20 Days With 20 Playwrights: Rogelio Martinez, Day #1

This interview series is highlighting some of Kanjy’s first members. To see Rogelio’s profile, click here


Home Town: Cuba
Current Town: Long Island
Highlighted Script: When Tang Met Laika
Three Words that Describe it:
  • Magical
  • Impossible
  • Compassionate






#1 How did you find your way to writing plays?

In the summer of 1988 I went with my mother to see Madonna star in Mamet’s SPEED-THE-PLOW. I had less interest in the play than I did in Madonna; however, listening to Mamet’s electrifying way with words, his ability to move forward at lightning speed, and his instinct for laughs left me dazzled. I went in interested in a pop star and left knowing theater was what I wanted to do with my life.

#2 Who (playwrights, family members, etc) would you say has most influenced you?

Tom Stoppard for his ability to make magic out of history, Caryl Churchill for her ability to reinvent the form each time she writes a new play, and Eduardo Machado who taught me almost everything I know. I’ve never had writer’s block thanks to Eduardo.

 #3 What do you like to write about?

I like to use minor historical events to write about major historical shifts. In my new play, PING PONG, I use the 1971 trip the American ping pong team took to China to write about Richard Nixon and company.

#4 What do you think the role of theater is today and what do you think it should be?

Theater  needs people to come together at a certain time in a certain place. It is a unique form of entertainment. It can’t happen on TV, Video, Internet, or any other new technology headed our way. The more technology distances us from one another, the more theater becomes a necessity. It’s not going to go away anytime soon.  History has already proven this point.

#5 What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

Hang out with actors. You will start to notice that they need fewer words not more words to make magic. Thanks to actors you will learn to cut. Also, hang out with directors and designers. In the theater you don’t just need to think like a writer. Do stagehand work on several shows. This will teach you pacing and the realities of making the impossible possible. Finally, respect your audience. They actually want you to succeed. Listen to them — not what they have to say as much as the temperature in the room.

#6 How do you know when your play isn’t working? Or more specifically, how/when do you know the difference between “I’m just stuck. I’ll work through it.” and “This play isn’t meant to be.”

Anne Bogart once said that good theater feels like two kids playing in the basement while the parents are upstairs. She was talking about danger, naughtiness, and risks. If I’m no longer in the basement but upstairs with the grown ups I stop writing the play immediately.

#7 What play, musical, screenplay, etc. do you wish you had written and why?

I wish I’d written JOE EGG. It’s one play that manages to keep the audience laughing while telling a devastating story. It destroys me every time I read it or see it. It’s perfect.

  • Goddard College

    Nice interview! Rogelio is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College’s Port Townsend, Washington residency site! You can learn more about him at http://www.goddard.edu/people/rogelio-martinez-mfa

  • SocialmediaKanjy

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Lisa Lutwyche

    Great stuff, Rogelio! You have been an indispensable mentor to this emerging playwright.

    I love the comment about listening to actors as a way to learn where to cut.
    This is so true! And it’s also a way to learn not to set traps for actors, like repetition, or just too many words!