The 24th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival officially opens tonight! The featured, Thesis Productions of our Third Year MFA Playwrights debut this weekend in Kantner Hall on the Elizabeth Evans Baker Stage. To celebrate the opening of the featured productions, and leading up to the festival staged readings on the 26th, 27th, and 28th, we will be featuring daily interviews with the current playwrights about their work. We’ve interviewed the 3rd Year MFA Playwrights, Philana, Cristina, and Natasha on their Featured Thesis Productions, now learn a little more about the upcoming staged readings presented by the 2nd and 1st Year MFA Playwrights!
Second Year MFA Trip Venturella (pictured below!) was interviewed by Third Year MFA Natasha Renee Smith about his play, The Water Baby.
Natasha (Nat) Renee Smith: This is the second play you’ve written about this family. What is it about their story that speaks to you?
Trip Venturella: Is “I’m lazy” an acceptable answer? Probably not.
I started writing something last May that involved a story crashing to the ground. I didn’t quite know what it meant at the time, but I new I needed a vehicle to examine the promises and security that vanish when a powerful story collapses. I decided on an intergenerational tale, one that would take place over several decades. I have also been interested in stories from my own family. How has my family’s relationship to the United States changed from when my Great-Great Grandparents sailed over to today? How might we view what my ancestors said and did when they first arrived in the United States today? To be fair, there is virtually nothing in the story of Theo Tombras that resembles the stories of my family. What I am interested in is the way a dream can betray you, and how you recover from that.
Nat: You use a lot of mythical elements in your playwriting. Why do you think you’re so drawn to that type of storytelling?
Trip: I like you calling my writing “mythical!” I have always been interested in the fables, myths, and stories onstage because they give me a chance to explore interior world externally. If we watch a play to see human stories – a protagonist overcoming their worst fears, or two lovers trying to be together despite the odds – mythic elements provide an avenue to externalize the psychological turmoil of the people onstage. There are other techniques to achieve the same ends, expressionistic, naturalistic, and surreal, but myth has the advantage of being grandiose. I like stories that have a wide sweep, a bit of a religious feel to them, so I think that’s why I’m drawn to that type of storytelling.
Nat: What parallels do you notice between 1930s America and today?
Trip: They are numerous. First, a major economic calamity defined that entire decade, much as it has this decade. The specifics of the economy is very different between then and now – inequality is much worse today, for example – but I think there is a similar sense of exertion as we’ve lifted ourselves up out of the wreckage created by unchecked financialization. Second, and this is something mostly forgotten, the late 20’s and 30’s were a time of intense xenophobia. Immigrants from Southern Europe, as well as their decedents, were not yet accepted as full citizens. The Immigration Act of 1924 had slowed immigration to a trickle, and that, on top of the desperation of the depression, created a country that was openly hostile to immigrants. Finally, the Hoover administration was one of the most incompetent administrations in American history. Not only did they worsen the effects of the Depression by imposing tariffs and adhering to the gold standard, but they scapegoated Mexican-Americans as a convenient nemesis during the downturn. The idiotic polity resulting from said scapegoating was the Mexican Repatriation Program. The federal government deported between one and two million people. The majority of them were citizens.
So, as you can see, there are several parallels, and they are the reason I became interested in this time period for this play. Contemporary events are often discussed as if they have no precedent, but I think if we don’t look at today’s world in the context of history, we end up repeating the same mistakes. I, personally, would rather not have this decade, or the next decade, or any decade after that, end the way the 1930’s ended.
Nat: One of the ideas of this play is how our consciences can viscerally affect us. Have you ever had something like that happen in your life?
Trip: I’m a fairly conscientious person, so I try not to get into situations where my conscience is bugging me, but I can provide an example that will make me look lame, but provides evidence for why I write about conscience so often. A while ago, my family and I had stopped off the highway at a brewery in Western Massachusetts. It was a fairly large brewery with a restaurant attached, with all the trappings – good burgers, board games in a loft above the bar, signature beer glasses, and whatnot. Now, we are a large family and all of us are adults, so we spent a considerable amount of money on drinks and food. Some members of my family (who shall remain nameless but who, as a hint to our readers, gave birth to me) took this as license to slip some of the brewery’s signature beer glasses into their purse and walk out the door with them. I considered this to be both bad and wrong. I realize that the beer glasses probably cost fifty cents apiece, and we undoubtedly spent enough money there for the brewery to purchase an entire phalanx of beer glasses, but damn if I did not feel deeply guilty walking out of that brewery. In retrospect, it is kind of nice to have those glasses as a memory of that trip with my family (yes, I kept one of them), nicer than it would have been to not experience the pang of guilt I felt walking out of the brewery. I think I write about conscience so much because I’m interested in the judgements we have to make while it bears down on us, and the consequences of those decisions in retrospect. What if the decision our conscience is telling us to make is really the wrong one? What if we are really supposed to take those beer glasses? As I enjoy looking things at their inverse, so I enjoy looking at our conscience as it is refracted through time. And no, I’m not endorsing stealing beer glasses from breweries.
Nat: What relationship in this play fascinates you the most?
Trip: I think the heart of the story is the conflict between Theo, a man who isn’t who he says he is, and Alexandra, a woman seeking a new life in America. Both of them have their reasons for believing in the “American Dream,” and their disillusion with it is experienced as disillusionment with each other. They both want better things for themselves, but the way they seek those better things put them at odds, until it finally crashes to the ground. When it does, though, what comes out of the wreckage? Come see “The Water Baby,” and find out!
Trip Venturella’s full-length plays include Killer Maples: The Musical! (Yelling Man Theatre), Shahid, and The Water Baby (both OU Seabury Quinn Playfest). He has acted, directed, and written with the human rights group ANHAD: Kashmir, Delhi University in New Delhi, Floating Space Theatre Company in Sri Lanka, and served as the Director of Development of Apollinaire Theatre Company in Boston. His work as a dramaturg includes Stupid F*cking Bird (Ohio University Theatre Division), and this summer, Next to Normal (Tantrum Theater). His essays on the intersection of art and urban planning have appeared in HowlRound.
The Water Baby
by Trip Venturella, directed by Ernesto Ponce
4:00 pm, Saturday April 28th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
The year is 1930, and Theofanis Tombras has returned from his tour of duty in the Marines with an unnamed baby in tow. He finds a country bruised by economic crisis; Alexandra, his arranged fiancée, stranded across the ocean; and an unlikely opportunity offered by an old friend. As a better life beckons, it becomes clear to his young family that Theo will sacrifice nearly anything to sustain his growing ambition, and contain the specters of his past.
Tickets for the Stage Readings are FREE and open to the public.