Arthur Giron is one of the top contemporary playwrights in the country. His plays are performed continuously throughout America. He was awarded the Los Angeles Critics Drama-League Prize for "Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting" for his play, "Becoming Memories". A former Head of the Graduate Playwriting Program at Carnegie Mellon University, he has taught workshops across the land. His latest play is called "Love and Murder" and it will be premiering in April at NJ Rep.
We spoke to Mr. Giron about his play, what inspires him, and the new theatre in his life.
Tell me about Love and Murder.
One of the characters is a Latino woman who's an illegal alien maid. In the movie version it would be Selma Hayek. We have a very beautiful Brazilian woman acting the role. She comes to America as an exchange student but stays on illegally in the house of the richest man in the village in upstate New York and he falls in love with her. Eventually the lady she works for is murdered and that brings about Blackie, an Indian cop. And to this day no one has guessed who the killer is! Isn't that great?
The truth is that the illegal immigrant maid is taken advantage of by the lady she works for. For me, it's a big thing the way the third world countries are taken advantage of. I carry within me enormous rage about a lot of things.
I read somewhere that you said you write out of pain and a question, is that still your inspiration?
If you were studying with me I would say throw away all of those books on structure. What it is is the question you are asking. For example, Hamlet wants to know who killed my father and then that detective question gives the shape. He's looking for the answer and that's the structure.
A very good example is "A Chorus Line" - who's going to get the job? In the first 5 minutes they're all saying "I need this job, I need this job" so the audience buys into the question which is who is going to get the job.
So I feel from a suspense point of view that I have a question I want to know that's personal. For example, I have a play about the Boy Scouts where I ask the question "what is a man?" The question in the play is "is this kid going to make it in the woods all night?" But I am writing out of something that's happening to me today that I don't know the answer to and so I then write the play to try to find out what the answer is.
What was the question asked in this play?
When it begins we know there's been a murder, so there's the 'who did it' question but I'm asking questions such as 'what is more important? an artistic life or a happy family life?' Also the question of 'what is our responsibility to those who have less than we do?'
I'm tormented by what we see every day in the news. As a nation, we need to do more than we know so a good part of the play has to do with an older couple and a younger couple. I would like people to start thinking about the responsibility they have to those who are coming after us and the younger generation. One of the two younger people in the play is a Mayan Indian so what about these brown people? What do we owe them and how do we relate to them?
It's a plea for understanding. Can we understand? What can we do to increase our understanding?
When a playwright has had as many productions as you have had, what gets you excited for yet another opening night? You've been through all the jitters, the reviews, etc. What gets you excited now?
This is what happens... you fall in love with your characters. I think that one of my jobs is to give a voice to people who don't have one.
I like to have people voicing certain ideas and that's why I do this - to do what other people are not doing. What's so exciting is that we're going to hear voices that as far as I know aren't talking anywhere.
I'm trying to get at the truth. Many years ago, I was hijacked to Havana in the first plane that was hijacked. It was a news blackout because it was about Cuba. I sold my story significantly to Canada but in the United States the news that went out was a lie. It was not what happened to us. What happened was the guy took the plane to Cuba but the newspapers said he was an Algerian Freedom Fighter. He wasn't.
I lost my faith in the press that day. You're not going to get the truth in the papers. You're not going to get the truth in tv. I give you information that goes into your heart so there are things I need to talk about that I'm not hearing. That's part of seeing a play for the first time. It's getting out there these new thoughts. But I also want it to be entertaining, so this play is funny and sensual too. It's all about how you do it artistically to get the information through.
You were a founding member of The Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, which has produced over 3,000 new plays in its 36 years. Earlier today you were at a ceremony involving the company's new theatre but it was a bit bittersweet wasn't it?
The sad thing about today was that our Artistic Director, Kurt Dempster, died about a month ago. So it was extremely sad to go into this beautiful new space and he's not going to be there. Of course we kept on saying that we've got to call the theatre the Kurt Dempster Theatre. It's got to take his name because he's the one.
When we first started Mayor John Lindsay gave us the space we had on West 52nd Street for a dollar a year. Of course that's all changed now. That whole neighborhood is going gentrified and all that. Suddenly all that land is very valuable. But, in the meantime, the city has been building us a theatre which we're going to have to figure out how we're going to pay for it because they'll give us the space but it's going to cost us a lot more money.