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Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy

Mark Wilding will finally world premiere his interrupted world premiere of OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO September 24, 2021 at Theatre West

Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy

Mark Wilding will finally world premiere his interrupted world premiere of OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO September 24, 2021 at Theatre West. Charlie Mount directs this satirical take on a political incident still relevant to today's international climate. Had the chance to chat up Mark, the always working WGA Award-winning writer, on SANTIAGO, his Sophie's Choice of television vs. theatre work, and his hand in creating Ellen's Puppy and Grey's camp scene.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Mark!

OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO is inspired by a 1974 Harper's Magazine article by Gabriela García Marquez. What intrigued you so much about this article as a teenager that you've kept a copy of it and turned it into a play in 2018?

Growing up during the Vietnam War, I've always been interested in American adventurism. It seems that no matter how hard we try to bring democracy to the world, the world always fights back. Heck, look at Afghanistan and what we've got on our hands there. We never seem to appreciate what we're up against - be it the culture of the country we're trying to "help" or that country's history. We always think we know what's best and we don't. And we never seem to Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy learn that lesson. I've held on to several magazine and newspaper articles over the years - with the idea that I might be able to turn the subject matter into some kind of entertainment. I knew I wanted to write for Hollywood when I was a teenager. My collection of articles started with that Harper's article. I think I did it instead of writing a journal.

What would your three-line pitch of OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO be?

It's a darkly comic look at the CIA's attempts to overthrow the Marxist government of Salvador Allende. It's seen through the eyes of a novice operative where the situation on the ground is not what it appears. Oh, and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger show up on the scene.

Once you decided to write this, how long did it take to transform it into a workshop draft?

It took a year and a half. I was working full-time on the show Good Girls, so I mostly had to tackle the script on weekends.

Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy Did audience responses surprise you at the Theatre West workshop reading in 2018?

It did. I had no idea what folks were going to think. I wanted it to be thought-provoking but, more importantly, I wanted it to be funny and entertaining. You never know if it is any of that until it's up on its feet. Until then, it's in your head. You may laugh but will others? It turns out other people got a kick out of it.

At what point of OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO production were you in when theatre was shut down March 2020?

The production was supposed to go five or six weeks. We had to shut it down after two nights. The silver lining was that it got a really good response from the audience on those two nights!

Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy Will everyone from the postponed 2020 production reprise their roles in the September 24th world premiere?

Everyone will be. Which makes me very happy. The actors are brilliant.

Has there been any script changes between this premiere, the 2020 planned production and the 2018 workshop?

There have been a few tweaks along the way. It's mostly the actors and our director Charlie Mount discovering more stuff in SANTIAGO that both deepens the humor and the characters.

Have you worked with any of the OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO cast or creatives before? Are they all fellow members of Theatre West with you?

They're all members of Theatre West. I'd never worked with any of the actors or Charlie or Ben Scuglia (our producer) before SANTIAGO.

Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy When did you first become a member of Theatre West?

Over 30 years ago.

How cool is it that an anonymous "angel," a longtime Theatre West patron purchased the building where Theatre West resides and extended its lease for a minimum of five years? Is everyone breathing a sigh of relief?

Everyone's breathing a HUGE sigh of relief. It's absolutely fantastic. The theatre is a haven for so many actors and directors and writers. It's also gives back to the community ten times over. Whoever the angel is, they made hundreds of people very, very happy.

Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy You produced and co-wrote Ellen's "The Puppy Episode." What was your initial reaction when Ellen approached you with the idea of her TV character coming out?

Everyone on the writing staff was all for it. As was ABC. I think Ellen felt that it was time the rest of the world got on board with a gay leading character. I think she was just waiting for the right moment and that right moment was Season Four of the show.

There must have been a multitude of hurdles to get to the final taping. Can you share what alternate plot points that had to be reworked or discarded completely?

The hurdles didn't come from ABC or worried executives or anything like that. The only "hurdle" was trying to make the script as funny as possible. We didn't want to preach to the audience because that's when they lose interest. We had a dozen very talented writers on the staff, so I think we got the funny part just right, while still making a statement that didn't clobber viewers over the head.

Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy How did the episode title "The Puppy Episode" come about?

That's a funny story. The previous year an ABC executive had suggested that Ellen should get a puppy in an episode. The writing staff thought that was a thoroughly lame idea, so we decided to make fun of it by naming our most important episode "The Puppy Episode." I don't think ABC ever knew we were making fun of them (until now at least).

Your various projects have been honored with numerous awards. Any one award carries special significance to you?

I won a GLAAD award for an episode of Grey's (Anatomy) that I wrote titled "Where The Boys Are." All the surgeons go on a camping trip and the Chief (Jim Pickens) discovers that two of the campers are gay. He's old school so it's a bit of a shock to him. But he's determined to get with the program. Jim Pickens did a superb job with his reaction to the revelation.

If compensation were not a factor, what medium would you prefer to utilize your talents in: TV? Film? Theatre?

Interview: OUR MAN Mark Wilding's Always Writing - Whether IN SANTIAGO Or With Ellen's Puppy I love TV. It's immediate and they have to make what you write or they have nothing to put on the air. Although the more I'm getting involved in theatre and seeing how much fun people have getting a play ready, I'll probably gravitate to that once Hollywood has had its fill of me.

What's in the near future for Mark Wilding?

I just got hired as a consultant on an ABC show called Promised Land. I'm working with a bunch of younger writers so that's been fun. I also just finished another play called THE FEEL GOOD STORY AMERICA NEEDS RIGHT NOW. I'm excited to see what, if anything, happens with that.

Thank you again, Mark! I look forward to meeting your MAN IN SANTIAGO.

For tickets to the LIVE performances of OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO through October 24, 2021; log onto TheatreWest.org

Complimentary tickets will be made available opening weekend (September 24th, 25th and 26th) to first responders, teachers and healthcare workers in gratitude for their work during these challenging times. For more information, call (323) 851-4839.




From This Author - Gil Kaan

      Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas of film, television, and stage in... (read more about this author)


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