again struggling between indoor vs outdoor. Honestly, part of me is going to be like, Mr. Bartley's burgers. I really like going to a dive and having some fries. I can't even eat hamburgers, but I just like going to a greasy dark place that makes me feel young, cause I'm not anymore (laughs) but there's something about Boston and Cambridge that for me is like eternally youthful and I like that you're allowed because of the high percentage of graduate students to always pretend like you're in school. You know there are college towns where that's not acceptable it's like you're either a professor or you've stayed around too long and not so in Boston and Cambridge. You can study forever. So I'd say any college joint is a lot of fun for me.

Kirsten: Right near the Calderwood there’s Picco, that’s a nice date night -- you have pizza and you have ice cream. And you can sit outside! But I don’t need to see a show. Theatre is wonderful, and everyone should see more shows, but I like good restaurant date. And I like the date to be a long, long eating experience. If they usher you out, I’m like, “This is horrible!” Very upset. Any long dinner is good for me.

Melinda: Dali, a restaurant in Somerville, MA. It's like behind Inman Square, it's technically Somerville/Cambridge, on Kirkland.

Kate: Anywhere by the river. Anywhere by the river would be my choice. And also, there are some restaurants along the river, especially up near the Museum of Science that I love. For a first date I would like to go to dinner, but water is really important to me. And I love the ocean, but the river is so Boston… so, walking along the river. That’s what I would be doing.

For Elle Borders' play Joy, we asked the playwrights:

What song makes you know you’re with your community/family? 

John Adekoje (playwright of “The Rainman”): It’s more of a sound than a song. Anytime I hear Afro-beat or Nigerian music, then I know. It doesn’t have to be a specific artist, but that kind of sound. It’s not like you go to many cook-outs and hear that, so I know immediately, “Oh! Somebody’s around!”. 

j. sebastián alberdi (playwright, “feeling now”): If it’s my family, it’s any song by the Mexican soft rock band called Maná that my mom is a huge fan of. I grew up listening to all of their albums. They’re very much storytellers. I was always very entranced by the stories they were telling. They were a little dark, a little weird, and always sexual -- which was really weird since it was my mom’s favorite band. A very Catholic, wonderful mom who stays at home and is great, but yes, it was always very interesting. That reminds me of home a lot. And also Shania Twain. My mom loved that album with “Man, I Feel Like A Woman.” Those two artists really remind me of being at home.

I’m in my community when my friends can pass me the aux cord, and I can be like, “Here’s Charlie XCX’s new song!” and they’re like, “No! We don’t want to hear it!” And I’ll say,  “I don’t care!” So I have a complicated relationship to community and music, because I force my music taste on my friends sometimes, and that’s just the type of person I am. 

Patrick Gabridge (playwright, “Echoes”): Songs that make me think of my family are from “Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks,” which was an album that we listened to when my kids were little but that I actually still very much enjoy listening to today. It’s just awesome.

For John Oluwole ADEkoje's play The Rainman, we asked the playwrights:

What advice made you think about your life differently? A phrase? A motto? A mantra? A conversation?  

j. sebastián alberdi (playwright, “Feeling Now”): This one goes out to Kat Klein. Kat Klein was the casting/producing apprentice when I was the literary apprentice at the Huntington. I don’t think she made this up, so whoever made this up, give them credit but I don’t know who it is. Basically it’s, “Assume chaos over conspiracy.” For someone who has deep anxiety, when I can remember that and say it, it’s very helpful. Basically what it means is that, if someone isn’t responding to an email of yours, don’t assume there is a conspiracy against you. They are probably not willfully ignoring it. They are probably really busy with their own stuff, and are not able to be enough of a human being to send you an email back in that moment and that’s okay. It’s about being more generous to other people and having more compassion for what’s going on in their life. It’s something I say to myself a lot and for the most part, it really helps.

Patrick Gabridge (playwright, “Echoes”): A long time ago, Kate Snodgrass gave a bit of advice (to all playwrights): “Say Yes.” Which I think is the perfect advice for beginning and even mid-career playwrights. Try everything; get involved; the more you do, the more opportunity will come to you. 

I’m also thinking about the phrase, opportunity does not equal obligation, which is the result of saying “Yes” for many years. And now I need to be a bit more choosy about how I spend my time.

John Kuntz (playwright, “The Moment Before the Lights Went Out on the Rothkos”): There are several. One is, I believe Anne Bogart said this, “There are many ways to be right,” which I always loved. We always think there’s one way to be right and one way to be wrong. Or maybe we think there’s a million ways to be wrong and only one way to be right. But there’s actually a lot of ways to be right too. I loved that idea. It’s so liberating to think that way. My absolute favorite quote is by Anges de Mille though. She said that “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know ‘how,’ you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” It’s this leap of faith that artists need to take. We’re going to be doing something that we might not understand, or things that are hard or unknowable. We have to trust that we’ll find something out by doing that. It’s better to do that than to not do it at all. 

For Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro's play The View from MemChurch, we asked the playwrights:

What do you think you’ll smile about at 85?

John Oluwole ADEkoje, (playwright of “The Rainman”): I will smile about how the country has changed and how the world has changed. The world is kinder, more loving, and more hopeful than ever before.

Elle Borders (playwright of “Joy”): I will smile about all of the weird road trips that Brandon and I have taken. That’s what I will look back on most fondly. We are weird road trip people, and we have a lot of fun in the car. So probably our road trips to Montreal. 

For Miranda ADEkoje's play Virtual Attendance, we asked the playwrights:

What is a place in Boston that you’d like to know the history of better?

Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro (playwright, “The View from MEMChurch”): I would like to know the history of Chinatown because I’d like to know all the different Asian groups that settled there, one after another. And I’d like to know why it’s so geographically close to the red-light district or the nightclub district. And the highway running through it now? It seems to me that it’s always under siege. But we love to go there to eat and it really is a very welcoming place. And it’s always bustling and full of life in spite of all of these attacks from around it in a way. So I would like to know more about that. 

John Kuntz (playwright, “The Moment Before the Lights Went Out on the Rothkos”): I call it the salt and pepper bridge, but I suppose the actual name is the Longfellow Bridge. I’m so fascinated. If you walk over it, you’ll notice that down below are Viking Ships, which are so strange because there are no Vikings that ever came here. So, I was always kind of curious why there are Viking ships along the Longfellow Bridge. Also, those little towers that look like salt and pepper shakers -- I want to know what’s in them. No one ever goes in them. There’s doors. I see doors. And there’s little windows. And what are they for? Who is in there? They should make little cafes in them or something. 

Elle Borders (playwright, “Joy”): The Christian Science Park. I know nothing about it. My grandmother has lived across the street from it for 38 years. I know nothing about how or why that park was set up the way it was, I just know I spent a lot of time there as a kid. 

For j. sebastián alberdi's play feeling now, we asked the playwrights:

What do you want to eat at 2am?

Patrick Gabridge (playwright, “Echoes”): I will say, this is a hypothetical for me. My comfort foods are dark chocolate and ice cream, so even though I try to keep these foods out of the house, this is what I would want at 2am. 

John Kuntz (playwright, “The Moment Before the Lights Went Out on the Rothkos”): Toasty Cheez-its. Cheez-its are a little cracker. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Cheez-it. Now, they come in all different flavors, like White Cheddar and Regular and Spicy or whatever. But, they have a kind of Cheez-it that they discovered if you take just the burnt ones - well, you can get a box of just those. They’re just “well-done” Cheez-its. They are like crack. They are so delicious. Oh, and also ice cream. A fudge caramel ripple. 

For Patrick Gabridge's play Echoes, we asked the playwrights:

Where do you feel the past of Boston is most present?

Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro (playwright, “The View from MemChurch”): In Concord, because of the American Renaissance. I think of Thoreau and Emerson -- and also Melville. I guess Longfellow lived in Cambridge. But, I think mainly of Concord. 

Elle Borders (playwright, “Joy”): The past of Boston is very present in the South End, specifically on the Washington Street side closer to Old Black Boston. There is so much rich history between Nubian Square and Mass Ave on Washington Street. There’s just so much rooted in that neighborhood. That is an area that is not as well known but is full of rich history in Boston.

There’s this building on the corner of Washington and Tremont maybe? Gorgeous, stately old building that used to be a hotel. But then it was a hair store. And now it’s owned by the Church of Scientology and they’ve been in litigation for years over what this building can be and it’s just sitting there vacant. But there’s so much rich history because it’s been a thousand things and the last thing it was was a hair store which I love! 

For John Kuntz's play The Moment Before the Lights Went Out on the Rothkos, we asked the playwrights:

What visual artist represents your essence as a human being?

John Adekoje, (playwright of “The Rainman”): No artist can do that -- but I’ll go with Jean-Michel Basquiat as far as my artistic thinking is concerned. 

Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro (playwright, “The View from MEMChurch”): Paul Cézanne because he always shows the essence of things. You feel like eating the fruit in his still lifes. They are the perfect apples, and peaches, and grapes, and so on. And then the people; they are ordinary and yet they are treated in a very respectful way. He would be the best person, because he could do the postman or the card players. If I wanted a famous person to paint my portrait, it would also be him. He captures the essence of everyone -- not just me, of course. Everybody. 

j. sebastián alberdi (playwright, “Feeling Now”): Félix González-Torres

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