My one-woman show DORA AND ME/ YO SOY DORA, will be performed at the United Solo Theatre Festival
An Interview with Rick Creese

Indie Theater Now asked Rick Creese a few questions about this upcoming event.

Who were the key figures who made this production happen—could be other artists, people who inspired the story, producers/producing company, etc.

In 2013, thanks to the generosity and talent of the Independent Shakespeare Company (ISC) in Los Angeles, I wrote the one-man play SOLEMN MOCKERIES, which ISC co-founder David Melville performed at the United Solo later that year. I loved the experience of the festival and I loved the one-person show format. Since diversity is a fact of life in modern Los Angeles, and since the ISC stresses diversity in its audience and in its casts, I wanted to work with an actor or actress of color. And having seen Amy Urbina play Desdemona, Roxanne (Cyrano), and Celia in ISC productions I knew that I wanted to work with her. Jeffrey Wienckowski had done a wonderful job of directing SOLEMN MOCKERIES, so I pegged him first to prepare this production. Lexi Lee joined us as assistant director. Later on, when I was insane enough to take on a second one-person show at the same time (BRIGHT SWORDS, also entered in this year’s United Solo), Jeff moved over to direct that play and Lexi moved into the director’s chair. To tell the truth, I had not understood until we worked on SOLEMN MOCKERIES how crucial a good director is to a good production. When they look at a story they are like rain on a flat roof: They find every little hole.

Why is this a play, as opposed to a film or a web series or a novel (or anything else)? And what is it about live theater that attracts you most, that keeps you revved and jazzed to work in this form?

I have written a number of novels and a number of screenplays, but the thing I love about a play is that it is a collaboration with at least two very talented people. So there is a lot less guessing about does this work or doesn’t it, should I try this instead of that, etc. It doesn’t even feel like work but more like doing what you like best with some of your favorite people in the world. A one-person play allows a writer incredible freedom. All you have to do is give the actor or actress plenty to do, make sure he or she is an active agent in the story. Otherwise, why would they want to appear in this play? Your character can serve as narrator, as well as any other characters you want to bring in. This requires a wonderful, bare-stage presentation, the essence of good theatre.

Who taught you how to be a playwright? This could be specific teachers, or role models whose work you’ve seen or read, or of course any combination.

I have never had formal training in writing for the stage (or writing for anything else). I learned just about everything I know from Shakespeare. Before the advent of Romanticism, all writers were drilled in rhetoric—in particular in a long list of rhetorical figures. This sound tedious, but I have studied Shakespeare’s use of figures and have discovered that good writers still use these patterns in structuring their dialog. Movie dialogue, too, is quite structured. Another important technique I learned from Shakespeare is to make your writing as visual and concrete as possible. The example that first comes to my mind is the morning in ROMEO AND JULIET when they wake up together for the first time. I’ve read the source of the play and found a tedious passage about it was not morning it was night, oh, no it is morning after all and not night. Shakespeare translates that into the argument over whether they have heard the lark or the nightingale. Finally, Shakespeare always feels sympathy for his characters, even the negative ones—Richard III, Iago, Malvolio. He could identify with anyone, Shylock the Jew or Othello the Moor. I think that is why he wrote such great women characters.

What have you learned about this play as it has evolved from first draft to the present version? And what has surprised you in this current production-what did you discover in the work that you didn’t realize was there?

DORA AND ME/ YO SOY DORA evolved in the direction of a woman’s play. Of course the protagonist is a woman and she tells the story of another woman. But working closely with Amy Urbina during all of our rehearsals and later with new director Lexi Lee, I adapted the play to a more feminine point of view. Lexi brought in Tanushree Verma as Assistant Director, and she offered further feminine readings of various lines or scenes. My first draft wasn’t bad, but there were moments that needed to be shifted into the point of view of the women. Also fascinating was that the actress and directors could “discover” things in the characters and in the story that I didn’t know were there. But they were there. This is a great mystery. If I didn’t put them there, where did they come from?

Without giving away any important surprises—what moment or moments do you most look forward to when you see this play being performed?

The interesting and original thing about this play is that Dora Valverde, a modern Latina actress trying to make a living in L. A. connects across the centuries with Dora Jordan, the great, beloved, and notorious actress of the English stage in the 1790s and beyond. The spirit of Mrs. Jordan (as she was called) is also a protagonist in the play. Is this magical realism or just Dora Valverde’s eccentric imagination? But the big payoff for the whole play is that the women realize what they have in common: For women, comedia es libertad; comedy is freedom.

posted September 21, 2015
Rick Creese

Rick Creese