Name: Wilfredo Ramos Jr.
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Affiliations: American Theatre Company, About Face Theatre, Lux Improvitas Improvised Theatre Ensemble
Q. How do you self-identify?
A: I identify as a gay Puerto-Rican American. My mother says that it’s redundant to call myself a “Puerto Rican-American” since Puerto Rico has belonged to America (in the way a ring belongs to a finger) for over 100 years. But because an ocean separates the coffee-shops where I write from the coffee farm of my ancestors, I still think of Puerto Rico and America as distinct ingredients in the caldo of my self. As for my queerness, I imagine it as the lime that makes the flavors pop.
Q. Tell Me about Keepers.
A. In the twilight of the Gilded Age, an expectant mother unwittingly discovers an exceptionally preserved T. Rex egg, a find that has the potential to endanger her marriage and her child. Meanwhile, during the height of the 1979 energy crisis, a clutch of siblings threatens to break apart as the siblings fight to determine who will serve as their mother’s ultimate caregiver. At the same time, in the midst of the fifth consecutive hottest year on record, a graduate student on the brink of finishing her dissertation races to publish her findings before cancer has a chance to lap her. Simultaneously, as the United States exhausts the last dregs of its strategic oil reserves, a housekeeper risks being taken in police custody for sheltering the children of climate refugees. Taken together, these stories compose a living exhibit that explores the evolving human attachment to nature. Presented as an epic four-part exhibition, Keepers empowers the audience to venture wherever their curiosity takes them.
What began as a way of dealing with the recent death of my grandmother soon evolved (devolved?) into a wide-ranging meditation on my insecurities as a newly-crowned adult, as a young artist, and as a human living on this rock called Earth in this meteor shower called the Universe. The damn thing still isn’t anywhere close to being finished, but in April there will be a First Look featuring some of the opening scenes (my sister, Alyssa Vera Ramos, will direct). Maybe I will finish this piece before I croak.
Q. What else are you working on now?
A. I’m in the exploratory phase of a new campaign that imagines what would happen if a corporation– think office tower in a suit– ran for President. It’s a realist play.
Q. What has been a defining moment on your journey as a playwright?
A. When I was a Senior in college, I cried in front of the Head of the Writing Concentration at Yale. I told her I had no ideas. She hugged me and said I was the third person to cry in her office that day. I felt ordinary and that was extraordinary.
Q. Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A. Sarah Ruhl, who taught me to play.
Verlyn Klinkenborg, who taught me to be honest.
Donald Margulies, who taught me to focus.
Jonathan Pitts, who teaches me to listen.
Noam Shapiro, who teaches me persistence.
Marisel Vera, who teaches me to have faith.
Q. What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A. 1) Contact all the artists you know who are hungry and who you respect.
2) Invite everyone over to your place.
3) Pop some popcorn.
5) Pop a cork.
6) Put the cat on the couch and move the couch to the wall.
7) Once folks have settled in, have everybody go around talk about who they are, what they do, and what they want to do.
8) See how you can help each other out.
Maybe you can write words for the actors to read and for the directors to stage.
Maybe you’ll all decide to become a focus group for each other’s ideas.
Maybe you’ll have dozens of ideas.
Try them all. Keep what you like.
9) Commit to meeting regularly. Once or twice a week at the same hour, same place. Rituals, like morning tea, acclimate us for work.
10) Make Art.
But above all,
Q. What else should we know about you?
A. I carry two touchstones in my pocket. One is said to open the mind; the other, the heart. I carry them– not because I believe them to be in any way magical– but because every time I touch them I am reminded that anything can happen, if only I’m game.
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