Name: Mark-Eugene Garcia
Hometown: West Covina, CA
Current Town: New York, NY
Dramatists Guild. BMI musical theatre workshop, Academy of New Musical Theatre
City College New York and LaGuardia College,
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Latino American
Q: Tell me about Standby.
A: Standby is a rock musical about making connections, finding love, and traveling on. In it, five strangers find themselves trapped in an abandoned airport terminal and are told via loudspeaker that only two can leave. An aeronautical engineer, a personal assistant, a psychology student, a marine with PTSD, and a homeless gay youth must decide amongst themselves who is worth escape. It becomes a series of questions of what makes one person valued more than others. Is it having children, money, love, age, lifestyle, family? It played in NYC fringe festival, then New York Musical Festival, and most recently made its Midwest Premiere at the Towle Theatre in Hammond, Indiana.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Eight Tales of Pedro is my newest piece. Based on the folk tales of “Pedro Urdemales” and “Juan Bobo,” it involves a pair of parallel narratives: Storytellers, some now and some in 17th century Mexico, cross a country – risking everything for a new life. As they tell the folktales, their lives and plots combine and intertwine into the same conclusion. It explores what it means to be Latino in the present day political situation as well as emphasizing on the pride of our Latin American culture.
The “Pedro Urdemales” and “Juan Bobo” folktales have been something I was always fascinated with but the reason for telling the tales appeared after the 2016 elections. At my customer service job, I was asked by an angry customer if I was a citizen. It completely blew my mind that this was the world we live in. Yes, I was born here, but I am proud of the people who fought so hard to give a chance to their families. I wanted to tell their stories.
Eight Tales of Pedro made its premiere at the Secret Theatre in NYC as part of their UnFringed festival. After sold-out performances, and winning Best Play, it’s returning for an extended run in Oct. I’m making some revisions to prepare for its new run.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: When I was about 24 had a two day reading of an early show of mine. The first night, it bombed. In front of a full theatre of people, the jokes didn’t land. The show dragged. We hit two hours before intermission. I sat with my co-writer afterwards, near tears. I thought about cancelling the next night’s performance. I couldn’t sleep that night. At midnight I started cutting. I cut musical numbers, I cut scenes. I moved scenes. At five am, I had cut nearly an hour out of the show. We called the actors in an hour early, pulled pages from their scripts, gave them the new cuts and the show went on. It was completely turned around. The audience loved it, filling the house with laughter and cheers. It was an incredibly successful night of an early playwright’s work. It’s never been produced. It probably never will. But that first night, I learned to edit. I learned to cut. Now, cutting is my favorite part of the writing process.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: As a high school freshman, my Dad showed me the video Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez. Through the next four years, I wore out my VHS copy. There was a power to that story, the way it’s told, and what it stands for. Even though I didn’t understand why at the time, it hit me hard. In fact, I wore a zoot suit to my senior prom. In college, I discovered Nilo Cruz. I come from a musical background. My major musical theatre influences have been Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Something about each of these writers is that they balance comedy and tragedy, and go beyond it so smartly that upon leaving the show you feel. There is a surge of pressure in your chest. Tears behind laughter. That catharsis. That power. I want that. I want to make you feel.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Find what you’re afraid of and give yourself permission to write about it. In each of my full-length works, I try to take on an issue that scares or confuses me. Standby is a reaction to suicide. The Holy Cows of Credence, South Dakota is about atheism. Facing East centers on the LGBT/Mormon relationship. (Un)missed Connections is deals with gay men and monogamy. Eight Tales of Pedro calls out racism and the immigration system.
These were all topics I was scared of. I procrastinated for so long. I had to get over that hump and research and write. Looking back, being afraid of them was wasted time. Time I could have been writing. So use the fear to find you and stir up. Then go take it down.
Also, once it’s written and handed over to your cast. Listen to them. When it comes to your script, the actors are the smartest people in the room. (Don’t tell the director I said that.) A good actor will delve deeper into their character than you have. You had a number of people to think of. They have one. They will fill in blanks. They will ask questions. Answer them. Trust them. They will only make you look smarter.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I won’t stop. You shouldn’t either.
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