Friday Phone Call # 63
Richard Montoya of Culture Clash
My guest today is Richard Montoya, playwright and a co-founder of Culture Clash. Culture Clash is turning thirty! And for many years the trio (Montoya, Herbert Siguenza, and Ricardo Salinas) have managed to balance their individual careers (and their family lives) with the work of the ensemble. We talk a bit about Richard's experience of that balance. Richard's also the author of American Night, which was the catalyst for the conversation that jumped off around NewCrit writer Lily Janiak's writing about the California Shakespeare Festival's production last year. He updates us on the many directions that play has gone in the interim and talks about his own sense of the value, and challenge, of that conversation as it was happening. He's also the author of the play Water & Power which is now a feature film running in Los Angeles. And we talk about the outcome of the battle in Arizona over the removal of Culture Clash's plays from the public schools in the state. Richard's been a dedicated artist-activist for three decades now, with major works in the major regional theatres around the country and a long run with his Culture Clash partners. And still any conversation with him will come back to the "why" of the work, to people who have been his heroes and continue to make a space for his work around the country. As you'll hear, the ensemble will be in Boston this Spring. But if you have a chance to see any of their work this season, wherever it is, do yourself a favor and make the trip.
David Dower: Hello Richard.
Richard Montoya: Hello Mr. Dower. How are you, sir?
David: Oh, I'm fine. Thank you, sir. So today my guest is Richard Montoya of Culture Clash and I've awoken him at the ungodly Los Angeles hour of eleven thirty to have this conversation.
Richard: Oh drats.
David: Yeah. And I feel so special that you said yes.
Richard: Well, rise and shine David, that's what I always say for you. The light out here is that David Hockney Museum light. You know, it's tragic. It's sunshine nor always.
David: Well, we're finally having real spring in Boston now that it's June.
Richard: Oh, I love Boston in June.
David: Yeah. It's better than Boston in February.
Richard: That's really good.
David: We have many things that I wan to ask you about. But, can I start with congratulations on the thirtieth anniversary of Culture Clash!
Richard: Oh, darling, I fairly noticed. Why thank you David.
David: So you started in kindergarten.
Richard: That thirty years just breezed by. Thank you. Thank you very much. It's been a long strange trip as Jerry Garcia use to say.
David: Yeah. I mean so when you guys started out, we have a lot of listeners who are early days in their career, when you guys started out, did you have any sense of the ark you were on as threesome? That you were going to have any ... this kind of duration at all?
Richard: You know, not ... you know, listening to Springsteen in depth, the E Street Band, you know, on the Hall of Fame ceremony and he- you know, it's like as if tho he was talking about Culture Clash and so many of us, that started out with a hunger and a yearning to do better than what we were given or what we saw or just come out of a ... by '84, the Chicano Teatro scene was a little stagnant. Teatro Campesino wasn't exactly in their A game. Mind Troop might have seemed ... you know, everything fluctuates and goes up and down but the appetite for comedy wasn't that great in San Francisco because El Salvador and Nicaragua were exploding but we sent in the clowns anyway and we just thought that we could reach for something that we didn't see in the very serious theopatio movement or not quite in the standup comedy movement. It was just busting out south of Market in San Francisco.
So you had the explosion of comedy clubs in the suburbs. A strange kind of hybridity going on all over San Francisco and performance art. The Art Motel and and all these things and we were somewhere in between all of that. I don't know that we got ... it was decline of Western civilization and we will concur and we will make it, so much as we were trying to do something new.
So we were emboldened by that, didn't know how long the wheels would stay on. In fact, in '84, we started out with six of us. We had Margaret Gomez and Monica Palazzos and the humorist academic, Jose Antonio Barsados. It was crowded field. I just thought this is a suicide mission but we'll take it for all of the gusto with Renee Anez curating the work in a gallery of all places.
David: Yeah. Yeah.Solad
Richard: So it was ... I remember one critic saying "This thing has lasted much longer than it was ever intended to" or you know, logically should have. But, that was always kind of the fun. I think the first time that we took off on a national tour and we did get run out of some places. I remember Stores, Connecticut kind of offending a feminist Puerto Rican audience. And then, Elizabeth, New Jersey, offending like an Italian American audience, like, "What are we doing?" We weren't quite sure but we knew that we could travel. We knew that it could hit the road and we wizened up real fast and started figuring out over the years.
Luckily, the work grew until we started writing plays and that was another world. We didn't have to do auditoriums and comedy clubs and banquet halls. We could actually go in to the American Theatre and present a play and that was a turning point. The other thing that Springsteen said, I'll let you get in a word in edgewise soon, Mr. Dower.
David: No, no worries.
Richard: No wallflower are you. Springsteen was talking about the band, the E Street Band, and it was pretty incredible. I didn't realize that there were Latinos and African Americans in that very blue collar Jersey band, but he said that he ... at this point in his life, he will always feel what they said as a group was bigger and more important than that what they said individually. So as I set out as a solo playwright, as Herbert sets out as a solo performance art performer and playwright, and Rick moves in to other areas, the question will be will we always have something greater to say as a group than we will as individuals. And Springsteen was very honest about the tensions and the dynamics and the problems that they had as he set out as a solo artist. I've got to say that those are prevalent.
And, another kind of a boy band is Culture Clash. Like, are we ... we'll always wonder until we can answer that question for ourselves, and I think that's what keeps driving us to come back and work on stuff like going to Emerson in the spring and going back to Mark Taperform to revisit, remix, Chavez Ravine with Lisa Peterson. It's like getting back with the larger circle of collaborators to kind of help Culture Clash figure out itself. But that's the fun and it keeps it a little fresh. So we're not done, man. Not done.
David: And I've known you guys over the years, and this ... that tension and that kind of like finding yourselves again and again and again, that's been going on for some period of time. I mean that ... I remember even back in the earliest days of the Picasso work that Herbert was doing, that it was always ... and I guess you guys were doing anthems also at arena at the same time and there was already this kind of like, "How do we do this? Have our individual voices and our collective voice simultaneously".
Richard: Well, timing is everything and there's ... there'll always be ambitions and needs to get off the Culture Clash sugar plantation. It takes time and it takes maturity to understand that as well. And it's all timing. Herbert kind of ducked out on Molly Smith at the wrong time and he'll never work in that job again, I'll tell you that, or at Arena for that matter, but it's ... I think we've just gotten better in our later years of navigating and giving it a better timing.
But, you know, Picasso's not my cup of tea but for Herbert it gave him life and created sparks for several years. We move in different directions but he's got to be allowed his own journey and his growth and the trick is if there's a reason to come back, if there's something pertinent that needs to be said, then it seems justified. But to do the golden oldies and the hits, I mean as long as we keep writing new material, I think it's great.
David: Yeah, you don't want to turn in to a PBS special.
Richard: Oh no, god.
David: Peter, Paul, and Mary and now here comes Culture Clash still doing their first bit.
Richard: With Pat Boone and all of that stuff. But, yeah, I mean you know, it's just that tension is a driving force and a factor. It's not going away. It's not going away. It would be nice to be doing a Culture Clash piece in June in San Diego and Peter Communications is gathered. But, Herbert will be doing Oh Henry. And then, Dienquintro was born out of the theatre commons, the Latino dialogue that's been going on hot and heavy and wonderful and gathered at Emerson last winter. I mean it'd be nice to be doing something but Rick might be doing something at that time. So it's still a ... getting a marquee perform show together is ... but the one good thing is we'll be really tight and then we'll take the show on to Emerson and be like super, super stupendous.
David: When are you doing the Chavez Ravine?
Richard: We're revisiting Chavez Ravine in December, January '14, '15. It's the ten year anniversary of that show and so much has happened since the last time. It's about the removal of families over the years, public housing and eminent domain. We're just seeing the hyper, hyper gentrification of our beloved little neighborhoods here. The questions are the same, is it for the better good of Los Angeles or the better good of the Mission District in San Francisco or what the fuck is going on. Added on top of that you have the craziness of the courts, Dodger Stadium, Magic Johnson, and gang injunctions, very serious gang injunctions in Echo Park now. So if more than two homeboys are standing around, they can be stopped and frisked. So, Culture Clash can't even meet in Echo Park anymore. We've got to ...
David: That's actually true.
Richard: We've got to jettison out to the west side baby. But it's very intense and it's still about housing in Los Angeles and it's still ... there's not a lot of places to go from the mountains to the ocean. There is a shortage of homes and the prices go up and the hipsters and kids will always want to come here. So, you know, I'm not a native Angeleno, so someone could look at the home the wife and I just bought as kind of pioneering intensifier but it's very interesting and volatile. So all of that needs to be said and that really wasn't a part of the ... that was not a part of the original Chavez Ravine ten years ago. So definitely looking at some updates and upgrades.
David: And you're working with Lisa again.
Richard: Absolutely. Yeah. And Chavez Ravine is interesting. That was the first play ... when Michael Ritchie had his interview with the Taper, he walked in to the ... after his meetings, he walked in to the show that we were doing, Chavez Ravine, and he told us later, he was like, "What the hell is this?" He'd never seen a theatre piece so engaged with its audience and it was kind of electric and lightening in a bottle. I mean within months he had commissioned Water and Power. So Water and Power was an outgrowth.
Chavez Ravine was very much a handshake with Gordon Davidson, you know Uncle Gordy, our hero. Water and Power was very much a handshake with Michael Ritchie. I mean it ... Chavez Ravine had moved slow. Gordon's dramaturgical process historically is slow and a lot of the ... it's very cautious. With Michael, it's wonderful and you come out with a better play. With Michael, it's like, "Can you be on next year", so there was an urgency. But, it's interesting that when he walked in, that was the play that was playing to sold out houses. He was like, "whatever these guys got going on, it's very visceral and very real and very truthful."
So we're going to revisit it but we're going to do it at the Kirk Douglas in Culver City and Culver City's an interesting town. There's a lot of new gentrification going on there as well.
David: Ah. So I ... so you're doing it over in Culver City this time. That I did not know and that's really interesting. So how much are ... wow, how much work are you doing around Culver City at this time, not that it's going to go in to the play but are you guys in the neighborhood in the way you've been with your other works?
Richard: A little bit. I mean Culver ... you've got to go back to the gentleman named Culver. He was an interesting guy and he was builder and he was a Lancashire and he was a ... and they were different than and the Picos.
Richard: There was the wasguys and there were the Californios. And so there definitely needs to be some excavation going on. And the fact that we are in the hot center of Culver City. I don't ... you know, I don't know that they're calling it gentrification over there because it was, outside of Sony Studios, I mean fifteen years ago, there was not a lot going on in Culver City. Now, there is a Tender Greens and a Gallery and an Arteen and MPRs in Culver City. LA Weekly's in Culver City. It's just a hotbed. it's kind of like the new ... it's new black, the new orange. And kind of the hotbed of many different scenes.
And so it's going to be interesting to me back there. We've already done a few shows at the Kirk Douglas and it's just a nice energy. A lot of people don't realize it but west side is full of university and college students. There's a lot of activism in all of those colleges and junior colleges. Not everything has to happen on east side. It's kind of fun and necessary to venture far west, whether it be the Getty Villa or UCLA. We just recorded American Nights, LA Theatre Works. It's fun to venture out.
David: You just recorded it?
Richard: Yeah, we recorded it for-
Richard:... our clients ... yeah, for Susan Lowenberg and the crew at UCLA for five ... it was really wonderful.
David: Hey, how does that work as an audio play? So that's going to be an audio version of it then?
Richard: Right. It's crazy. I mean it's challenging. I mean we're really going through the ringer right now in terms of what people might get and what they see. But I reworked the hell out of it and brought up Shawn San Jose, who I loved in the Cal Shakes version, brought Shawn up. So Shawna Cooper directed. It was kind of a little bit of a dream cast. Herbert came back and Kim Scott from the OSF crew and we had a blast. We had a blast for five days at UCLA. It's kind of like ... it was like doing Summer Stock, like what are we doing, how did we get here.
David: Yeah, this is the play ... the people who are listening, this is the play that sort of touched off the whole HowlRound new crit controversy that Jonathon Moscone and Lily Janeck just did an interview around recently, but it's last year was when Lily's original article happened. One of the reasons Richard, I wanted to actually reach out and talk to you about this was you posted a comment that I'm actually going to move to that article because it wound up on the original article, but about "Yeah, hey, nice you're having that conversation. I did write that play." It occurred to me that we actually hadn't made an invitation for you to talk about the play and what you thought about the conversation, but also what you're up to with the play. Your comment's fantastic, so I'm going to move it and people can catch up to you there, but that must have been a weird experience for you to watch all that go around.
Richard: It's weird, David, but it's also really cool that HowlRound is the space that exists and where people ... the dialogue was going on. That, for me, was like "Hey, there's a party and I need to be at this party." It wasn't so much like, you know, "HowlRound, please pass the mic to the playwright." You guys have done nothing but that since my first manifesto, under the radar writings you and Pauley were the first ones to post those, so you've always been there and it's really none of that. It's just astonishing to ... and really kind of exciting to see this conversation going on with two people that have a lot to say. Jonathon Moscone has a lot to say. The critic ...
Richard: ... had a lot to say. I just ... I was like, "Hey man, I've got to crash the party here." It was fun to see such a polite conversation going on, but still things were being said and I thought that was terribly interesting and really useful and important the way that ... you know, from HowlRound and Theatre Commons, the way these things spin out. It becomes a national dialogue in a way that wasn't possible five, ten years ago. So that part I really liked. It was fun. As I was writing it, it was kind of delicious, like, "Oh my god, I can't believe I'm going to say this."
David: Yes, but you've come to know you're going to say what you want to say and it's always going to be delicious, or I expect it to be delicious.
Richard: My hands were trembling just a little bit because you know, here in Los Angeles, I mean there's a wonderful museum out here that's always surprising me, the Autry, the Autry Museum because they have ... yes, it's a cowboy museum but they do so much more. They have native voices, a wonderful incubation, playwriting lab for the Native American actors and playwrights and directors. They've really gone far beyond expectations. But, one question that's engraved in stone above the entrance of a beautiful museum that of course has Gene Autry's horse, I think Trigger, and it's got all the things but it always has incredibly interesting and modern shows there, but engraved above, their mantra is really like "Whose West is it".
Richard: And I just love that an institution like that has left that question wide open because in many ways that question is still being answered. I guess that was kind of stamped across my head and my blood rage as I was reading the back and forth, I was loving how polite it was but I was like, "Wait a minute. We helped build the West. We are the West. We're a part of it". It's ... we've got to elbow and make our room for that stage time as well. Whether it's called the Shakespeare Festival or Cal Shakes or Oregon Shakes, I think this is precisely the kind of hot water that I really love to see Jonathon Moscone navigate out of.
Even Bill Roush, up at Oregon Shakes, I know that from American Nights, then there was a Latino Measure For Measure. I mean Bill has been tremendous with incorporating the new voices. But it's not without its blowback from the older members and subscribers. I do remember getting a letter or seeing a letter at Oregon Shakespeare that said it wasn't the Oregon Mexican Festival, it's the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This discussion needs to tease itself out because you know, we're not going anywhere. I actually give a lot of credit to Bill, Chris and the folks up at OSF, and I give Jonathon Moscone credit.
I frankly thought there would have been more ... a little bit more blowback because I mean Archinidic Cal Shakes watching was such a wild kind of romp. It wasn't ... not that they do dusty Shakespeare. They're always pretty exciting, invigorating productions but they had had ... the season before American Night, they had had an African American musical there that had just gone through the roof. I think, without speaking for Jonathan, just energizing his audience with stuff is really fun to be a part of.
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Richard: And ...
David: Is it getting any better for you guys? I mean I love the guys and you're talking about a lot of my hero, mentor, friends, too but is it getting ... you guys have been ... ever since I've known you, you've been having to open the doors. Like every time, you're like, "Okay, we'll be those people. We'll come in here and we'll open the doors of this place. Now we'll go open the doors of that place." Is it getting any easier?
Richard: You know, I don't know about easier, you know, David, but I do know that it's about ... and I mean this sounds so corny and I sound like so old school now, but we are mid-career guys and it's really about relationships. So that I think that picking up the phone and talking to a Diane Rodriguez and talking about an idea that her an Malcolm have that would require Culture Clash and a Roger Goneover Smith to come in and investigate Black/Latino relations throughout the generations of Los Angeles, I mean that part feels like that's a wonderful phone call. It makes all the sense in the world. It's Century Theatre Group. Diane Rodriguez directing and Roger and Culture Clash coming together to fully investigate with all the time and support that we need to look at LA throughout the decades, to this relationship. There was just an article in the LA Times just a few days ago of Latino gang members targeting black families in traditionally Latino barrows, and then the amount of Salvadorians that are in South Central. I know when I shot Water and Power, we shot in a small Southern Baptist church in South Central and I got to know the preacher very well and he's like, "I'm down to eight parishioners. Eight parishioners." On Martin Luther King Boulevard and 69th Street. He says, "These Salvadorian Evangelicals will be here seven nights a week and I have to rent to them because it pays my rent." But his last eight parishioners aren't really too happy with that. So, this landscape of Los Angeles every changing and taking an honest look at that generationally, that's getting easier. It won't be easier to write it, you know. It won't be easy to map it out but the phone call and like you guys are the guys for this.
David: Well and then also ... what it is that people are ... you mean that phone call, it acknowledges the years of expertise you have in these forums. So I see that that doesn't make it easier actually to do the work, but it actually makes people's commitment to you and to the complexity of what you can do deeper, that they've got that relationship over time.
Richard: That's right, and the trust and ... it'll actually get pulled off, that it'll compete. I mean I was at an OSF Roundtable in New York and I think it was David Henry Wang, he beats Culture Clash by several years, like in Owings South Coast rep, you know, commission for example. These things go on forever.
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Richard: And I think SCR enjoys that David Henry Wang still owes them one. But, you know, it's like a place like ... with all the regional theatres, you know, they really want to see these productions happen and they slow dance on an even flow for many different reasons, but you know, Diane wants to see this happen and she will make it happen. We're the guys that will get in there and do the work with Roger, do the interviews, if it's going to be interview based, do all that work so that it actually comes to fruition.
So making the gig happen, my kind of new direction with Shawn San Jose and Composanto, it's like, "Hey, you want to do this thing", "Yeah, let's do it. Let's do the map grant. Let's get the map grant. Let's go to Nogales, Arizona for ten days. Let's hole up. Let's watch it." That part is like that's done. Let's do it. I don't have to wrangle. I don't have a pilot shoot. I'm not going to leave you because I'm going to go do a film or something like that. So that part gets a little easier.
As you slide past mid-career and into near oblivion, theatres are always looking for that next thing and we understand that, but ... and then we all have our individual careers going on, but when we can pull it together and make ourselves available, there's no shortage of getting the gig. That's an important part of being a theatre artist is working, but it's ... life at the moment is commissions and some of the bookings that we do throughout the year. So it gets easier in a sense and it gets more difficult as we have decided that we chose to do less touring and be on the road less because of families and our lives.
David: But do the institutions seem to be getting more comfortable with ... I mean obviously CTG's a perfect example for you guys, a great home for you guys, are the other institutions, are you finding them more comfortable with you and the audiences more comfortable with you? It seemed like in the beginning you were always that "new thing", which then you end up having an experience like Stores where the audience is kind of what they're there for and they're storming out or whatever.
Richard: Storming out at Yukon. No, it ... I think that it does get ... we get more comfortable with each other, that you know, look, if I'm having a conversation with Chris Aseebo, most of the time we're just laughing hysterically at each other. But that's a friendship, you know.
David: Right. Well that's also something to be said too besides the work that Bill has done, Chris Aseebo, he's a designer but he's also the Associate Artistic Director there, right?
Richard: I mean that's number two man, you know, and Allison Carey, you know, it's like American Nights at OSF was ... it could be said then it was always interesting and sometimes a bumpy road because they have such a mechanism that your work has to fit within the combine of rehearsals and repertory, true repertory, that actors move on to other rehearsals. That took a while for me to grasp, like how it worked and suddenly I'm in Ashland for four months with Joe Boney, it's wonderful. There's gonna be dynamics, you know.
Richard: But always you have friends that you can reach to. I remember Chris Aseebo saying to me at Martinos, the bond there, before we started rehearsal, he goes, "I'm going to have a lot of fun watching you go through this system." I didn't quite know what he meant but I do now. The wonderful thing is is that however rocky or it was, I walked away a better theatre artist and a better navigator of the different kinds of regional theatre situations. Going on to the point where I think when Allison Carey and I get together, we're also laughing hysterically at each other more than we are covering business. But again, we can go down and go sit down, have that drink, talk, and American Night just won't die, David. It's gonna be a two ... they're gonna put it in the high school system there in the four states through OSF.
So I've continued to work with Allison and the crew up there and that's been wonderful. It's always great to go back to Ashland because it's not a system for every writer and for every actor, but it's manageable for the renegades like myself. It's almost like going back home again, and that part feels really good, that we thought enough of each other as friends to say, "Hey, come back. We'll bring you back in and would you think about this for a two-person high school show?" It's even more wilder than the adult version because it's only two people and it has to be forty two minutes and it's got to fly like nobody's business, and it's not dummied down for high school audience.
And then, Oakland Tech High School in Oakland just did it. They did the adult version with faculty and students at Oakland Tech High School and they filmed. I heard it was wonderful. I didn't get a chance to see it but I'm just really glad that it's ... through the help of OSF and teachers around the country and people like Jonathan and LA Theatre Works, it just won't die. And so, we'll get a chance for this dialogue to continue with other critics and new critics and to find out if in fact if it is the right piece for American stages at this time.
David: Yeah. You're mentioning teachers here in a couple of different contexts and it reminds me, we were talking earlier, it reminds me to come back to Arizona. Now, your work, some time ago, Culture Clash's work was banned in Arizona in the schools.
Richard: It was. It was swept up. A teacher had our book in the classroom alongside Shakespeare and I think later on Luis Valdez book. I mean I suddenly was reading hundreds of books that were banned, but in the beginning, named in a lawsuit was Culture Clash. We found out about it through the LA Times. We didn't even know really what was happening, but some very brave teachers, wonderful teachers ...
David: And when was this? When did this start?
Richard: Gosh, I want to say between 2004 and 2006. It might have even been ... no, it was more like ... it was '08, '09.
David: Yeah, I think it was later because I remember seeing you in Los Angeles at TCG right after it had ...
David: ... run its course.
Richard: And what it was was this school superintendent of schools at the time really acting and responding off of the anti-immigration batshit crazy fervor of Arizona and the governor there and Sheriff Arpiao and the madness, determined ... or they took a really close look at what was being taught in the high schools and there was a couple of classes where they were teaching women studies, they were touching on queer studies, ethnic studies and comparing the text of Shakespeare with modern texts like Culture Clash and I think Radio Mamba, our Miami piece was actually being read.
There's a documentary about, it's called Precious Knowledge, about that whole time period and it's a fully integrated classroom. There are Anglo students, mostly Latino, and some African American students. The teachers were really teaching them early Mayan philosophy of inlacatch and "tu eres mi otro yo", "you are my other self", "If I hurt you, I hurt me." You know, to see an Anglo student reading or a Latino student, you know, "You are me."
The lesson there was getting away from the fervor of the anti-immigration fervor. And of course, that was all deemed unacceptable in Arizona. So the teachers ended up in a lawsuit, three teachers and the classes were shut down, and the books were removed from the classrooms. Even early on, the students were really distraught. They were having a great time and enjoying these pieces and everything from Romeo and Juliet to Radio Mambo. So thing took three, four years to wind it's way up through first the local courts and then the state and then made its way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tea Party cited us, and make no mistake, it was Koch brother's Tea Party funded, but the opposition was heavily funded and the three teachers were going around the Southwest trying to raise money for their legal defense team. That's really when we started getting involved and started trying to help raise money.
I've learned within the last six months, a Federal judge reinstated the books and reinstated part of the programs but the teachers were long gone and now face enormous debt. So no one's really has taken up the mantle and taken .... I think even more important than the books but were the programs, ethnic studies and women's studies and you know, that sort of work, for the moment, from what I understand, can be taught but there's no one there really to teach it at the level that it was being taught. We lost the teachers. So it was an expensive five-year battle and how many high school generations is five years. It's going through. So there was a loss. In the end a victory but also a big loss.
David: Yeah. Yeah, I remember when you were first talking about it, it was clearly weighing on you, that sense of loss and that sense of the size of the pushback was so..
Richard: It was, David, because, you know, more than the books or precious plays, you know, people were and are still dying in the Senora Dessert on the American side. I remember watching all the activity at The Public Theatre. Rightfully so, the theatre artists had really gotten behind and supported some European artists that were under the gun.
Richard: I recall ... yeah.
David: Yeah, free theatre, Belarus, uh-huh.
Richard: Yeah, and we just wanted to rally people at the same time around some teachers and really culture workers and theatre artists that were under the gun in Arizona. One thing that happened at the time, in the hip-hop community and in the activists community, everybody called for a boycott of Arizona, and my inclination was to do the opposite, was to try to rally people to go to Arizona. And even some years later, Shawn San Jose and myself will do exactly that.
We will go to Arizona and truly investigate some ... within the last year, some American border patrol shootings where bullets traveled across the border and into Mexico and for example, killed a young fifteen year old boy, who by the way was wearing a hoodie and really could have been the Trayvon Martin mirror image, but you know, in a small border town on the Mexican side of the border. So these things ... we're going to rush in ... we're not rushing in, we're moving in methodically, but Shawn and myself, our inclination is to move closer to Arizona, move closer to the border and investigate thoroughly. Let's see if we can peel away the headlines and find out what is the human condition there, what's really going on. I'd love to interview Sheriff Arpaio. I really would, man.
David: Uh-huh. [affirmative]
Richard: Or Brewer, Governor Brewer.
David: Governor Brewer, yeah.
David: Yeah, where is that piece? Where is your Radio Mambo of Arizona?
Richard: Well, it's Coming by Way of Nogales is the name of the piece. So this is a piece that I want to work on with Composanto and I want to be in it. I want to feel what we felt in Radio Mambo but on the border, like truly investigative work. And that will happen. So we're not letting Arizona go. It continues to be ... look, it continues to be a very interesting place, man. I mean yeah, it's bat-shit crazy but it's interesting and in some cases, it is a matter of life and death, you know.
David: Yeah. Yeah, and you've been focused on that for a long time as an artist.
Richard: It has been our daily list. I remember Garimo Los Pena and the San Diego Border Arts Projects. I mean early on it was more of a visual like engagement situation, but to go in as hopefully seasoned, let's use the mid-career, let's use the seasoned, let's use the journeyman veteran monikers to go in there and not just scratch the surface but truly find out what the fuck is going on in Arizona and across the border.
David: Yeah. You also ... there's another thing that you've been hinting at here that I think is really interesting part of the way your career has gone and also of interest to the people who are in the field making this work, American Night has had multiple incarnations. You just mentioned the radio play. You mentioned the two-person version in the schools. It's been done at major regional theatres and Water and Power, a film that's out now, you were able to make a feature film of that. Can you talk about how that happens or what's drawing you in there? What makes a project actually break out in those different directions for you?
Richard: You know, it's like any writer sitting at their table or out in the fields, I think the one thing that has become easier, David, and the Sundance Institute was tremendously helpful, as was OSF, as was writing for barely a season on something like Southland, but I just ... whatever moves me and this desire, this fierce desire, for me the fire only grows more intense as I age, but the desire to be a storyteller and to be the best storyteller that I can be. Not just to get the grant, not just to navigate, not just to get the audition. All of that's happening anyway. I'm not oblivious to that. You know there are ambitions inside of me. There is an animal that understands how, and gets better at not just sitting in a meeting with Michael Rich but I want to go talk to marketing.
I want to talk to eduction. I want to talk to the press people. I want to see some young people in those seats then. That's an old Danny Hobe trick. I remember Danny coming to Center Theatre Group and like just saying, "You know, I need young people in the show for it to work", and really insisting and demanding that the hip-hop heads were dragged in to that show kicking and screaming, but that work continues and will ... and I find it a lot of fun and I'm always learning. It blew me out at OSF that there's the wonderful members, they don't even call them subscribers, they're members, but they come from the Bay area and Berkeley and some of the destination theatre spot but at any given day at American Night, there could be a couple of Tea Party people in the audience. But there could also be migrant farm workers in the audience because southern Oregon is nothing if not an agricultural basket. They've got a new wine industry there. They've got ... and who's really working on the ground level of the wine industry, it's farm workers. It's migrants.
So, I'm always interested as to who is in our audience and how do we develop that, where are we going and dragging more people. So when I get the phone call or the email and saying, "What if", "What do you think of", there are things that kind of just slide away or flow down the river and there are things that just stick to me like I've got to be a part of that thing. I've got to help tell that story. This is the way I felt when Diane and Malcolm first called, I thought, "My god, that is such an area that needs to be fully investigated. That makes a lot of sense." This thing, Moros, the piece that we'll be doing at Emerson, we did it at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with David Dwyer. And, it felt essential because yes, we were doing the characters from our bag of repertoire but we were also adding another element and commenting on ourselves as storytellers and the dynamics within Culture Clash and when the muse visits us and when it escapes us.
So that'll be a layer of we become a little bit of the story in telling the stories of other people because we were interviewing them and it changed our lives. When we talked to the Catholic church survivor from Boston, my god, I mean it's just epic. It's as though we grew up in the same house.
David: Oh, I was just talking to somebody the other day who was asking what's that character's name, what's that person's name? I don't even remember now.
Richard: You know what—
David: Somebody in our audience was asking, when I said that you guys were coming today, "Oh, are they going to do that character? Are you bringing that character with you?"
Richard: We most certainly will and some folks that we've lost. I don't know if Brother Blue, but we were talking to a gay and lesbian advocate in the Jamaica Queens area and some wonderful folks that are just not with us anymore. And then, there was a journalist that really set us on the trail of understanding from underneath. David Nygan was a terrific columnist and a true blue Yankee. I mean Bostonian. I mean David Nygan was just you know part of the Robert Kennedy inner circle and just a braniac and a wonderful ... not a Herb King type writer but he had a daily growth column, and David died suddenly in his driveway shoveling snow. He spent time with us. We were at his house at ten am, in a beautiful part of Boston. I'll remember the neighborhood in a second but I mean it was a big Irish guy and "Who are you guys? I did some research on you guys and I understand you did some work with Ceser Chavez and let me tell you Chavez is a big hero of mine." He goes, "We're going to have some champagne. It's ten a.m but we're going to have some champagne and beer. We're like, "Man, sounds like an Irish Mexican breakfast. Let's go for it."
We had a lot of moments like that that were really kind of unforgettable. You and I were talking about earlier, this was by way of the Huntington Theatre and we had a real chance to get in there and get our hands dirty with Nicholas Martin. Talk about another person who was dearly departed. But just in the way that Boston kind of works and many, many levels, the immigrant influx there as well. It's tremendous. Boston is many, many things but it's also a student town. There's students everywhere you go. They're such a part of the fabric of that town and that makes it exciting and a lot of terrific energy there.
David:Well, we're looking forward to having you guys back here, that's for sure. You haven't been here as a group since I've been here so I'm really looking forward to having you in town.
Richard: You sound over the moon, David. I can sense the excitement is possible.
David: It is. I'm ready. I'm ready. But we're going to get you here in the Fall and I can't wait for you ... I mean you're going to tell me where you want to go in Boston, where you've been in Boston that you want to get back in touch with and we're gonna get back in to those relationships with you guys and it'll just be great. I'm so happy that it's the thirtith anniversary. That's just such a big ... it's a milestone but it's also like a big reason to just celebrate.
Richard: Yeah, man.
David: A perfect excuse. I'm glad you guys are getting back together for it. Are you going anywhere else with it after Boston?
Richard: Yeah, we have not performed in Los Angeles, so Chavez Ravine we'll revisit for-
Richard: Market performs in the theatre group there. We'll go off and do our muse Moros at Emerson and then from there, swing around to the Southwest and bring it back to Los Angeles.
David: Oh really? Oh cool.
Richard: Yeah, it's gonna be ... looking forward to getting the old back on, but you know the one thing that happens with the kind of work, the site specific work that we did all these years is that also as we age, they just get better. They're a little more sunk in to their skin and less worried about a laugh a second and really tell ... again, storytelling, David, you know, getting back to the storytelling of each character. It really can break your heart and make you laugh insanely within just moments of each other. So your question how does it work, what moves you, I mean it can be a television idea, a film, or a Broadway play, which I think that we still hope to crack the code on that.
David: Yeah, I'm for that.
Richard: There's so much that has never been done. We don't have a Dream Girls or a Jersey Boys or In the Heights got really close, but there's so many other stories to be told. Looking forward to that, man.
David: Well, great. Well thank you for your time here and you and I have many more conversations to have shortly, but I appreciate your taking the time to share it with us today.
Richard: Always a pleasure. I love HowlRound. I love the Theatre Commons. I love what you people are doing. I am infatuated with Public.
David: I wasn't gonna bring it up. I wasn't gonna bring it up.
Richard: As soon as I arrive at Emerson, I'll check myself in to Human Resources.
Richard: You have a vast Human Resources, HR office over there. I'm gonna check myself in.
Richard: I'm about to create some exciting work there and thank you so much for having us. I always love talking to you.
David: Yeah, I love talking to you too. All right, and say hi to the guys when you see them and I'll see you guys here soon.
David: All right.
Richard: Thank you.