Name: Ryan Oliveira
Hometown: Miami, FL
Current Town: Chicago, IL (but who knows?)
Affiliations: I’m just a wandering bearded bard. But I’ve been best associated with The New Colony, The University of Iowa…almost any home that’ll have me.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Latino thanks to my Brazilian immigrant parents. Though you wouldn’t know it looking at me. (Or maybe you would? I’m no Adriana Lima, that’s for sure.)
Q: Tell me about Desire in a Tinier House.
A: Talk about the play I never meant to write. (Laughs. Maybe crickets.)
It started with a prompt by Migdalia Cruz in the Fornes Workshop last year that I’ll butcher right now: Think of someone you desired and who didn’t desire you back. That you’re with them. And then think about someone else you desired and didn’t desire you back walking in on you and your #1 desire. And now these two undesiring people now desire each other in front of you. Write. (Or in my case, cry and get a little turned on and then write.)
It started with a scene between two men where one was seducing the other with grapes through a car window. And then I handwrote the rest of the play in England, where it evolved into exploring the sexual and romantic relationship between these two men in the outskirts of America through trios of time (three minutes, three weeks, three millennia, even) in their space-pod trailer home. Desire asks whether a gay relationship can survive their cabin fever composed of psychological trauma, persecution, and destruction in America. And the play is unafraid to explore their survival in terms of erotics—from the grapes they tease to the sex they make. It’s sexy. It’s cerebral. It’s brutal. It’s heartbreaking. It’s…did I mention sexy? It even tries to make Darwin sexy. That’s how sexy it is.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: All the elses! Desire in a Tinier House is part of a queer tetralogy I worked on all of last fall. I wrote four plays in succession—handwritten, then transcribed. The four deal with queer erotics in dangerous spaces in response to the attack at Pulse Nightclub. We thought we were post-gay, that blatant homophobia was no longer the murderous massacre. Pulse not only showed us where the lie was, but how entrenched it was in family, among lovers, in our nation, and across the globe. In Brazil, a queer person is killed every day. The killers go unpunished; in fact, it’s sometimes their own family members that do it, without remorse and with complete Evangelical-political backing. And thus, the tetralogy was born and its plays are currently enrolled in various editing schools.
Since I can’t sit still, I’d like to return to what the University of Iowa sometimes loved and dreaded about me: Epic Plays! Specifically, I’m starting research for a play that aims to humanize global climate change for an audience through a great flood. And I’m also looking for collaborators on an original pop-rap-rock musical about an Alex & Sierra-like duo, both of whom first-generation Americans trying to navigate belonging and succeeding in America as legitimate music icons. And maybe one or two more ideas. I seem to be averaging three new plays a year on top of dramaturgical and occasional teaching gigs. Can’t stop, won’t stop, I guess.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: When the Universe offers spiritual gems. Two strike me right now, somewhat related.
The first was when I attended the Disquiet Literary Conference and participated in the Camino de Lisboa class headed by Moez Surani. We basically hiked a portion of the Santiago de Compostela hike from Lisbon and it opened up my horizons. After the Conference, I decided, what the heck—let’s hike up the western coast of Portugal on our own! Needless to say, I didn’t get very far from Cascais. But when I returned to the hotel, I met the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean and meditated about my playwriting and my place in the world. I ended up writing two full-length plays and four songs that evening, which led me to discover that I do my best writing losing myself in nature hikes—whether it’s up Portugal or meandering Edale. It’s important to lose myself in the writing as much as I lose myself in the world.
The second is…well, many of them I attribute to Dare Clubb. After what I considered a miserable script-showing of Below the Pacific at the University of Iowa, I was unable to function. And Dare takes me into his office, sits me down, hears my impostor symptoms, my inadequacies as a playwright turned up to full blast, I’m a failure, I’m a failure—and you know what he does? He says (to paraphrase), “Well. Throughout Beckett’s writing, he always sought yugen – that Japanese ethereal beauty. But he never succeeded. And yet, he is the most lauded playwright we have short of Shakespeare. He failed every time. And if he succeeded in achieving yugen in his work, would we really need to stage Waiting for Godot? Would we really need to seek Beckett’s questions and stage-answers?” And I’ve kept that persistence in searching to answer the impossible questions in my work—to embrace the beautiful and the imperfect.
Oh, and Dare often asked me why I kept writing sad images. Because Grad School.
(I’m working on it, Dare! I swear!)
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: To be honest, I don’t know if I have playwriting mentors or heroes, necessarily. I have playwrights that I geek out over. Paula Vogel never steers me wrong. I could devour Steve Yockey’s work like an octopus any damn day of the week. Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is the most perfect play in the world and don’t you tell me otherwise. It has EVERYTHING! Maria Irene Fornes’ techniques have opened my playwriting to vivacious and visceral rooms. And studying Lorca with Tlaloc Rivas unlocked new levels of looking at playwriting through poetry and music and eros—all with which I aim to imbue every work.
My mentors run the gamut. Sara Warner is the professor I’d want to be years from now—unabashedly queer, insatiably curious, unbelievably supportive, and mistress of moderating discussions. Dare Clubb, Lisa Schlesinger, and Megan Gogerty have been my dramaturgical rocks since leaving Iowa; they haunt me in my sleep and blurt out my mouth in guiding other playwrights or straightening my own shit out. And let it be known: I’m only in theatre because it’s Daphnie Sicre’s fault. She literally sat through one horrible scene of mine in a Driver’s Ed/Intro to Drama class in high school, pointed at me and said, “Why are you not in my Advanced Class?” She got me playwriting. She punched me in the shoulder when I revealed I could sing right as I was leaving high school. She still advises me on matters of artist-teaching and gives me all sorts of shit when I don’t get nominated for things and I’ll be damned if I ever find a teacher as dedicated and passionate and dorky as her.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: It’s tough because in many ways, I still feel inside the beginning of my career. And I’m thirty! I just stopped taking my shirt off for free in performance! (Okay…maybe I haven’t.)
Probably the best advice I can give is to show up and show out. Every opportunity I’ve had thus far has been…not expecting anything, but just enjoying myself in the moment. Being open to the experience, whether it be in Sewanee or at an opening night party for Disgraced at the Goodman. Your collaborators come from the most unexpected connections. I don’t actively find…but I allow others to find me. I play myself at my most honest and free-form at all times. And this all sounds hippy-dippy…but I’ve become a big believer in the Universe providing.
And keep writing.
Why are you still reading what I have to say? GET. WRITING.
And stop giving a damn about where your plays will go and how they’ll get there. They will get somewhere somehow. These art-children you’ve birthed may go emo and decide to visit My Chemical Romance for a bit. They may get accepted into Yale. They may run away to join the circus. (Awesome! More circus plays for everyone!) But let your children develop how they want to, much like you let your characters speak how they need to.
See plays, but read books. Try your hands in other media. Nerd out somewhere that isn’t Netflix for a change.
And this, I tell you, filho/a/x:
Get a Twitter account. Because Marisela Treviño Orta told me to and I’ve received some of the strangest invitations because I’ve showed up there. And earned some great connections in the process!
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I’ll plug that a new work of mine will be workshopped via Commission Theatre Company in April, so check it out if you’re in Chicago! Could be Desire! Could be a play about strangers stuck in a Norwegian winterland trying to escape monsters and military personnel hunting them! Either way, it’ll be new, it’ll be imperfect, and it’ll be something to behold!
I’m also a pretty open book—I like books! So feel free to contact me. I’m always on the lookout for collaborators and projects and new friends. I may have an addiction to extroversion.
I wonder how I get anything done at all…but here we are, miracle that I am.
I’m also a total Aquarius. And yet, I’m an emotional sap. I blame my love of Pixar and Celine Dion.
And with that, I’m off to save the universe one idea at a time. Later!
(Total nerd. Whatever. Embracing it.)
***For more on Ryan Oliveira, see:
- Visit Ryan Oliveira’s Personal Website
- “Portuguese sentiment ‘saudade’ is central element to creation of a play” – Ryan Oliveira
- Check out Ryan Oliveira’s plays at the New Play Exchange
- Follow Ryan Oliveira on Twitter