New Plays Festival Interview: Andy Boyd '18 and Santino DeAngelo '18
March 26, 2018
The Playwrights 2018 New Plays Festival consists of the 2018 MFA Playwriting Class Thesis Projects and will run from April 4th trough May 12th in two locations: the Flexible Performance Space at Lenfest Center for the Arts and the Ford Foundation Studio at Pershing Square Signature Theatre.
Tell us about your play. What inspired you to write it?
Santino (The Outposters): I think my friends are really incredible at loving each other and I just wanted to write about that.
Andy (River Rouge): So, I first got interested in Henry Ford while I was doing research for my last major play, Os Confederados. That play was about a neo-Confederate colony in Brazil, and many of the people in that colony worked at the Fordlandia rubber plantation in the 1930s. I wrote an act about an uprising at Fordlandia that was later cut from the play, but my fascination with Ford remained. Leftists and academics will often use "Fordism" as a shorthand for the kinds of large-scale factories that were once the base of the US economy. As a side note, I should say that the idea that "we don't make things anymore" is categorically false: our nation's industrial output has been increasing since the 1970s, even as our industrial workforce has been declining. But anyway, I wanted to try to understand what Fordism actually was. We hear a lot of nostalgia for the good manufacturing jobs that we've lost in recent decades, and I wanted to know things like: to the extent that these were good jobs, why were they good jobs? And the more I looked into it the more I realized that they were "good jobs" because of Unions and their allies in power, not because of technology. This is why as our technology has gotten better and better we've actually seen the position of workers get worse. We can't rely on technological fixes to solve what are fundamentally political problems.
I tried to write a play about the Ford Motor Company from the inside out. The only problem was that all of my characters understood how the Company worked and none of them were willing to question it. I realized I needed an outside voice, and I hit upon the idea of using Diego Rivera as that voice. After all, he was in Detroit for a year (1932-33) that was already central to the story I wanted to tell. The more I researched Rivera, the more I realized he was trying to do the same things I was: to make politically useful leftist art about the Ford Motor Company. I realized that by making him my central character, I could move the issues that excited me to the center of the play. My protagonist could be asking the same questions I'm asking. And once I realized Rivera was the main character I knew I needed to write a play that had the messy, multi-genre sprawl of a Diego Rivera mural, so I put in a bunch of songs and movement sections and characters and protest scenes and stuff like that.
What are the main challenges you faced in writing and producing your play?
S: Just the existential limits of time… We’re having a blast!
A: The biggest challenge has been figuring out ways to make the intellectual issues of this play feel visceral, emotional, and interesting to the audience. Brecht said that his plays were actually very emotional because they all had the central emotion of THE THRILL OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY! but most audiences think that's a cop-out. A lot of my re-writes were tearing away the more intellectual arguments of the play to reveal the squishy, beating heart of a play that is in a weird way about love. Love for the people, love for art, love for family.
Your plays are inaugurating the Festival. Why do you think the Festival is an important initiative?
S: My nine fellow playwrights have permanently shaped me as an artist and I feel it’s really important that we honor our contributions to each other by putting our first foot forward together. Through this festival, we invite the public to see us as individuals, but also in the context of each other. Each of us has a dynamic and unique magic, but I think the real magic of this festival is the chance to see the many wonderful ways in which we have influenced and been influenced by each other. So come see us opening week, and come see them all!
A: I think it's important for MFA playwrights to actually produce plays. Theatre is not literature, it's more like event planning. I didn't apply to any MFA programs housed in English departments for this very reason: I wanted to work with actors, directors, and designers. I wanted to figure out how to make compelling live events. And also of course it's a chance for the industry to see work by playwrights who hopefully will be forging careers in the next few years.
What kind of theatre excites you?
S: I am interested in theater that explores the height of human imagination, the depth of human love, and never one without the other.
A: This is an unpopular opinion in America at least, but I love idea plays. My favorite writers are people like Tony Kushner, Cherrie Moraga, Wallace Shawn, Adrienne Kennedy, and Caryl Churchill. I love playwrights whose work tries to make critical interventions in conversations about politics, identity, society, economics. I like playwrights with a point of view. Too much has been written about the ancient Athenian convergence of democracy and theatre, but I think it's a revealing fact that the two emerged in the same place and time. And we shouldn't be too idealistic about either: they were largely by and for the upper classes. But that's still true. I wish theatre had a more diverse audience, especially economically, but I think it's useful as well to get powerful people to see plays that challenge their worldview. Suzan-Lori Parks staging plays about how black single mothers are routinely brutalized by our social and economic system at Signature Theatre, which literally has a performance space called the Ford Studio (!) is just amazing. Theatre audiences are largely upper and upper-middle class liberals. They're the people who run this city and largely run the country, and if we can use our art to get them to consider the experiences of people oppressed by the American empire both at home and abroad, then I think we're doing good work.
Check the full Festival schedule here and more info about each show below.
By Andy Boyd
April 5 @ 8pm
April 6 @ 2:30pm
April 7 @ 7:30pm
One was a communist. The other was a capitalist. One was an artist. The other, an engineer. And yet, for the year between the spring of 1932 and the spring of 1933, Diego Rivera and Henry Ford were friends.