Meet the Playwright: Michael Reyes
How did you first become involved in the theater? And what made you decide to become a playwright?
I’ve always wanted to write. I made some bad decisions while growing up, however, and the dream kind of faded. Moving outside of the U.S. rekindled my passion for writing. I visited six countries in under three years, before the age of 21, and that’s what kind of did it for me. That opened my mind and put me back on track.
Who taught you to write plays? (This could be anybody: teachers, theater artists, other kinds of writers, other playwrights living/dead, etc.)
I was lucky enough to work at a bookstore for seven years, and being exposed to that much literature was a huge blessing. Really great employee discounts when I first started working there, too. I read tons of Ionesco, Albee, Pinero, Churchill, Brecht and Shepard, playwright- wise. Dan Friedman and Brian Mullin at Castillo Theater (Young Playwrights Workshop, 2005) were helpful after I came back to New York. So was the PRTT workshop(2010) and everybody at Barefoot Theater Company since. Their workshops of Tower 5 and Park Slope have been great. My training has been autodidactic, but these organizations have been really helpful.
You say that TOWER 5 was inspired by your experiences in Iraq. Can you tell us more about the genesis of the play: when did you decide you wanted to write about this? How did the characters evolve? Did you know anyone like Ali when you were in Iraq?
The first draft of Tower 5 splintered off into another play, Over There/ Over Here. It was produced by Castillo Theater in 2007 and The Relevant Stage in 2008. Some of the characters and ideas that migrated out of Tower 5 took a lot of hope and optimism with them. The world they left behind in Tower 5 is very bleak, but I also think it’s truer and more pristine.
Did I know anyone like Ali when I was in Iraq? Sure. Many. Most are probably dead now, or ISIS. I don’t think the real Ali owns a Bed and Breakfast in Mosul. But you never know.
Both TOWER 5 and PARK SLOPE have many diverse characters of various ethnicities. Is that something that’s really important to you? If so–why?
Diversity is important to me. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and I grew up around many different types of people. So expressing that through writing is pretty essential. I really didn’t know non diversity was such a huge thing until I left New York. I feel that some people get locked into this idea of their race, class or gender and they internalize it, and that’s them. Completely. Like, it’s a stunted mindset, just being shut off and not even attempting to develop an individual spirit outside of what society says you are. It’s homogenized and static, and I believe identity’s more fluid than that. That closed off mentality cuts across the spectrum, all groups. That’s always interesting to write about, for me at least.
What’s coming up next for you, theater-wise?
I’m finishing up two one acts. Maybe a reading over the summer. Depends on how far along they are.