Kristoffer Diaz and his Elaborate Entrance at the Geffen Playhouse
by Fanny Garcia, Editor
pLAywriting in the city
A few months ago East LA Rep’s play reading group met to read and discuss The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity written by Kristoffer Diaz. It was a conversation that I will never forget and luckily I got the opportunity follow it up with an interview with the playwright about his career in the American theatre, his play and it’s upcoming production at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.
Where did you grow up Kristoffer? Born in Manhattan, grew up in Yonkers, NY. I’ve got family in all five boroughs, so I spent a lot of time all over New York City. I’ve been in Brooklyn for most of the last ten years.
How did you get started in theater? I was an athlete in high school. At some point in my freshman year, I had some time between baseball and basketball seasons, so I auditioned for the school play. I got in, realized there were girls involved in theater, and never stopped doing that instead of sports.
The first full-length play that you wrote was Welcome to Arroyo’s. What did you learn from this experience? Most of what I know about theater I know through Welcome to Arroyo’s. A few main things: I learned that writing is rewriting (I’ve done more than fifty drafts of that play). I learned that theater companies get scared when an unproven writer takes risks with casting and structure. I learned that even an unproven writer can convince a theater company to support them in those risks – it just might take a while. I learned that I’m more influenced by musicals than by plays. I learned that young people of color can be deeply engaged by theater that connects with them on multiple visceral levels; in fact, they really want to be engaged. I learned that making art for young people of color doesn’t have to drive away older traditional audiences – in fact, if you do it well, it can make the old folks dig you even more.
Tell us about your play, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. What are the main ideas behind it? I think the play is most directly concerned with a young man trying to find a place for his voice within his career – how do you stand up for what you believe is right when you’re working your dream job? In a lot of ways, it’s about the “American Dream” — that idea that anyone can become anything they want with a little hard work and dedication. It’s obvious to me that that’s not entirely true in this country – hard work and dedication can get you awfully far, but if you don’t have the right look or style or last name, you’re probably not going to be able to ascend to the highest of heights, no matter how good you get at what you do. That bothers me. That’s why I write about it.
Your play is set in a world that is not normally seen on stage. Why did you decide to write a play about wrestling? I was a huge wrestling fan growing up. I learned pretty early on that wrestling was “fake” — the guys that looked like they were beating each other up were actually working together to put on a show and tell a series of stories. I loved that. At the same time, I knew that there was a lot wrong with wrestling as a business: it could be racist and sexist and homophobic, for starters, and most of the really talented small guys were used only to make the untalented big men look better than they were. I knew I wanted to explore those issues, so I wrote a play.
How many drafts of the play did you go through before it was workshopped or produced? I probably only did four full drafts of this play before the first workshop. I’ve rewritten it a bunch of times since then. I’ll do one more rewrite before our next production in Los Angeles (September at The Geffen), then probably be done.
What, if any, were some of the initial concerns or worries you had about the play? It was hard to tell if the play would ever get produced. It’s not easy to cast. It’s not easy to sell – most theater audiences here that it’s about professional wrestling and look down their noses at it. And it’s overtly political, maybe aggressively so. But people have seemed to enjoy it from the very first reading, so those fears went away pretty quickly.
How did the use of video change or enhance the dynamics of the play? The video usage is written into the script – I always planned for it to be a part of the play. In wrestling, video is a huge storytelling tool, so I knew I needed to make use of it. We use video to make points about the creation of images in US culture – celebrities are treated as larger than life figures with lots of money and flash. If you don’t have that flash, the culture in general won’t see you as the best at what you do, even if you’re talented. You’re not always judged on what you can do; you’re often judged on what it looks like you can do.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. How has this changed your life or your writing? It’s a huge help career-wise. It has allowed me to be considered for things I wouldn’t have been in the running for before: collaborating with big stars, participating in hig profile events, getting my plays read at major theaters. I’ve been commissioned by three national companies, and several more offers are on the way. That said, there’s a big difference between being a finalist and a winner. My play still can’t get produced on Broadway without a film or television star. We still haven’t made a film or television deal for the piece. I’m still not able to fully support myself through my writing. But all that said, I’m incredibly fortunate and thankful to have been recognized.
What are you working on now? All kinds of stuff. Three new commissions. Several television pilot pitches. I’m being considered for writing a few high-profile musicals. I’m in the planning stage of most of these projects though – it’s still not easy to actually get paid as a writer.
What words of wisdom would you give to emerging artists? Work hard. That’s the first thing. And working hard doesn’t just mean on your actual work – you’ve got to work hard in getting your name out there. See a lot of theater. See a lot of films and TV and live events. Go to theater conferences and festival – get known. People are more willing to work with you if they know you and like you. If you’re invited out for a beer, go get the beer. If you want to get to know someone, ask them out for coffee and advice. Pay for the coffee, even if they make more money. Always prepare heavily for your meetings – then wing it once you’re there. Finish your projects. Care passionately about what you do. If you don’t…go do something else.
This article is part of East LA Rep’s Interview Series. The original was posted on East LA Rep’s facebook page on June 27, 2011. Please LIKE East LA Rep by clicking here.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
written by Kristoffer Diaz
directed by Edward Torres
Pulitzer Prize Finalist!
New York Times Play Prize
Obie Award for Best New American Play
Lucille Lortel Award for Best New Play
West Coast Premiere
Think pro-wrestling is all outrageous masks and pyrotechnics? Think again. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity slams together thrilling spectacle, incredible characters and geopolitical allegory into an invigorating theatrical experience you can’t find on pay-per-view. This smackdown of a play tackles racism, drop-kicks globalization and brings a championship tale into the ring. In wrestling, as in life, behind every winner lies the story of a really excellent loser
August 30 – October 9, 2011
Monday – Friday 8 pm / Saturday 3 & 8 pm / Sunday 2 & 7 pm
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90024
For more info and tickets go to http://www.geffenplayhouse.com/