Name: Martín Zimmerman
Hometown: Rockville, MD (outside of Washington, DC)
Current Town: Chicago, IL (though I spend a decent amount of time LA working in TV)
Affiliations: Writer in Residence – Teatro Vista, Resident Playwright – Chicago Dramatists
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Latino, Argentine-American
Q: Tell me about Simona’s Search.
A: Simona’s Search is a commission I’ve been working on for La Jolla Playhouse about the relationship between a young woman and her father, who is a political exile from Latin America. He’s so desperate to protect his daughter from the trauma and pain of his past that he tells her nothing about where she comes from—he doesn’t teach her Spanish, tell her about her heritage, etc. Of course, she slowly but surely (starting in childhood) starts to understand that her father is a deeply damaged man, and that he’s hiding so much from her. So, confronted with the depth of his denial, she’s forced to resort to science to try to understand who he is. She eventually becomes a trauma researcher, and this chosen career path creates a lot of friction between the two of them, even as the young woman starts to understand how the trauma she’s inherited from her father is hurting her own relationships. But despite its heavy subject matter, it’s zany, and quirky, and theatrical, and fun. And I hope it provokes people to think about what parents owe their children in terms of sharing their past, and what parents are allowed to keep private about themselves.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: A number of projects. I’m working on a commission for Milwaukee Rep about 11 Italian immigrants who were dubiously charged with conspiracy in 1917 and the bombing that happened in response to that trial. I’m also working on a commission for Roundabout Theatre Company—every playwright they produce in their underground space then gets commissioned to write a piece for their Off-Broadway house. It’s an opportunity I’m really excited about. I’m also working on the book for a musical adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver and I’m working on a TV pilot.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: I’m not sure there have been single defining moments. Perhaps other people could easily point to them, but to me those moments are merely the symbolic culmination of years of steady, persistent work. I feel like the defining moment for me as a writer comes every single day—when I get up, try to clear my mind, and make discoveries that I put on the page. If I make one or two interesting discoveries, it’s a good day. If I don’t, hopefully tomorrow will go better. But I feel like, as long as I’m able to do that, I’m a writer, no matter what anyone else says.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Playwrights whose work I really admire? Tony Kushner, Griselda Gambaro, José Rivera, Juan Mayorga, Dael Orlandersmith, Stephen Sondheim (yes, I consider him a playwright), Brecht, among others. Playwrights/artists who have personally shaped me in the classroom? Steven Dietz, Suzan Zeder, Kirk Lynn, Jeff Storer, Jody McAuliffe, Rafael Lopez-Barrantes, Andrea Stolowitz, Neal Bell. And then there are countless colleagues and collaborators who have mentored me informally since I finished my formal education.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Tell the stories you want to tell. Not the stories you think others expect you to tell. The ones you really, really want to tell. And don’t be afraid to tell very different kinds of stories across the body of your work—again, if that’s what you want to do. The US theatre community (and US society in general) has such a narrow understanding of what it means to be Latin@. By being true to yourself you can help them understand the full, wonderful diversity and complexity of our community.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I’m the kind of writer who doesn’t like to do the same thing twice. Once I’ve told a story about a certain subject in a certain style I want to move on, and challenge myself to stretch some new creative muscle. I’ve been told that working this way doesn’t always make the most sense career-wise, but I don’t know how to work any other way. It seems to be the best way for me to sustain a life-long practice as a writer. US capitalist culture forces artists to think in the short term, makes us impatient, eager for immediate results. I try to remind myself how to build habits with an eye towards the long term.
***For more on Martín Zimmerman, see:
- Martín Zimmerman’s Personal Website
- Features & Interviews with Martín Zimmerman
- “Interview: Playwright Martín Zimmerman on Violence and Redemption in Seven Spots on the Sun” – Tami Shaloum (StageBuddy)
- “Raising a Collective Voice: Martín Zimmerman and Seven Spots on the Sun” – Matthew Paul Olmos (The Brooklyn Rail)
- “BWW Interview: Martin Zimmerman and Seven Spots on the Sun at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater” – Marina Kennedy (Broadway World)
- Martín Zimmerman’s Stranger featured on 50PP’s Best Unproduced Latin@ Plays 2017