Playwright Bernardo Solano stopped by East LA Rep’s offices recently to share a new play titled Sueños Sin Fronteras that began as a collaborative project with Cornerstone Theater Company. Bernardo needed to hear his play in an informal reading in order to jumpstart his work on it so he brought the play to East LA Rep’s play reading group. Bernardo is a professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and will be directing the theatre department’s production of Oedipus El Rey by Luis Alfaro. Additional information will be posted in pLAywriting in the City as it becomes available.
He kicks-off pLAywriting in the city’s SPOTLIGHT series with a bit about himself and his work:
Where did you grow up? Though born in Colombia, SA, I was raised in the Washington, D.C. area.
Where did you go to school? I have a BA in Theater (acting) from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. And an MFA from Yale School of Drama (playwriting)
Whose work would you recommend for emerging writers to study? Maria Irene Fornes, Sam Shepard, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, more recent Latino writers like Jose Rivera, Octavio Solis, Caridad Svich, Nilo Cruz…but really, writers should read and study anyone who excites them.
Why did you choose playwriting as your primary mode of creating art? I liked the control over my destiny that I felt playwriting afforded me that acting wasn’t. I loved being able to “act” all my characters, not just one. And I also received enough positive reinforcement that I felt I might be able to earn a living at it.
What about playwriting do you like the most? What is it that you like the least? Many of the same reasons as number 4. In addition, being able to work through questions that I’m asking myself in my life, whether I knew they were there or not. Least favorite? Rejection. Some things never change.
How do you know a play is not working and what do you do about it? When one line doesn’t make sense in relation to the last. When the characters seem to be only treading water. When at the end of the play no one seems to understand why the play happened. When the climax doesn’t seem earned. When I stop having fun writing it. There are probably about 20 other things.
What are some of the themes that most often recur in your plays? I used to write a lot about identity, as I was struggling to understand my being a Latino in the United States. Over the last bunch of years my writing has been very eclectic, focusing on whatever the commission took me to. But if I had to pinpoint something, maybe it would relate to the question: what do I need to do lead a balanced, responsible life? How can I be a better human being? What is working to prevent that? There’s the conflict and the drama.
What is most helpful to you as you sit down to write a play? I hate to admit it, but probably the deadline is what focuses me most. Knowing that someone is expecting the draft, that someone trusts me enough to deliver, and that others are depending me are great motivators. As for actual process…what helps me is a semi-clear idea of where I think the play or scene needs to go today. Or at least a driving curiosity about where the characters are and how can I help them get past this moment and on to the next. What really helps is trusting my own intuition, that I won’t get caught up in second-guessing, censorship and anything else that can kill my creativity. Hoping for the moment or moments of clarity, of discovery–those are the great joys of the process for me.
Are you a morning, middle of day, nighttime or anytime is good type of writer? I love late morning into mid-afternoon. If I don’t have the luxury, then it’s “hello coffee!” time and I just have to suck it up and make it happen, no matter what time of day it is.
Pose a question of your own and answer it. How can you sustain a lifetime of writing? The question is one I’m currently grappling with. I think there may be several answers. Pretend you’ve never written before and therefore look forward to discovering that particular play and its process. Don’t compare yourself to previous plays and successes (not every play is going to be your best.) Kill those demons of self-doubt that try to stop you. Stop thinking and start writing.