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Diversionary Theatre Hosts World Premiere Of ‘A Kind Of Weather’
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / February 10, 2020
Diversionary Theatre sought out playwright Sylvan Oswald and just hosted the world premiere of his new play "A Kind of Weather" this past weekend.
Speaker 1: 00:00 Diversionary theater, sought out playwrights, Sylvan Oswald, and just hosted the world premiere of his new play, a kind of weather this past weekend. KPBS arts reporter Beth Huck Amando speaks with the playwright about the play and its Genesis a kind of weather is opening here at diversionary theater. So tell us what this plays about. It's a play about a trans guy who's a writer living in Brooklyn and one day his father shows up on his doorstep unannounced and asks to move in and he's sort of in the middle of living his life and he is really not prepared for that. Does having a parent around kind of cramp his style? Yes, absolutely. You know what's weird in this, in this dramatic situation is that the father, we don't quite know what's going on with him. Like he's, he's out of sorts. He's, he's just seems to be kind of in a cloud like in, in a place in life that even he can't name.
Speaker 1: 00:59 And so it becomes a struggle between father and son to try to figure out what's going on with my dad and why is he here and what am I supposed to do about it. And I saw that the play was inspired in part by a found object, a date book. How did that play a role in kind of sparking this play? I was in New York, there is a writers organization called new Dramatists and I'm an alumni of that organization. And one day we all got together and created writing exercises for each other, just as like a kind of just a fun bootcamp kind of a day. And I showed up to a room and I was the only person who'd like, we were all gonna rotate rooms and in each room there was going to be an exercise. And I showed up at this one room and I was the only one there.
Speaker 1: 01:46 And there were these envelopes on the table and there was sort of like, you know, taken envelope. It was like, not ominous but like kind of mysterious. And, um, so I started to take an envelope and, and you open it up and there was an object inside and then there was going to be a prompt of a writing exercise to do. And I opened it up and there was this date book from 1993 and it wasn't like there was nobody's name in it. It was just like, but it was clearly somebody because it was completely filled out. Like somebody lived through that year and this was their record of it. And I just became totally fascinated by it because there was some really intriguing just notes. Like at one point, the person who owned it wrote down, like saw the Heidi Chronicles, you know, and I'm just like, Oh my God, that's such a picture of a time and a person.
Speaker 1: 02:36 Right? It tells you a lot about who that was. Right? A theater going person and in, um, New York city. And there was also this one section where it was this description of a vacation that she took. I'm staying, I think it's a woman. And it was like this vacation that had gone horribly wrong. And there were all these details about like the candy cigarette was broken. Um, there was a buffet but they, they wouldn't let me go to it. You know, they, I ordered the New York times but the, you know, never showed up or you know, um, what does it, I needed to take a nap. But the cleaning service was in there. I mean, which is also a certain kind of person, right? There's a certain like class portrait you get there. But just that I was managed to stumble upon this object that contain such a quirky slice of life that was really fun.
Speaker 1: 03:30 And I always like to find something to work with that's outside of myself in addition to whatever it is that I bring to the, to the piece I'm writing. So it was really fun way to kind of work outside in and try to imagine who that person might've been. And this is a play that was workshopped. And how does that kind of affect the evolution of a play and help it progress? So it means that I sit down at a table with a director and actors who are cast in all the roles and we read through the play and we ask questions about it and try to discuss like, what is it about, what are the themes, what questions do people have? And it's, I think of it as like getting a deep tissue massage in your brain and for a writer anyway because you really, you have all these people who are getting inside your head literally like getting inside your work and walking around inside it and then asking you questions.
Speaker 1: 04:28 Like, you know, it's a little dim over here. I can't this corner. Have you ever had you address this little dark corner? And you're like, Oh no. And so it really, um, they sort of, they shed light on, on things you may have missed or may not have noticed. And I find it to be incredibly helpful. So what it does is it allows you to get one step closer to finishing the text. And this point he deals with a gender transitioning. So what role does that play in a, in the story? And for the character, it actually doesn't play a role at all. And that's exactly the point. I think that trans awareness is still so new in our society, even though it's greatly increased, you know, since, um, in the last five years, we still sort of are only aware of a certain set of narratives and a lot of those narratives are coming out stories.
Speaker 1: 05:21 Um, and I am trans and I feel like it's time to move on from that. You know, you think about the history of say, gay theater, right? And you can almost see different periods of like where society was and like what information we needed to receive from place. Right? And you think about the coming out plays, that was a phase, right? And then you think about, we get all the way to angels in American, we're like exploding history and that's really significant, right? So I want to move trans ness depictions of transness in playwriting forward by focusing on a chapter in a trans person's life that has nothing to do with his transition. And we were just on the set, which smelled of freshly cut wood. But, um, talk a little bit about where this is set and, and what you hope the set design kind of brings out in the play.
Speaker 1: 06:10 The play is set in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and it's sort of, for me reflecting a period of my life. It's sort of set at the kind of moment in your life when the character of the main character kid says, I'm living in a time I never thought would exist. Meaning the picture he had of what his life would be is not what's happening. And he's kind of at sea in the same way that his dad is. But it just does, it's not so obvious. So you have these two people meeting each other or re meeting each other at a moment when the ground beneath them is not so solid. The play has an epigraph from, it's this one poet talking about this other writer's work. And the quote is sex is a kind of weather and that's for the title comes from. It's about the work of the writer, Kathy Acker.
Speaker 1: 06:58 So it's talking a lot about like what is, what is the atmosphere of our emotional lives? What, um, you know, there's the phrase of like seasons of life, right? You move through different seasons and I, you could think of them as different weather systems. And the set we have by each Henley is really elegant and has to do this job of representing multiple places at once. There's something that happens in the play where it's playing kind of fast and loose with time. It's really driven by memory in a sense. And so we have a lot of super imposed overlapping settings. So there's Jamaica, um, there's Brooklyn, there's Jamaica, Queens, there's all of these moments and times that are sort of flashing before the character's eyes. And so the set had to kind of find a way to create space for all of those things to happen. All right. Well, I want to thank you very much for talking about a kind of weather. Thank you so much.
Speaker 2: 07:57 Yeah.
Speaker 1: 07:58 That was about DACA. Mando speaking with playwright Sylvan Oswald, a kind of weather continues through March 8th at the diversionary theater.