Oliver Mayer

Name: Oliver Mayer

Hometown: Hollywood, California

Current Town:  Los Angeles, California

Affiliations: Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives, Associate Professor (tenured) of Dramatic Writing, USC School of Dramatic Arts; Urban Theatre Movement; The Temblors Writer’s Collective.

Q: How do you self-identify?

A: Mexican American suits my familial background best (in that my mother is Mexican and my father was American), but I resemble Latinx in my politics and peculiar way of asserting my identity in my work.

Q: Tell me about Members Only.

A: I’ve been writing Members Only, the sequel to Blade to the Heat, and I just had a big reading at LATC in July. It’s been twenty years since the original play was produced at The Public and at The Mark Taper Forum, so I’m picking up the stories of the surviving characters twenty years later. The original play ended around 1962, so Members Only begins in 1982: a pivotal year in music and culture, but more importantly the year that AIDS was named and could no longer be ignored or avoided. Quinn, the young boxer who endured being called a maricon in Blade, is now on the verge of coming out at a moment when everybody in the play is potentially in danger—unaware or unbelieving of the plague to come, yet feeling the oncoming shadows. I’m deep in the period, remembering the hopes and fears, desires and secrets of the time. The reading went great: Jon Huertas, Chris McGarry, my wife Marlene Forte, Carolyn Zeller, Nick Thurston, Julian Juaquin, Sal Lopez, John Cothran Jr., and Geoff Rivas read the roles. We open in mid-March 2018.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I open Yerma in the Desert at the Greenway Court on November 9 with my company Urban Theatre Movement. This is my original piece bringing Lorca’s great play to the present moment, setting it in a city like Los Angeles at a university not unlike my own. Last year, we produced Blood Match, my version of Lorca’s Blood Wedding, set in Sinaloa with music of Gloria Trevi. It’s been amazing to swim in the ocean of Lorca, and to blend my own duende with his.

Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?

A: I have been writing plays for 32 years, so there are many defining moments along the way (and by the way, I started early—my first production and review was in 1985 and I was 20). The most important moment of all (at least as think of it today) was in 2003 when I accepted the tenure-track position here at USC: I finally was able not to have to ask my plays to make money for me, but rather to simply be the best and most themselves that they could be. It freed my work in profound ways. Intertwined with that was meeting Marlene at the LAByrinth Theatre Intensive that summer: the workshop of my play went really, really badly, but I came away with a wife. I’ve also been writing parts for her ever since.

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?

A: I’ve long said that William Saroyan and Luis Valdez are my spiritual godfathers. Today, I’d add Cuban trovador Silvio Rodriguez in the mix. Howard Stein was my true mentor in playwriting at Columbia; Jon Stallworthy was my true mentor in poetry.

Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?

A: I’m excited about young writers (I oughta be, since I’m around them all the time), Latinx and otherwise. This is a great time to assert individuality in life story, ethnicity, language, sexuality, and all the stuff that we go to the theatre to see. Early on is the time to be bold, to grow muscles, and build a thick skin. Tell the hard stories now—it builds the heart muscle. It’s also addictive, and will hopefully lead to more plays that matter over the writer’s career. From hard experience, I would urge all young writers to be compassionate of themselves and the source of their desire to write. The saddest thing I’ve witnessed is that fire being snuffed out. Don’t let that happen to you.

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: I have a great dog. His name is Don Aldo, and he is famous around campus. I wrote a children’s book series with illustrations by my friend Patricia Rae called Big Dog on Campus, about a dog who lives at USC. It’s pretty much taken from life. He is a gigantic heartthrob around here.

***For more on Oliver Mayer, see:

 

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