by Martin Denton · July 11, 2013
Martin Denton: Your solo plays are mostly autobiographical, and taken together they tell a good deal of your life story. Are there facets of your life that you have explicitly decided NOT to explore in your solo work? How much of the real Antonio do audiences get to know from your work?
Antonio Sacre: I try to leave out the boring parts. When I set out to work on a new show, I often start with what I think are the most dramatic or interesting parts of what I am experiencing in a given period of time. I journal about them, talk about them with my collaborators, and then spend a few months writing about it. I present the whole mess to my director, and he or she tells me what they think is theatrically worthy.
I often find that the subjects I present on stage matter very deeply to me at the time, but the amount of time it takes to write, rehearse, memorize, and perform the pieces give me about a three- to five-year lag time from actual events to the plays I put on stage. I envy stand-up comedians who can take an incredibly current event and put it on stage relatively quickly.
As for subject matter that I have not decided to explore, I try to stay away from specific political subjects. Part of this is practical, as I want to reach as diverse an audience as possible. Part of this is also to try and create plays that will hold up years from now, not just being the subject du jour.
As I mature, I find myself less inclined to be preachy and more inclined to present the nuances of varied subjects, hopefully arriving at a well-rounded view of whatever the subject is.
MD: Can you talk a little about your process in creating the plays? Do you write them out complete, then do some workshop performances? Or do you try out small segments, a little bit at a time? How do you write--longhand, or on a computer? Do you sometimes laugh or cry as your write? Do you outline the plays in advance, or let them take whatever shape they seem to want to take?
AS: Each play feels very different in how it was created. There do seem to be a few constants, especially in my early work. Whenever I was blocked, I would pay to write. I would find solo performing writing workshops in the city I was in at the time, I would sign up, pay the fee, and show up in class. I find that committing to a class, showing up in class, doing the homework suggested, and doing a final performance was a surefire way to create some of my early material. In these classes, I would often write longhand in a small journal. I can actually look at the handwritten entries, and when I see my handwriting getting sloppy and large, I know I am on to something. Then, I go to the computer, type it out so I can read it, and present it in class.
My middle plays were often assignments given to me by my mentors and directors. Those were written at the computer, and those plays were vastly overwritten. I typically would write about three hours of material, and the director would help me shape it into a hopefully tight sixty- to eighty- minutes. I feel like the assignment they gave me was, "Explore this mountain range, find a specific mountain. In that mountain, find the cave or tunnel that leads to a big, messy mound of coal. Bring a bunch of coal to the surface. Then, find one specific piece of coal, and let's crush it under as much pressure (rewriting, rehearsing, and performance) as possible to see if it can transform into if not a diamond, then at least a shiny piece of coal that we can burn to give some light and warmth, at least for a short amount of time."
Some of my shows were developed in five to ten minute segments at a time. I would then try to add stories to each one to create more of a whole.
I rarely outline, but am a big believer in it for my children's books.
I do often laugh out loud as I write. I rarely cry, as by the time I am writing for the stage, I have done much personal psychological work to be ready to try and turn my experiences into what I hope will be art. The crying I save for the bad reviews.
MD: Would you want to see others perform these plays--by which I mean, would you want to attend performances of them with another actor in your role?
AS: When I was younger, I would have very easily and quickly said no to this question. I was creating one-of-a-kind plays that seemed to be tailored exactly to me and my specific skills. I couldn't imagine another actor taking my words, experiences, and even family members and getting to the core of what I was attempting. However, a few of my plays were written for me as a younger man, and now, I can't imagine being able to do justice to what I created. So now, I would love to see other actors in the roles, and I would love to attend the performances. As a matter of fact, a few of the monologues from my plays are included in anthologies of monologues for actors.
Lastly, while I am very proud of the number of people who have seen my shows, I would like more people to be able to see them, and I can't be in two places at one time.
MD: Have you ever had an unexpected or surprising response from/interaction with audience members when you performed any of the shows? Are there moments you always looked forward to, or conversely always kind of dreaded having to do?
AS: One of my all-time favorite unexpected moments from my career performing in New York was during the extension of Brown and Black and White All Over after the 1997 NY Fringe. I was in a lovely theater on the Lower East Side, and a bunch of high school students I was working with came to my show. They came late, interrupting the show, all teen energy and bravado. One of them yelled, "Yo, Mr. Antonio, where do we sit!" I replied from the stage, stopping the show, "Where ever you want." He said, "How about onstage with you?" I said, "Come on up." They sat all around the stage, in the chairs I was going to use as my characters, given a running commentary of the play. It was electric.
Also, every year at the NYC fringe, at least one person would walk out of my show. I remember Richard Foreman saying at an early FringeU workshop that you aren't doing your job at least one person doesn't walk out.
I do hope my audiences laugh often during my shows. One of my long-time collaborators, Jenny Magnus, said something like, "Humor gets the audience to open up their mouths so we can dive in and touch their hearts."
In Eleven Dollar Prophet, I always loved playing the "washing my hair" scene transformation and costume change, and I always dreaded ripping the towel off to finish the rant naked.
And the one very dark moment at the center of My Penis-In and Out of Trouble remains a thrilling and dreadful moment to play.
MD: Have you ever written a play for multiple actors? Why have you so far always focused solely on one-man plays?
AS: The first play I ever wrote was for multiple characters. Also, Brown and Black and White All Over was conceived as a multi-character play, but developed into a solo show. In 2004, I was commissioned by the Smithsonian Musuem's Discovery Theater in Washington DC to write a four-character play for children. It was called Pochito's Pride - Living in Two Languages and had a successful two-month run in DC.
However, I have focused on one-man plays for the practical reason that I travel so much, and committing to a typical rehearsal process is nearly impossible for me. Also, my early and most memorable theatrical experiences all revolved around solo-performers, and I am continually challenged, inspired and outraged by the solo shows I see. The thrill of a solo-show, both as performer and audience member, remains a theatrical touchstone for me.
MD: Are audiences different in different parts of the country--do folks respond differently to your work in different areas?
AS: The biggest factor that influences how audiences responds to my work is whether the audience is Spanish speaking or not. Also, average age of the audience matters greatly. Some of my shows are written about teenagers and young adults. Others are written for adults in their 30s, and others are written with no real ideal age group in mind. My favorite audiences are multi-generational, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic. Some of the theaters and festivals that I have had the privilege to perform for tend to be homogenous, and some of my themes and stories, while still potent, don't land as well as in the more the more urban places I play in, like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. My core fan base in New York City is the perfect audience for me, and I cultivated them at the NYC Fringe. Often, I imagine them in the audience as I am writing new shows.
MD: If you had to pick just one of the plays you've written as most important to you personally, which one would be it be and why?
AS: I have written 8 solo performances and 2 plays, but as of now for different reasons, only five of them are on your incredible website. Of the five plays on Indie Theater Now, all of them are crucially important to me as a performer and a writer. Brown and Black and White All Over was the first hour-long play I ever produced, and really honors the youth that has been at the core of what I have done for years. Eleven Dollar Prophet was the most audacious thing I've ever attempted, both as a writer and a performer, and was ridiculously fun and dangerous to perform. My Penis-In and Out of Trouble won a Best in Fringe Award at the NY Fringe, got my first real reviews in New York, and created a name for myself in your fair city. It also helped me land a literary agent. The Next Best Thing tries to bring together a lot of what I have tried to do over the years, acting, storytelling and myth making, a nuanced yet deeply emotional exploration of hopefully universal feelings.
Of all of them, I think My Penis-In and Out of Trouble was a crucial step forward as a performer and a writer. It challenged me, got the best critical response, and felt the closest to actual art that I created, both as writer and performer.
I am thrilled to be in partnership with you, and am honored to be included on such a dynamic and wonderful website.