Name: Briandaniel Oglesby
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Current Town: Austin, TX
Affiliations: MFA: UT-Austin; MFA: UC-Riverside (Creative Writing). I’m now Director of Theatre Arts at Skybridge Academy
Q: How do you self-identify?
(Mom immigrated from Mexico; Dad’s Scott/Irish family has been in the US for generations)
Q: Tell me about Small Steps.
A: After the perpetually lonely Skip Powers gets tired of the world of gay dating, he volunteers to go to Mars, and NASA says, “Sure, you’ll do.” His mixed heritage means he represents every major continent (in a genetic sense); he also quietly itches to write his name into the book of history. We follow him as he trains with the Abstinence Coach and wraps up his time on this planet; Act 2 follows his journey to the red planet. What the play is, however, transforms when we learn that a million years later, the genes from this lonely and otherwise unremarkable fellow has seeded a planet of people who understand him.
I’ve developed the play at both the JAW Festival at Portland Center Stage and at Playwright’s Week at The Lark. Still looking for a home for it, as you do, but I’m proud that I’ve written something that feels like it’s carved out of a private piece of me.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: A few projects. My day job is teaching at a small JH/HS school, where I make the plays with and for the students through a script-building process; last semester I produced a play where a group of lonely young folks are being catfished by a demon. I’m updating it for adults—titling it Basement Demons and Trailer Saints—and setting it specifically in the (economically and racially diverse!) city of Woodland, California. I’m mostly writing this semester’s junior high play right now. I don’t know what the title will be, but the kids are committed to it being about a Princess falling in love with another Princess, so that’s fun to write…
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: Once upon a time, I fancied myself a fiction writer who dabbled in playwriting. I was in grad school the first time—UC Riverside, go Highlanders!—and a short play took me to the Kennedy Center for the American College Theatre Festival. I didn’t win, but the play that won was mind-blowing, and the joy I felt in losing to something so perfect and glorious told me that this playwriting world, it was for me. I was lucky enough to make it out to KCACTF two more times, finally winning the Latinidad Playwriting Award for She Gets Naked in the End, and each time, the sense of community, the sense of purpose, challenged and changed me.
Before that, there was the summer where I helped produce my play My Avisia Winger in a borrowed barn, and this started a theatre company that defined me for many years.
Two years ago, my middle school students elected for me to write a gay adaptation of Romeo & Juliet with two twelve-year-old boys as the leads. We produced this in a school in Texas. Art is context, y’all. This remains the project I’m most proud of.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: So my mentors include a fabulous dramaturg, Jocelyn Clarke; playwright Rickerby Hinds; my professors Steven Dietz, Kirk Lynn, Suzan Zeder, and Roxanne Schroeder-Arce. I’m going to have to cop out with my playwriting heroes; these are my friends, playwrights who are alive and struggling and committing to the art f’real. The moment I start to list these folks, I’ll feel like I’ve hurt the world when I forget a name.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Make theatre that you love. And make yourself uncomfortable with your theatre. Make the shit that challenges you.
Make theatre for and with the people you care about. I’ve stumbled into a job that gets me doing this in a secret black box theater in the hill country of Texas; before that, I made it in a barn 20 miles from Sacramento. There isn’t a place that doesn’t need theatre. Make theatre in El Paso. Make it in Provo. Make it in San Bernardino. You don’t have to move to The City.
Sometimes you have to carve a place for yourself. There are a handful of queer, mixed-Latino playwrights out there—I’ve met them—but I sure as hell didn’t have them when I was figuring out my own thing. Do so with grace, without complaint, and for the love of God, revise, revise, revise your work.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I touched on this earlier, but with the opportunity to talk with Latino theatre-artists, I want to hold forth a bit. I write plays for adults and plays for teens, and both of these are legitimate art forms. Theatre-for-Teens is often overlooked or ridiculed, but I’d argue that the plays a teenager does or sees stays with them for the rest of their lives. This makes it so much more powerful. Moreover, when the kids are part of the process and feel heard, they wind up believing they can create their own work, too. I want playwrights to go into schools all over the country and make theatre with the teens in those classrooms. I read long, obnoxious essays about the need for representation that often focus on a handful of LORT companies when the real key to transforming theatre—and to making theatre that transforms—is high school, junior high, and community theatre. Imagine the impact of replacing every school production of Our Town or Twelve Angry Men in predominantly non-white schools with a play by a living playwright who gives a shit about the students.
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