Name: Carmen Rivera
Hometown: New York City
Current Town: New York City
Affiliations: New York University (BA/MA and Adjunct Prof of Playwriting); The New School College for Performing Arts (Adjunct Prof of Playwriting); Educational Play Productions (EPP); Repertorio Español
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: A New York Born Puerto-Rican
Q: Tell me about Riding the Bear.
A: Riding the Bear—I finished it last year and it received honorable mention on the Kilroy’s 2016 List. Riding the Bear takes place on October 19, 1987—the date of the financial crash known as Black Monday. The Harrington Brothers run a boutique brokerage house, which has been in the family for several generations. The older brother is a conservative investor, who believes in regulation and the younger brother, a riskier one, believes in completely unregulated markets. As the severity of the crash sets in, the brothers in the office try to weather the storm. The brothers must decide how to move their family business into the future, albeit, with very contrasting ways of doing business.
It’s a play that has been 20 years in the making. In another lifetime I worked at a brokerage house and this story has been in me since the late 1980s… I kept rewriting the same 14 pages until 2002, when I changed the 2 protagonists but I still didn’t have the story totally clear. After the 2008 Financial Crash, I was able to connect that crash to the 1987 crash and then the play happened.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Two movie adaptations of my plays.
- A 10-minute short of my play The Next Stop.
- The feature film version of La Gringa—which has just celebrated 20 years in repertory at Repertorio Español (It is now the longest running play in Latino Off-Broadway history). It will continue its 20th anniversary celebration with a production in Chicago this fall—The comedian and producer Mickey O will be co-producing the play with Urban Theater Company.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: Meeting my husband, playwright/director Cándido Tirado and then him introducing me to his playwriting teacher Guillermo Gentile, playwright/director/actor from Argentina. Cándido taught me how to really listen without judgement and Guillermo taught me his theory, which Cándido also uses in his work, “Fantastic Realism”—a term that was used in the 60s before magical realism was coined…where fantasies are the impetus for dramatic action and the irrational is embraced. So much of western theater is founded on the search for reason and “why” things happen and Cándido/Guillermo taught me to look beyond the idea of the rational and explore the irrational in objectives and motivations… Life is irrational… Now go!
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: My heroes are people who have worked hard to overcome challenges in their lives, the people who have been able to get back up after they get knocked down—my mom, my husband Cándido, and my mentor, political activist and filmmaker Iris Morales—these are the people that inspire me… I’ve seen them react to challenges just by going straight into the storm… Not shying away from the challenges… And if they get knocked down, they fight to get right back up again.
As for writers that inspire my work—in order of discovery:
- Albert Camus—I was 17 years when I read The Stranger and I still remember the first sentence—“Mother died today or was it yesterday”—I totally understood Mersault and the feeling that he didn’t belong anywhere.
- Griselda Gambaro—I admire how she tackles violence and class/social injustice. She had no fear.
- Eugene Ionesco—When I first read his work, my world was put in order. Actually his work isn’t absurd for me—it’s as real as can be. I realized that I wasn’t alone in how I saw the world.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Write! Write! Dream! Then keep writing! And keep all the negative people away from you!
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I love salsa and Latin jazz—Eddie Palmieri in particular. In my journey as an artist, I hope to write plays the way Eddie plays the piano.
***For more on Carmen Rivera, see:
- Carmen Rivera’s Personal Website
- “Identity and Belonging: Reflecting on the 20th anniversary of LA GRINGA in New York City” – Caridad Svich (TCG Circle)
- “Playwright Carmen Rivera’s Searing Portrait Of Dictator Rafael Trujillo” – Carmen Pelaez (NBC News)
- “La Historia as Theatre: Interview with Playwright, Carmen Rivera” – Brian Acevedo (La Respuesta)
- “An Interview with Carmen Rivera, Playwright and Author of LA CAIDA DE RAFAEL TRUJILLO” – Diana Diaz
- “Carmen Rivera: Theatre of latinidad” – Jason Ramirez (Dissertation)
- Carmen Rivera’s Plays at Samuel French