Interview: Martín Zimmerman

Posted on April 17, 2012

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Where are you from originally? And where are you living now?
I was born and raised in the D.C. suburb of Rockville, MD and currently live in Chicago.

What first drew you to playwriting and a life in the theatre?
Hmmm. This is a difficult question for me. I first began formally acting my last year of high school, and as soon as I began, I knew I wanted to pursue the theater. My first interest in writing plays began at the end of my first year of undergrad when I had the opportunity to act in my college’s new works festival and got to see the process of new play creation from the inside. But in terms of when my “interest” in theater began, I think it’s always something that has interested me. My collision with theater was a long time coming. I am the kind of person who learns by doing, by enacting, by imitating, so I suppose to theater, and trying to write the words that characters say is the best way for me to learn about those characters. The theater is something I was secretly drawn to for a long time before I actually began to actively pursue it.

What was the first play you ever wrote and has it been produced?
It was a one-act dark comedy called The Grizzly Bear about a married couple preparing to renew their vows. The wife is trying desperately to fit into her original wedding dress, and her adult children go to extraordinary and theatrical lengths to get her into that dress. I wrote it as a sophomore in undergrad and it was produced a few months later in Duke University’s New Works Festival.

What inspires you?
I’m really interested in identity, perhaps because I feel so uncertain about my own. But I interpret identity very broadly, not just as ethnic, cultural, or gender identity (though I believe those are integral parts of the equation). But I’m interested in the broader question of what shapes and/or defines who we are. Is it our most righteous deeds? Our most shameful acts? Our past selves? Our present selves? Our aspirations? Our culture? Our environment? Our public personas? Our private selves? I’m also really interested in characters who actively take on fictions in their lives and where exactly the line between those fictions and “reality” lies. Finally, I’m really interested in exploring how political actions and personal lives are inextricably bound.

Under what conditions do you write best?
When I have stillness and time to probe, breathe, absorb a lot of input and research, let my subconscious sort it out, and see what rises to the surface. I also write well when I’m writing beyond myself, about environments outside of my personal experience. I do so on purpose because it completely terrifies me. I live in constant fear that someone will see or read my work and say I’m a fraud, that I haven’t the faintest clue what I’m talking (or writing) about. That fear keeps me honest. It forces me to be very thorough in my research, humble about what I do or don’t know, and gentle with my characters. I write from the presumption of ignorance. That I know nothing of what I’m writing about.

What was the initial inspiration for the play being workshopped at PlayPenn?
There are many different inspirations, but one of the major inspirations is a research trip I took to my mother’s homeland of Argentina in 2007. I received a grant to travel there and interview victims of the dictatorship that lasted from 1976-1983. Even though Seven Spots on the Sun is not set specifically in Argentina, that trip was a major inspiration.

Why did you decide to apply to PlayPenn, and what do you hope to get out of the conference?
Because of its reputation as a tremendous incubator for new plays. I also know PlayPenn embraces political plays and as someone who proudly considers himself a political playwright (and takes that label as a compliment) I am certain PlayPenn will be a safe and nurturing space to work. As far as what I hope to get out of my experience at PlayPenn, there is a chorus in my play that drives much of the play forward in highly syncopated and musical ways (at least that’s how I imagine it my head). I would like to explore how effective that chorus is as the engine of the play.

What’s the oddest job you’ve ever had while supporting yourself as a writer?
I’ve been fortunate to have not had a lot of “odd” jobs. I have had a couple that I really enjoy. One (which I continue to do because I really enjoy it) is give tours of Chicago. The tours are four hours long and cover a large portion of the city. I got the job a few months after moving to Chicago because I can give the tours in both Spanish and English. It has been a wonderful way of learning about the city very quickly. And I get to meet so many people I would never meet in other contexts, including the tour company’s drivers, who are life-long Chicagoans and know more about the city than anyone else I’ve met here.

If you could change anything about the American theatre, what would it be?
How we compensate artists. It’d be amazing to see what work we could produce as a community if theater artists had a guaranteed salary and health insurance.

Complete this sentence: I write plays because…
I have to. When I’m not writing I get very anxious. I guess it’s my addiction of choice.

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