Name: Hilary Bettis
Hometown: I’ve lived all over the US so I don’t really have a hometown.
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Affiliations: El Mundo.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: I’m an American with Mexican and German blood (like Frida Kahlo), and my daddy’s from South Carolina so I have I special place in my heart for the South.
Q: Tell me about ALLIGATOR.
A: ALLIGATOR is an epic and bloody play about battling our demons. It’s about addiction. It’s about death. It’s about intimacy. It’s a play about the people who scare us the most. The story takes place the summer of 1999 in a very poor and very rural small town in the Everglades, where a group of teenagers are coming-of-age in a world that doesn’t want them. The central characters are twin alligator wrestlers with a backwoods ‘gator show that’s becoming obsolete. And there’s a live band. The play is this blending of Mexican mythology, Southern culture and Americana music, which is pretty much everything I am. Plus my own life-story shrouded in just enough fiction to hide behind.
We’re in rehearsals right now. ALLIGATOR runs Nov 27th-Dec 18th so come see it if you’re in NYC!
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I’m juggling a lot of different things. I write for The Americans on FX as my super-rad day job. I have two TV series in development–one is a half-hour dark comedy that Alyssa Milano is producing with The Weinstein Co, and the other is an hour-long drama that Bob Levy and FOX 21 are producing. I’m working on a bilingual adaptation of Miss Julie called MAGIC CITY that’s set in Miami. It’s commissioned by Miami New Drama and we’re looking at a 2017/18 production. And then I’ve got a feature and a memoir brewing. Plus trying to find time to see my cat and boyfriend (he’s cast in ALLIGATOR so at least we get to see each other at rehearsals). And laundry. There’s always laundry.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: Poverty. Loneliness. Being homeless on the streets of LA, not knowing where I was gonna sleep or how I was gonna eat. Wondering if there’s a God. Feeling powerless and voiceless. Living with an alcoholic drug dealer. Watching someone I love die from cancer. Other things that I’ll write about someday… when I find the courage. Surviving life, really, looking for redemption and something worth something in all the pain in fear, really, is why I wrote. I never wanted to “be a writer.” It never crossed my mind growing up that that was even a profession. I wanted to be a veterinarian or an actress or a horse trainer, but never a writer. My career is, quite legitimately, a byproduct of survival.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I never went to college (years later I received a fellowship to Juilliard, but I don’t actually have any degrees), but I’ve been blessed enough to cross paths with people who took me under their wing and taught me. Romulus Linney and Meir Ribalow were really instrumental in my craft and career. They’d both pick my plays apart and then find every way possible to help me find the time and resources to rewrite. And Marsha Norman, of course. I’ve learned so much from her.
My heroes… I admire so many writers, famous and obscure, alike, and I meet more and more that I just fall madly in love with. My childhood hero for as long as I can remember has been Maya Angelou. Frida Kahlo, my family, my friends, people that survive with dignity. I don’t know, my definition of a hero changes daily.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: The same advice I’d give to anyone at the beginning of their career. Write from your guts. Write because you have to. Write because you love it and you hate it so much that you love it again and again and again. Everything else will fall into place if your work is coming from your guts.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: My other great life passion is horses, and someday I’m gonna find a way to blend writing horses…
***For more on Hilary Bettis, see:
- Hilary Bettis’ Personal Website
- Go see ALLIGATOR at New Georges
- “The Borders of Our Lives” – Marsha Norman (American Theatre)
- “Wrestling Alligators: Hilary Bettis with Kyoung H. Park” (Brooklyn Rail)
- “Lin-Manuel Miranda Donates to The Sol Project for ALLIGATOR” (BroadwayWorld)