BWW Interview: A BLACK SUPER HERO, Robert O'Hara Takes His Living Seriously
Playwright/director Robert O'Hara will helm the world premiere of Inda Craig-Galván's BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA, already in previews at The Geffen Playhouse. When MAMA loses her 14-year-old to a police shooting, she retreats into the comic book world created by her deceased son. Robert talks MAMA, George C. Wolfe, and what it means to be an artist.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Robert! I have had the pleasure of seeing (and loving) two of your past productions - BOOTYCANDY at Celebration and BARBECUE at Geffen.
What initially attracted you to become involve with BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA?
I was called by the Geffen and they asked if I would be interested in reading a new play. I read it, and I was fascinated by the conversation it was having with black trauma surrounding the death of young black people at the hands of cops.
What aspects of a theatrical project entices you to contribute your directorial energies?
Is it an exciting story told in an exciting way?
Would the piece need to be something dramatically different from your own writing?
The directing choices I make have nothing to do with my writing. The writer has no say on what the director wants to direct.
Had you crossed paths with Inda before?
Have you worked with any of the cast or crew of BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA previously?
Yes. I have handpicked my lighting, sound, and costume designers, all whom I have worked with before. Also, Kimberly and Walter, I have directed before, too. The former, professionally in New York, and the latter when he was in graduate school at UCSD.
Other than premieres, the playwright usually does not have a say in the casting, as would a director, right?
No. A playwright always has a say in casting. They may choose not to be involved in casting, but at any moment, they have the right to intervene. Edward Albee notoriously shut down several productions because of casting. Normally, the playwright is only directly involved in the premiere or productions leading up to a New York premiere; but any production of a play, the playwright has the final approval of casting.
It's of the same importance. Casting is eighty percent of your show. With the wrong cast, the show doesn't work. Both the playwright and the director have the same approval of the entire cast and designers; whether they exercise it, is another matter. Playwrights don't usually have the time or interest to run around taking issue with casting choices of every production; it's only usually major productions where playwrights exercise their approval.
What conditions make you need to satisfy your directing appetite, as opposed to your playwriting cravings? And vice versa?
I fundamentally do not understand this question. Lol. I find interesting projects to direct, and I hopefully write interesting plays for myself and others to direct. It's not an appetite or a craving. It's my profession! I find that so often my job is talked about like it's a hobby or a guilty pleasure. It isn't. No one talks about a lawyer's "appetite" for doing defending a client. Or a doctor's "cravings" for doing operations. It's a pet peeve of mine as you can probably tell. This is my job. This is the way I make my living.
Never my intention to offend. I guess I failed in my witty (I thought) attempt to ask you whether you preferred directing to writing. My bad. Next question, what inspires you to tackle a new idea for a theatrical script?
I think the entire nature of being an artist is to explore new ideas, even if you're working on something that is an old idea... Our job is to give the here and now our artistry, and the one way to do that is to constantly examine new ideas. So everything from politics, to music, to family and history, to other theater- these things inspire me. Living and breathing inspires me, essentially.
Which would be your priority: To entertain - with a subtle messaging? Or to communicate a prominent message - in an entertaining manner?
Neither. I tell stories. I don't give messages. If someone gets something out of the story, fine, but I'm investigating ideas, feelings, and life. I'm not an entertainer, and I'm not a message delivery service. I'm an Artist.
Yes. "When you feel like you're about to be run out of town, get in front of that shit, and act like it's your motherfuckin' parade." Meaning, whatever you do, own it. Fully. Like a drum major in a marching band parade.
What would you like the Geffen audience to leave with after your BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA curtain call?
I've stopped predicting or even hypothesizing what an audience will feel or take away. I hope everyone finds something to relate to, and something to be offended by; something that gets the heartbeat pumping and the brain racing.
Thank you again, Robert! I look forward to experiencing another one of your theatrical achievements.
Thank you, Gil, for these questions. I hope you enjoy BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA.
For ticket availability and show schedule through April 14, 019; log onto www.geffenplayhouse.org