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Playwright Carlos Murillo’s work explores personal mythmaking


When interviewing an artist there’s always the point where you ask the obvious question, Where do your ideas come from? or What influences does your work draw on?  And, of course, the answers are at once right in front of us, because ideas spring from life, and concealed, because ideas also germinate in the imagination and subconscious.  And since every artist’s life is individual there are as many variations to those inspirational sources as there are artists.  Playwright Carlos Murillo is someone I interviewed many months ago in anticipation of one of his plays being performed at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  Our conversation veered into some of the touchstone experiences that help shape who he is and what he writes about.

Playwright Carlos Murillo’s work explores personal mythmaking

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico

 

Playwright and DePaul University theater professor Carlos Murillo has established a national reputation with such works as Dark Play or Stories for Boys, which UNO Theatre is staging Feb. 23-26 and March 2-5.

The theater world is small. For example, a University of Nebraska at Omaha grad student met Murillo at a Kennedy Center theater festival in Washington, D.C. Aware Murillo’s Dark Play was slated for production by UNO, the student set the wheels in motion for the playwright’s campus visit in January. At UNO Murillo guest taught a class, observed a rehearsal and attended a reading and a discussion of his work.

“It was a really fun experience,” says Murillo, who spoke to El Perico by phone from Chicago.

He enjoys interacting with students and teachers over his work.

“It’s a really cool thing when a group of people you don’t know are engaging with something you’ve created. Making theater is like solving a very complex problem,” he says, adding he likes contributing to the process of unlocking a play’s mysteries. His participation, he says, is “sort of honoring that people are committing to something that’s meaningful to them and that hopefully will have some impact in their training or in their thinking about the world.”

Catching up to productions of his plays “is sort of like visiting your kid after they graduate from college,” he says. “They’re trucking along doing their own thing and you meet up with them every now and then and check in.”

The concepts or issues his work explores become talking points in the classes he teaches. “It keeps the mind in shape and it serves as a great laboratory of ideas,” he says. While he didn’t set out to be an educator, he’s come to embrace the role.

“I do love it.”

There’s also a more practical side to teaching.

“Making a living as a playwright is next to impossible,” he says, “Most of the writers I know either have teaching gigs or write for TV or do other stuff because it’s very difficult to make a living just off of ones playwriting.”

His path has been both traditional and nonconventional.

Born in the U.S to immigrant parents — his mother’s Puerto Rican and his father Colombian — Murillo mostly grew up in Long Island, NY. As a boy he spent three years in South America, where his father was transferred by his employer, Bank of America. Wherever Murillo lived, he was drawn to creative expression.

“As far as writing’s concerned it was something I was always interested in from the time I was a kid. I was always writing poems and short stories and stuff like that. I also had a real passion for theater early on. I acted in a lot of plays in junior high and high school, and those twin passions kind of merged and I became a playwright.”

During a long theater apprenticeship his family encouraged him and still does.

“My parents are remarkably supportive. I’m grateful for that.”

Murillo attended Syracuse University to study acting but dropped out and traveled for a time before returning to New York to work at various theaters. All the while, he continued writing. He learned under several master practitioners, including acclaimed director Robert Woodruff. “He was a huge influence,” says Murillo.

As the Public Theater’s associate literary manager Murillo came into contact with “a parade of extraordinary artists,” adding, “It’s an amazing institution and it was kind of like the best grad school you can imagine.”

A writers group led him to “two hugely influential teachers” — Eduardo Machado and Maria Irene Fornes.

Murillo went from self-produced plays in small Manhattan venues to being invited to developmental residencies and his work being widely read and produced.

A consistent theme in his work, he says, is “the idea of personal mythmaking — the stories we tell ourselves or tell to other people about ourselves and the relationship of those stories to the actual reality of who we are.” Dark Play examines what happens when a character spins fictions that have real life consequences.

As a playwright Murillo straddles different worlds and must be a quick study in each, skills he’s well practiced in because of the way he grew up. “While my parents spoke Spanish and English at home my cultural references were rock music, TV and all the pop culture things most Americans have,” he says. “I had the experience of living in South America as well. It’s like having one foot in two different identities.”

He writes about Latino identity in oblique and direct ways. Never Whistle While You’re Pissing is autobiographical about what it means to be Latino in America. A fictional playwright, Javier C., is a recurring character in his plays.

 

 

 

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