You are originally from Honduras. How long have you lived in the United States?
I have lived in the USA since I was two years old. I would spend my summers living in Honduras — actually Tegucigalpa, the capital. The small area was called "Mira Flores."
How do you like it here?
Since I have been here most of my life, I love it! I have traveled all over the world, though, thanks to my dad. He was an avid traveler. It's funny because most people who see Walking to America don't know if the play is Pro/Anti-American. They always seem very surprised to find out that I am rather patriotic. I love this country, and I love the fact that I can write plays that criticize it.
Do you ever go back and visit Honduras?
I do get back, though the last time I was back it was a country of extremes. Hurricane Mitch took a huge devastation on the economy and the country. I have most of my family still there. It is very odd because there is such extreme poverty, especially for children, and yet there are areas of extreme wealth. A middle class almost does not exist. So by my uncle’s house there is a shanty shack town made of ply wood, and right across the street there is a New BMW dealership next to an Internet Cafe. The country is a world of extremes.
Walking to America is based on a true story. What is that story, and what about it inspired you to write this play?
In 1998, I was enrolled in my second year of the MFA Acting Program at Rutgers University I came across a compelling National Public Radio interview while researching a role. The piece interviewed a Honduran boy named Oscar who was being held as an illegal immigrant in a Texas prison. As I listened to the interview my heart sank. Oscar was from the same town in Honduras that I was from, only he was entirely without family or support of any kind. He was a street kid who had known no other existence than the brutally harsh street life of the capital city Tegucigalpa.
In the interview Oscar shares how he came to the realization that his only hope for survival was to leave Honduras and journey to North America. He didn't hitchhike, he didn't take a bus, he didn't hitch rides on rail cars, he walked. From his street corner in Honduras Oscar walked for twenty-four months across four countries and over 2400 miles to the American border. He actually WALKED to America.
I was so moved by Oscar's story that I tracked down the immigration lawyer who had worked on his case. When I asked him if there was a way to contact Oscar, hoping to have an opportunity to speak to him in person he told me something that tore my heart. "Why do you want to interview Oscar? If you go down to the border, you will find hundreds of Oscars, and those are the lucky ones that actually made it to America. There are so many more that never make it that far. And the ones who do are usually sent right back to where they started. Oscar is only one of hundreds of kids."
The play is an EVERYDAY of street children. The research is a culmination of Oscar’s story, my past in dealing with death squads that "socially clean" street children sanctioned by the government, and interviews of hundreds of real street children. Oscar’s story is the launching point for the story. BUT ALL scenes in the play are based on actually events. The horrors of the reality of what these children do to survive almost seems like a nightmare from hell.
In the play, you use multimedia to satirize American materialism and greed. What point are you trying to make by doing so?
Well... the commercials actually are not a satire of American greed/materialism. They are not a satire at all. The commercials are exactly what we see here in this country. I purposely made commercials that you actually do see on TV. No spin no nothing. The reason they have an impact is because of the context of when you see them. It is amazing that with the advent of technology, the impression we give the world of America is in commercials. When I visit my family in Honduras — all educated and college graduates — their impressions of America are from TV. I use commercials because most people remember commercials more then they remember shows or even American history. If I ask what the faces are on Mount Rushmore, most people don't know. But everyone knows who's on American Idol, what product's slogan was "You got the right one baby!" or "Where's the beef?" Commercials are made that way to be memorable and precise, and sell an emotion not a product. You want the emotion so you buy the product.
In Latin America they have stores where they have TV's in the windows showing American satellite TV. So we see poor children watching images of Coco Puffs, cars, Pizza Hut, anything we use in America. It is the New American myth. No longer is the new Myth of America the immigrant coming to America and finding work. Now he comes and finds American Idol, fame.
At one point you see a commercial for Child Choice Services. This was taken from an article from Newsweek — now we have the technology to choose the gender of your child. Male or female for only $14,000, and it is 90% accurate in choosing the gender of your child. The point I am making is double-edged. How amazing, a country that has that kind of technology, how blessed we are that we can have a choice. How disturbing is it that there are millions of children around the world dying... from starvation and lack of attention? We are a nation that has infinite possibilities, but it is where we put our values that I question. The lead character sees this commercial. He does not quite understand it, but what he sees is a couple, loving and caring, wanting a baby. He sees a nation that has opportunity. The opportunity to have a family.
How did you first get involved in the arts?
Well, I will be honest. I started in high school because there was this gorgeous girl that was in drama and she was on her way to a meeting!!! HAHAHAHA!!! I just was like — yeah I'm an actor! HAHAHAHA! That is the honest truth! Then I realized I have no shame and am not shy, so I had no problem doing plays. So I started hanging out and realized I loved it and started to study, and found I actually was getting a lot of work. I grew up in a very yuppie/Republican household, and they were not involved in the arts so I started really from scratch. I decided I wanted to do this when I was 16 years old, and that was that. Never turned my back since. HAHAHA! Sorry, no amazing show or movie... I initially got into acting because of cute women!
You earned a Master's degree in acting. Do you still act?
Oh yes, absolutely. I act, direct, write, teach, fight choreograph, audition. I loved getting my Master’s at Rutgers. It was the most challenging experience I have ever had. But I learned so much from my mentors. Maggie Flanagan, William Esper, and Leonard Petit. I owe so much to all three of them. I am currently in a show in the East Village, and am in two short films.
How did you move from acting to writing and directing?
Actually, I was so sick of auditioning for really bad shows that I decided to produce a show that had depth and was epic. So I went looking for a writer for my idea... but I could not find a writer that had the same vision. So I said “Screw it, I've never written a play... I'll give it a shot.” I sought the help of my friend Brad Bambo, who is a good friend of mine and consulted his advice. He is an amazing writer, and helped me get started. So I bought Final Draft, sat down, and just started. This is the first play I have ever written. I am in the process now of writing two screenplays and a theatrical piece. I wasn't looking to be a writer, I am just a creator. I have visions and I want to create them or be a part of creating them.
You are Playwright-In-Residence at the 78th Street Theater Lab. How did that happen, and how long have you been so?
Eric Nightingale is a godsend. I was actually in a show at 78th Street Theater called Boy Steals Train. I was in the Scotland Fringe Festival and approached Eric with an idea and asked him if he would listen to the original NPR tape. He did and said “Go for it. We support you.” I love 78th Street Theater. They are a wonderful group of artists that supported me and helped me in the creation of a new play as I am a first time writer. I would HIGHLY recommend any actor, producer, playwright to consider them for any future productions. The space is great, they are professional, and they love risky theater. I owe them a lot of love. I have been there for two years. I hope to bring my next project to fruition there.
What are the advantages of being their Playwright-In-Residence, both the obvious ones and the not-so-obvious ones?
I guess a Playwright-In-Residence at a theater really means that you have a relationship you can trust in presenting work. Eric is very good at giving an honest opinion about my work, even if we disagree. He is wonderful at helping develop new work. So for me that is what I value more then anything — the artistic input that can be discussed and developed when creating a new work.
Okay, I understand you were on Star Search. Is that correct?
HAHAHAHA! Yes I was. My group was called "Good Vibrations". It was me and five girls. Whew, that was a long time ago! HAHAHAHA! Met Ed McMahon. It was loads of fun. We were finalists.
You are also the fight director for all of the New York City soap operas: As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and All My Children. How'd you land that gig?
I do work on them via my fight choreographer mentor, Jake Turner. When he goes and works for them I go and work on the soaps either as a stunt guy, or coordinator. I like working on the soaps but it is very inconsistent. I was on All My Children as a recurring character named Tommy. I loved the cast on All My Children. They were all very professional, and I learned so much about TV. It really helped with the play. We shot ten commercial/news spots in three weekends for Walking to America. It was insane, but amazingly fun!
You seem like you're quite a Renaissance man. What drives you to wear so many hats?
HAHAHA! I am not sure if I would call myself a Renaissance man. What drives me? I am not quite sure. I have a real passion for acting, and storytelling. It drives others insane! I tell you that is why my personal life is such a mess! It is very hard to keep a healthy relationship with a girl when you’re up until 3:00 in the morning either sending out postcards, writing, memorizing monologues, reading, daydreaming... ugh. But I have always been like this. I have always been passionate and driven in anything I have ever endeavored to do. I would say I am a workaholic. As far as wearing so many hats, I think it kind of comes out of my need to fill in where there is something lacking. When we did Walking to America I could not afford an editor, so a lot of the commercials I edited myself. I didn't know how to use Final Cut Pro, so I taught myself. I think it's a matter of how much you believe in a project. Or your vision. If you truly believe in the vision or story that you’re telling, then you will do anything to tell your part of that story the best you can. It does not matter if you’re writing it, acting in it, directing it. Working on material that you’re passionate about makes the body, mind, and heart drive to the limits.
What's up next for you?
Well... I am currently writing two screenplays and another theatrical piece. I am auditioning, and have a commercial running right now, and am acting in a play in the East Village. I am involved in two other short films as an actor. So keeping busy is very easy for me. I am also actively pursuing representation, so with any luck I will get some legit representation. I am working rather consistently. We are seeing if Walking to America might be done regionally, and might go to the Scotland Fringe Festival, too. Other than that, attempting to get some sort of sleep.