BWW Interview: Martin Zimmerman and SEVEN SPOTS ON THE SUN at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in collaboration with The Sol Project Latinx theater company will present the New York premiere of Martín Zimmerman's meditation on mourning, redemption and revenge, Seven Spots On The Sun, directed by Ethiopian-Canadian 2016 Dora Award winner Weyni Mengesha. The limited 6-week engagement of Seven Spots On The Sun begins previews April 26th for a May 10th opening, and runs through June 4th.
In Seven Spots On The Sun, a Latin-American village has been without its doctor for 18 months. A recluse, he has refused to look at any patients since the army took his wife away during the country's civil war. Yet, when a mysterious plague ravages the countryside, he discovers he has the miraculous power to heal with the touch of his hand.
Martín Zimmerman is a multi-ethnic, bilingual playwright and screenwriter whose plays include Seven Spots On The Sun, White Tie Ball, The Making Of A Modern Folk Hero, The Solid Sand Below, and Let Me Count The Ways, and have been produced or developed at The Kennedy Center, Goodman Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, Roundabout Underground, LCT3, NYTW, Victory Gardens Theater, The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Marin Theatre Company, The Playwrights' Center, ALLIANCE THEATRE, A.C.T. (Seattle), PlayPenn, Icicle Creek Theatre Festival, American Theater Company, The Theatre @ Boston Court, Chicago Dramatists, Primary Stages, Teatro Vista, Playwrights Foundation, Cara Mía Theatre Co, Ojai Playwrights Conference, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, The City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Borderlands Theater, Source Festival, The Gift, Collaboraction, Red Tape, UT-Austin and Duke University.
Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to interview Martin Zimmerman about his career and Seven Spots On The Sun.
When did you first realize your penchant for writing?
Very early in undergrad. I entered undergrad (like so many young theater students) thinking I wanted to go into acting. And my freshman year, I was cast in a pretty big role in a play in Duke's new play festival. I had started dabbling in writing on my own my beforehand, but being part of the process of creating a new play made me hungry to start writing plays. The summer after my freshman year, I wrote my first play. The following semester I took my first playwriting class, and I never looked back. But, when I look back on my childhood, I feel like I've long been on a collision course with writing and the theater for a long time. I'm the kind of person who learns best by doing things, by trying to recreate them in physical space. When I was very young and my family would watch movies at home, I would line up a series of props beside the TV and reenact the movie we were watching as it was happening. I see that behavior as my earliest dabbling in writing and theater. So, for me, writing is my way of investigating the world and the people around me. If there's a situation or a person I don't understand, why not try to write a play about them? It will force me to rigorously research who they are, how they tick, and try to see the world through their gaze.
We'd love to know a little about your education and how it influenced your career?
I've been fortunate to have many teachers and professors who have believed in me throughout my writing education. Teachers and professors who put a lot of resources behind my artistic growth and exploration. In undergrad I was fortunate to get to see three of my plays staged. That early experience of seeing my work on its feet was vital to making me understand what qualities in a play can grab an audience's attention, make them lean forward in their seats. From there I was fortunate to continue straight into grad school at UT-Austin, which was an amazing experience, because it provided both a strong foundation in the fundamentals of dramatic storytelling and an exposure to experimental, relentlessly theatrical, mind-expanding work in the Austin theater community. The professors who run that program very intentionally structure it that way. They want a program that will give writers very solid fundamentals as well as experiences that will shatter their foundational assumptions about what's possible in a theater. They want a program that won't teach a single aesthetic, but instead equip each writer with a broad skill set. My writing has been indelibly shaped by that program. My body of work encompasses a wide variety of styles, but all of my plays share two things in common: 1) An embrace of taut, dramatic storytelling 2) A reason that this story must be told theatrically.
So many. Steven Dietz, Suzan Zeder, Kirk Lynn, Jeff Storer, Jody McAuliffe, Rafael Lopez-Barrantes, Andrea Stolowitz, Neal Bell. But once I finished school, I then had to take charge of my own continuing education and maturation as a writer. Since that moment, my most important mentors have been my colleagues and collaborators in both theater and television. My colleagues from television staffs, from the writers groups I've been in at Goodman and CTG, the directors and actors I've worked with on productions and workshops of my plays, my fellow writers at The Playwrights' Center and Chicago Dramatists and the various playwriting conferences I've attended. It's their work that inspires me, challenges me, expands my understanding of what's possible, breaks open the boundaries of my imagination.
What advice do you have for aspiring playwrights?
Don't feel confined to just writing what you know. It can be very scary to write about people and circumstances outside of your personal experience, but you should embrace that terror, let it fuel rigorous, empathetic research that allows you to identify the emotional core of what you share with these characters. If you can find a way to write those characters with the empathy and dignity they deserve, your audience will grant them that same empathy and dignity.
What was your inspiration for Seven Spots On The Sun?
The play was born out of a research trip I made to my mother's homeland of Argentina in June of 2007. Several years before the Argentine government had just begun prosecuting crimes committed by the government during the dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976-1983. I was very curious about how that more than 20 year delay in the justice process had impacted victims of the dictatorship's violence. Did justice delayed mean justice denied to them? How had this long wait impacted their emotional relationship to the justice process? Even though 'Seven Spots On The Sun' isn't set in Argentina and lives an epic, theatrical world, that research was the seed of the play.
Tell us a little about cast/creative.
They're a thrilling group of collaborators to be working with. They each bring deeply personal reasons for why telling this story is vital to them. And they're committed to the aesthetic world of the play, which is a must if the play is going to have its full emotional impact. Furthermore, this is a demanding play to work on. It requires collaborators make their own unique mark on the piece. And each collaborator is excited to embrace that challenge. So I feel very fortunate to be working with them.
Why is this a timely and important piece?
My hope is that it is both timely and, to some extent, timeless. It asks big questions about how we grieve and cope with the aftermath of unbelievable violence. It also asks what our obligation is to intervene on behalf of our friends and neighbors when we see them being victimized. Are we obligated to intervene even when our interventions would put us at tremendous risk? For better or worse, I think these questions will always be relevant. Unfortunately, right now in the US, that last question feels especially timely because our government is even more relentlessly targeting marginalized, vulnerable people.
For the future?
I'm working on a commission for Milwaukee Rep about the wrongful conviction of a group of Italian immigrants in 1917 and the unrest their arrest, trial, and conviction provoked. I'm also working on a commission for La Jolla Playhouse about how inherited trauma impacts the relationship between a Latin American political exile and the daughter whom he tells nothing about his past or his culture. I'm working on a musical adaptation of 'The Giver' for Marc Platt Productions. And Season 1 of 'Ozark,' the Netflix series I'm working on, will be premiering this summer.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is located at 224 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014. For ticketing and information, please visit: http://www.rattlestick.org/.
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Martin Zimmerman