In the months leading up to our 2010 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Macbeth, and Much Ado About Nothing—in our e-newsletters. For the inaugural installment, we are introducing newsletter subscribers to playwright Octavio Solis, a Cal Shakes Associate Artist and occasional contributor to this blog. Since 2007, Octavio has been working with us and Word for Word Performing Arts Company to adapt John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, the first new play to debut at Cal Shakes in 25 years. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Octavio. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.
Do you remember your very first piece of creative writing, or perhaps the piece that alerted you to the possibilities of the form?
Yes, a pair of poems I wrote in class when I was in the fifth grade. One was a tribute for my mother. The other was a poem called "Ode to a Prairie Dog" or something like that. I lived in Texas and we had these critters everywhere. I was very moved by a ballad I had read in class that practically sang to me: “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. It really made me want to be a poet. Then I discovered Edgar Allan Poe and I consumed everything he ever wrote. All his fiction, all his poetry, everything. I loved him.
Is there a work (literary, musical, or any other form) that would be your dream adaptation project?
I would love to attempt sometime an adaptation of the life of Eva Hesse. She was a beautiful German-born American artist who was one of the biggest influences on Abstract Expressionism. She led a troubled life, surrounded with tragedy and death, from the Nazis to the brain tumor, which eventually took her life. I think her life is compelling enough to warrant a play or film.
What inspires you right now? Any particular music, current events, people, et cetera?
Music is a chief inspiration. I listen to jazz from every epoch, particularly the bebop era, and the jazz-flavored world music coming from the ECM label: Anouar Brahem and Arve Henrikson and the Tomasz Stanko Quartet. Really dark moody stuff. The music takes me to other worlds.
If you could have written any play in history, what do you wish it could have been?
A Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe Our Town.
Who are your favorite writers (theatrical and nontheatrical, living or deceased)?
That changes from year to year and mood to mood. Right now I like the fiction of Roberto Bolaño and the poetry of Mark Strand. I am enamored of the works of Mary Oliver too. And Thomas Hardy. His poetry is as rich in story and nuance as his novels.
You’ve been so very busy these last few years. Do you have any plans to slow down in the next months or years? Or are you just building up momentum to keep going at a similar pace?
I have slowed down. My body has buckled under me and imposed a period of rest. So I am laying low at the moment. I like it. I have been working at a pace that was killing me, and now I don't think I want to do that anymore.
Subscribe now to get the best seats at the best prices for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, and the rest of our 2010 season. Photo by Anne Hamersky.