Garcia & Moresco Talk About Firehouse

By: Feb. 01, 2011
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Playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia will bring his fascinating Firehouse, based on a real-life incident, in a World premiere, to the Whitefire Theatre, with artistic director Bryan Rasmussen as director, opening Friday, February 4. The piece will play Fridays only at 8 pm. In our conversation Garcia talks about his roots, how the play developped and its prospects for the Los Angeles audience. Robert "Bobby" Moresco (photo at left) of Crash fame acts as Consulting Producer of Firehouse. An interview with him appears after Garcia's.

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(with Pedro Antonio Garcia)

How did you become involved in writing this project?

I was raised in the projects in the South Bronx, and during my lifetime I personally witnessed the conflagration of the neighborhood, as buildings were torched day after day while fire engine sirens wailed throughout the night. Inevitably, people were killed in these fires, including innocent children. Along with the devastation caused by gangs and drugs, the Bronx was also physically devastated, often compared to Dresden after the bombings. When I began my career as a criminal defense lawyer, I represented the community when the city tried to close a South Bronx Firehouse. Later, I attended the Amadou Diallo rallies following his shooting, and I personally knew members of Diallo's entourage. I had discovered afterwards that two of the policemen acquitted in the killing of Diallo are now firemen. I created the issue of the death of the little girl and the fireman's choices from my experiences. When I began writing plays, these matters kept haunting me, so I decided to put them together in a story.

How long ago did all of this happen? What dramatic license did you take?

Although every issue raised is true, the play is an amalgamation of them. Amadou Diallo was an unarmed African street salesman who was shot and killed by four cops in the South Bronx on February 4, 1999, which happens to be the opening day for this play. I believe the cops-turned-firemen are still on duty, and the community did protest one of the firemen as a result of the Diallo issue. I added the fictionalized account of the death of the girl to spark the debate of police abuse and underlying currents of racism within the Police and Fire Departments. In New York City, about 90 percent of the fire department is white.

Tell me in detail about the process of developing Firehouse.

I began writing the play as a playwright with the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in New York City under the tutelage of Allen Davis III. A workshop presentation was held for a five show run at the 47th Street Theater in 2009. I arrived in Los Angeles in January 2010 to write for the screen. In October, I visited a friend, Kamar De Los Reyes, the owner of Jo's Fitness Center in Sherman Oaks, adjacent to the Whitefire Theatre. I asked Kamar to introduce me to the theater's executive, Bryan Rasmussen, whom Kamar did not know. Bryan and I began talking, we discovered our similarities, and I gave him Firehouse to read. He liked it, we spoke about producing it, and he suggested I attend Bobby Moresco's Writers/Actors Gym, which is held at the Whitefire on Saturdays. Bobby began reviewing the scenes in his Gym, giving me the opportunity to sharpen it. In December, Laura Coker - Bryan's friend - attended auditions for Firehouse and decided to produce it. Thus, a series of fortunate, random events, beginning with a visit to see a friend, led to this production. It was Bryan's foresight that opened the possibilities.


What do you think audiences will take away with them or what do you want them to take away?

I believe art has a dual purpose: to dramatize moral truths through creative expression and to examine society. For the Firehouse audience, I want them to leave profoundly affected by the work of firemen, their humanity, the culture of the code of silence, the adversity that affects the poor in ravaged neighborhoods, and the moral choices that they face daily. I want their lives broadened by this experience.so that they feel satisfied and moved at the end of the evening.


Do you see a parallel with this story and any of those in Bobby's film Crash?

As in Crash, this work examines moral truths, right and wrong, and the convergence of different sociological aspects of similar events, all reaching a crescendo. Crash is a tremendous work of great importance. If this play reaches a sliver of the magnitude of Crash, I'll be eternally grateful. As a writer, I derive satisfaction from putting my words on paper - er, computer - and watching the interpretation of the work on stage or film.


Would you consider adapting the work for the screen?


Firehouse, like Crash, is a perfect fit for the screen: the relationships of firefighters and their fights and conflicts among themselves; the fireman whose loyalties are ripped apart as he balances his duty to firemen, the community, and his lover; the lawyer siding with the community while fighting the firehouse and her fireman-lover; the junkie's world inside a crackhouse and the savagery of life on the outskirts of law; the politics of racism and police abuse; the riots in the wake of governmental intrusions; the obligations of the church and its neighborhood; and the daily struggles of the community.


How was Bobby Moresco's work most helpful to the play?

I am fortunate to be part of Bobby Moresco's Actors/Writers gym, where I was able to run six of the nine scenes of Firehouse for the gym participants. He further suggested that I fine tune the moments that mean something, to get the most out of them, to raise the stakes. As a result, the play became clearer and more focused.
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Academy Award-winning screenwriter Bobby Moresco (Crash) serves as consulting producer of Firehouse. In our interview he discloses his artistic reasons for encouraging the production of Garcia's riveting work.


How did you react to Pedro Garcia's Firehouse when he first brought it to the Actors Gym!


The first thing that I liked about it...it felt to me that this is a playwright who is trying to understand something, not only about the human condition and how people deal in situations, which is what we all look for...but I felt that he was after bigger issues and dealing with them in a small human way. I think that's what good writing is always about. If we get inside people's heads and put them into situations that are pressure-cookers and we find out who they really are, that reflects, for me anyway, a bigger issue about the world around us. That's a cool thing to be involved in. I remember clearly the Amadou Diallo situation...and if you know anything about the work I've been involved in, I'm attracted to the idea of moral complexity: you're not quite sure who's right or who's wrong; there's no black and white. Pedro was after "what the hell really happened?" in a case like that.


Give me the details of the case of Amadou Diallo, upon which the play is based.


A black man in New York City coming out of his house, evening or might have even been dark...there was a mugging or shooting nearby and the police were looking for a suspect. He was described as an African American, and this kid, who was a vendor, coming out of his house...the police thought he fit the description and they took out their guns...he didn't speak English all that well; they told him to keep his hands up; he thought they were asking for his identification; he reached into his wallet; one of the police thought he was reaching for a gun, and they shot the man...41 times. 41 times. On the surface of that, one would think "those sons-a-bitches, they shot an unarmed man 41 times, there is no excuse". On the other hand, if they really thought that there was a gun, then that one shot led to more shots makes it a more complex situation. They could have shot the man 41 times because they hated black people or it could have been a more complex situation, an untenable crisis that led to Amadou Diallo's death. Having said all that, understanding that in a dramatic context is a cool endeavor. I don't think Pedro is looking to point fingers at anybody, and I like that.


Tell me more about your Actors' Gym.


The Actors' Gym is a company I opened in 1978 in Los Angeles and then moved it to New York when I moved there, and brought it back here when I moved back to LA. It's essentially a group of actors, writers and directors who come once a week, bring in work, put it up on stage...not unlike The Actors Studio, we talk about the work. We examine ways and try to offer help to each other to take the work to a better place. We developed Crash there. Paul (Haggis, co-screenwriter of Crash and writing partner) and I brought the script in, we read it with the members who gave feedback and we made changes that we thought were helpful. The Actors Gym is for people who have been around and who don't need a teacher. They've done their studying; they just need to keep working to hone their craft. If you can't sit and listen to a piece of criticism about your work and throw away the 80-90% that is not going to help you, and take the 10% that is going to help, then it's not a good place for you. We meet once a week currently at the Whitefire Theatre.

As consulting producer of Firehouse, what did you do?

I helped to develop the writing of the play at the Actors Gym. Bryan (Rasmussen) and Pedro have done everything. I've done, quite frankly nothing except offer whatever help I could in terms of the writing. I was happy to do that. I think this a playwright with a voice. The human being is complex. He contains multitudes. It's not always what we think it is. That's what interests me about drama and I think Pedro explores deep and is trying to get there. I hope it all goes well.

What's up next for Bobby Moresco? What are you working on?

A movie for Universal that I've written that Todd Field is directing called Hubris that I'm really excited about and a new pilot that I've written that I'm supposed to direct for Fox. Also there's a play by Bill Hoffman that we developed at the Actors Gym and are doing a reading of soon. Some of the actors involved are Michael Stahl David (Cloverfield), Saverio Guerra (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Patrick Brennan (The new Twilight movie), and Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy). New play, new playwright. Important stuff!
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Firehouse:
Opens: Friday, February 4, 8pm
Runs: February 4 - April 29, 2011
Plays: Fridays ONLY, at 8pm
Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks
Tickets: www.theatermania.com or (323) 822-7898

 



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