Focus on a Playwright: Kristoffer Diaz

by Amy Marsh

04/16/12 13:21

Kristoffer Diaz is a playwright and educator living and working in Brooklyn. His full-length titles include The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Welcome to Arroyo’s, Guernica, Fucking Vigwan (or Swag), and #therevolution. Awards: 2011 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award; finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; winner, 2011 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play; winner, 2011 OBIE Award, Best New American Play; and the inaugural Gail Merrifield Papp Fellowship from The Public Theater (2011). His work has been produced, commissioned, and developed at The Public Theater, Dallas Theater Center, Geffen Playhouse, Center Theatre Group, The Goodman, Second Stage, Victory Gardens, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Theater Company, The Atlantic, InterAct, Mixed Blood, The Orchard Project, Hip-Hop Theater Festival, The Lark, Summer Play Festival, Donmar Warehouse, and South Coast Repertory. He has written short work for the 24 Hour Musicals and the 24 Hour Plays on Broadway. Kristoffer was one of the creators of Brink!, the apprentice anthology show at the 2009 Humana Festival of New American Plays. He is a playwright-in-residence at Teatro Vista; a resident playwright at New Dramatists; a co-founder of the Unit Collective (Minneapolis); and a recipient of the Jerome Fellowship, the Future Aesthetics Artist Regrant and the Van Lier Fellowship (New Dramatists). Kristoffer holds a BA from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, an MFA from NYU’s Department of Dramatic Writing, and an MFA from Brooklyn College’s Performing Arts Management program.

Check out Kris' Play Available from Samuel French:




In 2009, the theatre world was rocked when Kris Diaz’s Pulitzer-nominated The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity premiered at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago.  Called “a galloping, honest-to-God, all-American satire” by The New York Times and “a unique combo of vigorous physicality and wickedly intelligent humor” by Variety, Chad Deity offers an unflinching, honest assessment of racial stereotyping in the hands of the media and entertainment business, gracefully adapting larger-than-life characters and themes to a riveting personal scale.

Since its premiere in 2009, the play’s been produced all over the United States – from 2econd Stage in New York City to the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles to Interact Theatre Company in Philadelphia to the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. Upcoming productions are also slated for Woolly Mammoth Theatre in D.C., Aurora Theatre in Berkeley, Dallas Theatre Center, Curious Theatre Company in Denver, and San Diego Rep.  Productions of the play have received unanimously outstanding reviews.

Amy Rose Marsh, Literary Manager at Samuel French, spoke with Kris about his the newly Samuel French-published acting edition of Chad Deity, his love of pro-wrestling, and some of the more challenging demands of producing the work, which involves one of the most exciting and dangerous moves in wrestling—the powerbomb.

Amy Rose Marsh (ARM): Samuel French is incredibly excited to have recently published your play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, which looks at issues of racial stereotypes and entertainment through the medium of pro-wrestling.  Where did your inspiration to write about this “alternative” form of theatre originate from?  Do you have a personal history with wrestling?  What were some of the challenges in adapting this epic form to the stage?

Kris Diaz (KD): "Personal history" is an understatement. Professional wrestling was my first artistic love. I spent most of my youth reading wrestling magazines, watching televised wrestling programs, playing wrestling video games -- anything that had anything to do with the WWF (or my personal favorite, the NWA), I consumed it.

As I got older, I realized that what I had been watching was a fairly remarkable hybrid storytelling form: part live theatrical event, part polished television production, part sports spectacular, part collaborative improvised dance -- and so much more. It's a art form that synthesizes tons of other art forms into what appears to be simple, mindless entertainment, and it's fascinating.

As I got older and became a writer, I was always told to "write what you know." It took me a while, but I came to realize that what I know is pro wrestling, and I know it much more intimately than most. It's easy to dismiss wrestling as lowbrow culture, but it's also a billion-dollar worldwide business. People care deeply about it. That seemed worth investigating. So I looked behind-the-scenes at how wrestlers work, how wrestling companies are run, and I found that it's like any other business -- including the theater business, and maybe more surprisingly, the American political arena. So I went from there.

ARM: One of the amazing things about Chad Deity is the unconventional way it physically pushes actors—in your book, you take a few pages to explain the “Powerbomb” as well as some other cautions to be aware of in performance. Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve faced in productions of the play, and what approaches you took to work through some of the more demanding parts of the show?  Do you have any advice for potential producers?

KD: Everybody's mind rushes straight to the physical aspects of the show, and with good reason. Wrestling's not easy. The powerbomb in particular is a dangerous move that involves one man being slammed onto his back from six feet or so in the air -- the level of trust involved in letting someone do that you is huge.

We've had a few injuries in the ring (none from the powerbomb, really). Most of them come when someone gets tired or sloppy or rushes ahead of their training. We try to start every rehearsal process with "wrestling school" -- everyone in the cast going over the basics. It helps keep everyone safe, and as an added bonus, starts the tablework process early. It's one thing to read about how wrestling works. It's another thing entirely too physically participate in it.

The other big challenge -- and it's the real big challenge, in my opinion -- is the script itself. The character of Mace is onstage for ninety-five percent of the play, and is talking directly to the audience for most of it. He's got a huge amount of words to speak, few places to pause and catch his breath, and a vital mandate to personally connect with as much of the audience as humanly possible. It's a sneakily massive role.


ARM:  You’ve been a very active voice in the new play community—from writing innovative plays, to penning articles on your fellow playwrights for The Brooklyn Rail, to working as an educator, conference presenter, and dramaturg.  How has your involvement in the playwriting community informed the way you approach your own playwriting?  How do you suggest those new to playwriting get involved in their communities? 

KD: So many of us get into theater because we were nerds who didn't quite fit in anywhere else in high school. We find our community in the theater, and we blossom into real live adults. So I think it just makes sense to stay a part of that community as you get older.

Participating in the conversation has at least three benefits that come immediately to mind: your voice gets to help shape the way things are (especially important as a person of color); you make friends who will help you find work (networking is the lifeblood of this industry), and you learn what other people are doing in their work (so you can modify it, imitate it, rethink it, rally against it -- all the things that make you a better, more relevant artist).

If you're going to do this for a living, you've got to be involved. Go to the Humana Festival. Go the the TCG Conference. See lots of plays. Intern at a theater you love. Reach out on Twitter to your favorite artists. Listen when people talk to you. Go to the bar after the show. Be humble. Be awesome. People in theater want to work with people they like. Be likable.


ARM:   What inspires each of you to take on a new project?

KD: I'm lucky enough to be in a place (for the first time in my career) where I can pretty much choose the projects on which I'll work. If I'm writing a new play, it's usually pretty clear to me which ideas are demanding the most space in my brain. In the last two years or so, I've been able to take those ideas to theater companies looking to commission me, which gives you the economic space to do the work.

I'm also getting approached with new projects where I'd be collaborating with other artists, and if they (the artists or the work) get me excited, I can jump onboard. What tends to get me excited is something I haven't seen before. Lots of contemporary US theater kind of looks and feels the same to me; I'm not going to participate in those plays. If someone has something they desperately need to say to the world, or an issue they must explore or their heads will explode, then I'm often going to want to be a part of that process.

ARM:   Have you ever come across a production that made you see one of your plays in a new or unexpected way?

KD: Every single one. It's a cop-out answer, but it's true. Someone always finds something new.

ARM:  Any new projects you´re currently working on that you´d like to tell us about?

KD: I've got commissions from CTG, The Goodman, Oregon Shakes, and The Public Theater/Dallas Theater Center. Most are in the early stages. The CTG play is called #therevolution, and is about two young women who accidentally start a revolution using the internet. The Goodman play is tentatively titled Rebecca Oaxaca Lays Down a Bunt, and is a farce about the first female professional baseball player and the bidding war that ensues for her services. I'm also creating my first television show and my first musical -- neither of which I can give details on, but both of which are ridiculously cool opportunities that I pinch myself about every day.

I'm very busy. I'm very fortunate.


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