Name: Nick Malakhow
Hometown: Teaneck, NJ
Current Town: Boston, MA
Affiliations: Swarthmore College (Theater Studies),
Emerson College (MA Theater Education)
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Dominican, Ukrainian, Latino, multi-racial, queer, New Jersey-bred.
Q: Tell me about Seeing Eye.
A: I wrote the first scene as a standalone 10-minute play and then wanted to know what happened next. As a dinosaur when it comes to technology who never used any dating or hook-up apps, I’m interested in the seemingly dying art of the smoking-outside-of-the-bar conversation at gay bars. It made sense to me that two people who felt like outsiders to gay male bar culture—Jason for his blindness and inexperience and Robbie for not fitting into the masc/white ideal—would find a quick connection.
Beyond the one-night-stand, the play explores ways that the three main characters hold themselves back from happiness and fulfillment. Jason is perhaps the one most searching to break free from his self- and society-imposed limitations with his attempt to assimilate into “normal gay male culture” in response to his sister’s imminent departure. Robbie’s inability to see himself as attractive and lovable at first makes Jason the ideal partner for him and then ultimately gets in the way of that partnership. Jordan convinces herself that her brother needs her as a way of avoiding her own anxieties about becoming her own person. Like other pieces I’ve written, I don’t think it’s explicitly “about” what it means to be gay, blind, Latinx, or black, but I do strongly feel that the characters’ unique identities can’t be disassociated from their experiences, strengths, and limitations.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I’m actively submitting Seeing Eye and another piece, Emergency Contact, to development opportunities. I’m applying to development groups, playwright cohorts, and any and all writing opportunities. Since I’m a teacher and just getting my feet wet in trying to submit and develop as a writer, I’m starting to mull over how to use summers to my advantage.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: While my grad program was in Theater Ed and not playwriting, I’ve grown the most as a playwright because of experiences and opportunities I’ve had in that program. My undergrad dabblings in playwriting were an exercise in mimicry—I read a great Nicky Silver play and tried to write a pitch-black farce. The requisite Albee phase had me crafting wealthy, raging alcoholics trading barbs and taking their first-world problems too seriously. At Emerson, I took a theater lit course called “Voices of the Theatre.” The syllabus featured plays with characters at unique identity crossroads of gender, sexuality, religion, race, nationality, and ability. They were plays that acknowledged and were informed by those identities, but that showcased humanity and individual truths instead of preaching about issues with a capital “I.” These works informed what I now see as a major goal I have as a playwright: to contribute a body of small, intimate dramas that reflect specific and diverse perspectives.
I was a voracious young play reader, but I was always trying to relate to and measure myself against a canon that favored the white/cis/hetero world. Even characters I read who were allegedly tabula rasas of gender and race neutrality were still, once you squinted and saw past the generalities, written white or straight. Plays I was able to find that related to my identifiers as a person of color, as a queer person, as a Latino, never quite fit my experiences. I didn’t connect with the AIDS dramas, tragic coming out stories, or other stories where characters’ singularly defined races or sexualities or ethnicities drove their lives entirely and often led to trauma or brutality. “Voices” helped me realize I wanted to write stories about people who might go through some fairly mundane changes and conflicts, but whose everyday dramas were still informed by the totality of their particular intersectional identities.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Amissa Miller, the professor who taught “Voices of the Theater,” helped me re-calibrate my canon with her brilliantly curated syllabus. Several other Emerson professors—Courtney O’Connor, Joe Antoun, and Bob Colby—helped shape my understanding of the process of new play development, an exercise that was entirely new to me. My life as a playwright up until workshopping and revising a play I wrote for my Theater Education MA had consisted of first drafts and a lack of real understanding of play structure. For heroes, I love Annie Baker’s meticulously crafted pieces and Julia Cho’s richly rendered characters with complex identities. Robert O’Hara and Branden Jacob-Jenkins are so inventive, and even though nothing I write looks remotely like their plays, the themes they tackle inspire me. Maria Irene Fornes’ Mud was the first play to truly take my breath away.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: As someone who considers himself a beginner still, I’d say to all of us: “There’s definitely something unique in the story you have to tell. The way you render characters or the perspective you look through demands a place at the table as we all try to re-calibrate the canon.”
Growing up multiracial and queer, I’ve done my share of feeling “not enough”—not Dominican enough for not speaking Spanish, not white enough for my appearance, not black enough for my music taste, not gay enough for still dating women at times, not straight enough for my complete and utter “non-masc-ness.” I feel as if my voice as a writer has finally started to emerge now that I’ve stopped trying on everyone else’s voices and started listening to my own in all its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. Essentially, I’ve begun to tell stories about who I am rather than stories about what I am not.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I’m figuring out how my playwright self can cohabitate and co-work with my middle and high school teacher self. Hiking, running, and just breathing help a lot! I’m eager to meet people straddling the educational and professional theater world to compare hilarious kid stories and tips for negotiating trying to be a professional artist and teacher simultaneously.
***For more on Nick Malakhow, see:
- Read Nick Malakhow’s work on New Play Exchange
- “ConeXión! The LTC Announces Twenty-four New Latinx Plays as Finalists for Carnaval 2018” – Lisa Portes (Café Onda)