Drama Ensues: 5 Questions for Boni Alvarez

My dear friend and playwriting hero Boni Alvarez is back at it, taking Los Angeles theatre by storm with his new play AMERICA ADJACENT, playing at Skylight Theatre. The run, helmed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, has been selling out, so get tickets if you can. This is one hot play.

For tickets and info visit Skylighttheatre.org/event/america-adjacent

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Boni, tell us about the impetus for AMERICA ADJACENT.

Boni Alvarez (BA): I read an article years ago about a Chinese birthing house getting raided in the San Gabriel Valley. The descriptions of the living conditions, the women participating, the Stateside operation, it was all so vivid. It made me question – why? Why would these Chinese women – women of means – endure these conditions, all in the name of birthing a U.S. citizen? I re-imagined the situation with Filipina women.

RQM: One room, six Filipina women. Diyos ko! That's the perfect hotbed for drama. What's it like for six women, particularly six Filipina women?

BA: They have a common bond with their shared goal, but they are a very diverse group of women. Some are married, some not. They come from different areas of the Philippines. They travel in different social circles. They're experiencing the discomforts of pregnancy, of being in a confined space, of being far from home. Drama ensues.

RQM: This project is a confluence of quite a few longstanding relationships: you're a resident playwright at Skylight; you've collaborated with Jon Lawrence Rivera many times before; and – correct me if I'm wrong – some of the members of your cast have been in other projects before. How have these relationships influenced your work and your process?

BA: The folks at Skylight have always championed my voice as a playwright. I've written four plays in the Playwrights' Lab, so it's a fertile community for me. Jon has been a champion of my work since I graduated from USC. There's an ease in our collaborations – we speak a similar language and we really enjoy each other. In terms of actors I work with repeatedly, I am drawn to them because they understand my storytelling. This is the second play I've had Evie Abat in and my third with Sandy Velasco. There's comfort in knowing that an actor will come through both professionally and artistically. But I love meeting new actors also. I think my plays tend to have bigger casts because I feel a responsibility to write for more actors, especially Filipino ones.

RQM: Okay, now a big question.  How is the “American Dream” packaged for Filipinx people abroad and how is the reality so terribly different when they get to the States? As a fellow Filipinx playwright (my mother came to the US in 1980) I am interested in hearing your take on this cultural dichotomy.  

BA: When I would visit the Philippines as a child, I got the sense that relatives believed that money grew on trees in the States, that all you had to do was get here and all would be golden.

But most immigrants know that's not true. You have to work hard to scratch out a living here, but working hard and being able to pay your rent – I don't think that's the ‘dream'. That's just simple existence – we haven't even touched on other elements like racism and xenophobia and how that factors into culture shock and colors the ‘dream'.

RQM: We know you STAY writing, Boni. That's one of the many things we love about you. What are you working on now?

BA: Working on a new political play Emmylu in the Skylight Lab. Revising my WWII play Refuge for a Purple Heart set in the Philippines – a love story between a Jewish Austrian refugee and a Filipino boy. And finishing up a half-hour pilot, a dramedy.

Echo Theater Co launches 'Playwrights' Studio' with Boni B. Alvarez & Erik Patterson

Echo Theater Company launches
Playwrights' Studio' in May

LOS ANGELES (April 20, 2017) — The Echo Theater Company, anointed "Best Bet for Ballsy Original Plays" by the LA Weekly, introduces “Playwrights' Studio,” a training center for playwrights, directors and actors creating new work in Los Angeles. Two six-week writing classes taught by prominent Los Angeles-based playwrights launch the program in May.
Beginning May 14 and continuing through June 25, Boni B. Alvarez will lead a six-week playwriting workshop titled “You Already Know What to Write.” Sessions will incorporate writing exercises to unearth stories, characters and drama that already exist in a playwright's life. Participants will mine their lives and “what they already know” in the writing of new pages, with the goal of completing the first draft of a new play by workshop's end. Classes take place every Sunday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. (no class May 28). Alvarez's plays, including Bloodletting, Dallas Non-Stop, Ruby, Tragically Rotund, Dusty De Los Santos, Dolls of America, Marabella and The Special Education of Miss Lorna Cambonga, have been produced/developed at Playwrights' Arena, Center Theatre Group, Chalk Rep, Skylight Theatre Co, The Vagrancy, Second Generation (2g, NYC), InterAct Theatre (Philadelphia) and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He has been a semi-finalist for the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference and a finalist for both the PEN Center USA Literary Award and Clubbed Thumb's Biennial Commission. With a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, an MFA from American Repertory Theatre/MXAT Institute at Harvard University and an MFA from USC, Alvarez is an alumnus of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program, Skylight Theatre's Play Lab, CTG Writers' Workshop, Moving Arts' MADlab, and Humanitas/CTG Play LA Workshop. His play Nicky (Chekhov's Ivanov) will be produced by Coeurage Theatre Company. The Echo will produce the world premiere of Fixed (Calderon's The Physician of His Own Honor) this fall.
Beginning May 16 and continuing through June 20, Erik Patterson will teach a six week intensive called “Losing It: Writing Your First Play at the Echo,” geared to anyone who has always wanted to write a play — but some inner voice told them they couldn't do it. Patterson will help tell that voice to shut up! Class time will be divided between in-class writing exercises and reading/discussing each other's work. By the end of six weeks, participants will have the first draft of a play. Classes take place on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m., and first time writers are encouraged to attend. Patterson recently won the Los Angeles Drama Critic's Circle Award for One of the Nice Ones, which had its world premiere at the Echo Theater Company in 2016. His plays have been nominated for Ovation, Stage Raw, LA Weekly and GLAAD Media awards. His writing for TV has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and has garnered both the Humanitas Prize and the Writer's Guild Award. Erik is a graduate of Occidental College and the British American Drama Academy.
Registration for each class is $300, with a $25  “Early Bird” discount before May 4. Payment plans are available: contact Jesse Cannady at jesse@echotheatercompany.com prior to purchasing.
All classes take place at Atwater Village Theater, located at 3269 Casitas Ave. in Los Angeles.
For registration and more information about the Echo Theater Company, visit www.echotheatercompany.com