Rising playwrights wrestle with race

By WilliamPrentiss

Victory Gardens Theater’s effort to spotlight minority playwrights comes to fruition with its new fall lineup, “Year Zero” by Michael Golamco and “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” by Kristoffer Diaz.

The long road to the Gardens’ stage for the two writers started in spring ’08 when they submitted their scripts to Victory Gardens’ Ignition Festival. The festival’s goal was to find the best minority playwrights under 40 years old and present their work to a larger audience.

Writers across the country submitted 120 scripts but only six were chosen and made it into stage readings. Two of the six, Diaz’ and Golamco’s, became full productions for the respected theater’s fall lineup and can now be seen at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.

“Year Zero” premiered Sept. 11 and ends its run on Oct. 8. The play is about a 16-year-old Cambodian native living in Long Beach, Calif. with his friend. It was published in the Smith and Kraus anthology New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2006 and is also the first play to run on the second studio stage in Victory Gardens Biograph Theater.

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” was co-produced by theater troupe Teatro Vista and Vista’s co-founder Edward F. Torres directed the play. Most of the Teatro Vista’s acting ensemble was involved with Victory Gardens Theater’s production of “Anna and the Tropics.”

Torres said he doesn’t feel that it’s impossible for minority playwrights or actors in the industry to succeed, but the economy does make funding for midsize and smaller institutions much harder to find. That doesn’t mean companies like Teatro Vista will give up though, he said.

“Look, we’ve got the art,” Torres said. “We’ve got something to say and we’re inclusive, we’re universal. This is our message and if you want to come out and support us, by all means do, but if not, we’ll do it with or without you.”

Torres said that while established playwrights are refining and making great art, younger writers need to be heard. Writers like Diaz have unique perspective, he said.

“Diaz really deals with stereotypes and disrobes them to the core because we’re all human beings,” Torres said. “That’s a very powerful message.”

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” follows a veteran Puerto Rican-American wrestler’s fight for the championship belt held by fellow wrestler Chad Deity. The production relies heavily on audience participation with actors making their stage entrances from the crowd with enthusiastic bouts of showmanship. Their entrance wouldn’t be complete without a ring to enter once the combatants are done showboating.

The theater built an actual World Wrestling Enterprise ring with two-by-fours placed under a mat and a large spring in the middle to keep everything from collapsing on top of itself. Another familiar trapping wrestling fans will recognize are the large TVs set up above the ring. In the show the actors use them to challenge each other with their best insults.

The cast for “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” underwent an extra week of training and conditioning just to learn all of the fighting involved in the play. Training involved falling repeatedly and practicing various moves like the superkick and powerbomb.

Columbia faculty David Woolley was the play’s fight coordinator and once taught the play’s director at Roosevelt University. He said this was the first time he had worked with this style of fighting. He did all the moves and falls along with the cast, including being powerbombed. That one move alone took 10 rehearsal days to get it right, he said.

“You get dumped upside down and hit your head from five feet up, you’re done,” Woolley said. “I had a lot of nightmares about actors killing themselves.”