5 Questions for Playwright Elaine Romero
Posted on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at 9:40 AM
This week Elaine Romero is workshopping her play Graveyard of Empires with us at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. We’re thrilled to be working with Elaine in the development of this important new work, and we asked her to tell us a little bit about the play and her recent life and times.
RTE: Can you tell us what inspired you to write Graveyard of Empires?
ER: I had seen a 60 Minutes episode about predator drones. The remote nature of the warfare and the lack of accountability of it eerily reminded me of the atomic bombs, something that has always disturbed me at a visceral level. After learning of predator drones, I couldn’t sleep for days. All I could imagine was a soldier sitting in Nevada killing people in the Middle East, and then going home to his pretty wife and trying to lead some semblance of a normal life. This led to a series of what-if questions. If you can’t see your target, who might you hit? That’s when I stumbled upon the idea of a friendly fire incident. I don’t like black and white ideas so I further complicated the story from there.
I had written a series of short plays about war, including Rain of Ruin (the bomb), Revolutions (Latin America), and a shorter version of A Work of Art (Vietnam). In one of my earlier works, Memorial Day, I had taken my first stab at writing about Vietnam. I realized that I had a lot to say about war, and that my life experience as the granddaughter of an Iwo Jima vet, a former exchange student in Japan, and the niece of a soldier killed in Vietnam had given me a lot of raw material. I’m so excited to be tackling my first trilogy.
RTE: Graveyard of Empires is the first play in a trilogy. This season, you have been writing the second play of the trilogy, A Work of Art, as a member of the Goodman Playwrights Unit. What has that process been like for you?
ER: It’s been really amazing to be part of the Goodman Playwrights Unit. We have a great group of writers, but you could also call us actors, because we constantly read our work aloud for each other. It’s a tight-knit group. We meet frequently, so we’ve had a chance to give each other a lot of feedback on our works in progress. It’s been an entirely different process than doing five drafts and then bringing them to a cast. It’s a vulnerable feeling to bring in pages so early, but it has been so worth it. I’m excited about the play. Graveyard of Empires is feeding A Work of Art and vice-versa.
RTE: Does working on a trilogy require you to, in a sense, work on all three plays at once? In other words, as you go about writing one play, do you find you need to keep the other two very much in mind?
ER: I love that question. Going in, I knew a lot about all three plays. I’d done two of them in the short form, and even though I’m not referring to those shorter pieces, having written them has given me a much greater sense of what the works are about. The other day I came up with the question that each play asks. I’ve used those questions to frame my thoughts about the plays. Two have been drafted and one is not drafted yet. The question for Graveyard of Empires is “What do we ask soldiers to live with when we ask them to commit atrocities during war?” A Work of Art asks “What do we ask families to live with when we send their loved ones to war?” Rain of Ruin (undrafted play) asks “What do we ask countries to absorb when they commit atrocities during war?”
RTE: You are fairly new to Chicago, having moved here a year and a half ago from Tucson. Tell us something about your experience in adapting to Chicago and its theatre scene.
ER: Chicago is an addictive place. There’s always something to see. Something to eat. Interesting conversations to be had. I’ve really enjoyed the theatre scene here. I feel like a little child who is eating her way through a mountain of chocolate. I’ve seen a lot of shows. I’ve met a lot of people, and of course, working with Rivendell and the Goodman has been super wonderful. I’m so honored. I can’t wait to have my first production in Chicago.
RTE: What's coming up next for you?
ER: My next reading will be A Work of Art at the Goodman in June. I’m not allowed to start Rain of Ruin until after that’s done. I hope to pen that one over the summer, so that’s my master plan. And, of course, go to Yoga Tree at Andersonville in between to keep my head and shoulders screwed on straight.
Graveyard of Empires will be presented on Monday, March 26, at 7:30 at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.
About Elaine Romero:
Elaine Romero is a 2011/2012 member of the Goodman Theatre’s Playwright’s Unit for which she is writing a full-length version of A Work of Art. Graveyard of Empires is the first in a trilogy Elaine is writing about the U.S. at war. A Work of Art is the second piece of the trilogy. She has won over $125,000 for her plays, which have been presented at the Goodman Theatre, Alley Theatre, Newtown Theatre, and Actors Theatre of Louisville, among others. Recent commissions include Goodman Theatre, Centerstage, American Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre Company (The Dalai Lama is Not Welcome Here), and Kitchen Dog Theater Company. Her plays include Walk into the Sea (Sloan Foundation/Magic Theatre, Sundance Playwrights Retreat), !Curanderas! Serpents of the Clouds, Before Death Comes for the Archbishop (TCG Pew National Theatre Artist in Residency grant), Sun, Stone and Shadows (Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Alicia (Zachary Scott Theatre), Something Rare and Wonderful (Alley Theatre), Xochi: Jaguar Princess (Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), Revolutions (Manhattan Theatre Source; in Spanish at the Panama National Theatre), Ponzi (Kitchen Dog Theater)—Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award, A Work of Art (short version, American Theatre Company), and Barrio Hollywood, which received its Spanish World Premiere at Aurora Theatre and was published by Samuel French in English and Spanish. Her play Wetback is in development with Teatro Vista. Elaine taught in the RTVF Department at Northwestern University. She has adapted Revolutions for the screen for a film production company in Spain, and is currently revising a film that will be produced in Mexico.