An Interview with Zury Ruiz: Aging, Grunting, and the Grotesque on the 101

So, tonight is the first reading of !What a Piece of Work is Man!, and the final interview of our trilogy is long overdue. We’re gonna go with a podcast for the last one, and if you listen, you’ll get to hear about Zury’s inspiration and plans and process. (You’ll also get to hear me try to drive and interview, and speak in a weirdly grating monotone, and say, “cool” a lot. Who knew?)

Zury talked about working with images for this play. Here are some of them below!

ImageImage

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Image

Image

Image

NEW WORKS FESTIVAL 3 STAGED READINGS BEGINS!

Today is the start of a pretty important week for us in our MFA Dramatic Writing Grad Student lives, but before I get to that, you should know that technically we’re not students anymore. I mean, we’re always “students of life”, or whatever, but we’re not students at USC anymore. We graduated. I know– No one thought this was going to happen, but we showed them (Not true. People were hella supportive. Too supportive, if you ask me). 

Image

Graduation was fun, but so was the week leading up to it. 

Yes, we had finals, but we were also going to meet with our set designers! Technically, these sets won’t be built but we get to see what ideas are conjured up from our work, and it’s always reassuring to know that someone has gotten your writing and what you’re trying to convey. Even more fun when you see that reflected back visually. 

My Set:

Image

 

Madhuri’s Set:

Image

Lucky Megan– she got 2 set designers!

Megan’s Set #1

Image

 

Closer view of the comedians featured in the stained glass windows:

Image

Megan’s Set #2:

Image

 

Beautiful stuff, right?

And then, we had a little gathering at Oliver’s place to celebrate 🙂

This is our serious picture:

Image

 

And then we go nuts!

Image

Seriously– Velina and I did not plan that head tilt. Great minds….

That same week we were finalizing the images we had made for our plays. Alexandria Barker worked with the ideas/themes we presented and came up with this:

Image

We’re seriously in-love with the work she did. If you want to check out more of her stuff, here’s a link to her website: www.alexbarkerart.com

Now the week after graduation has been busy, but exciting too. There’s been our New Works Festival 3 Production meet and greet, rehearsals, re-writes, and, of course, necessary breaks from it all, but It all leads to today– the start of our NWF3 Staged Readings. Megan’s play, And All the Trees Shall Clap Their Hands, is first. I’m so excited for this play. I’m so excited for all of them, really. Its been a pleasure seeing them develop, and I’m excited to see what’s changed since we last read it in our thesis class almost a month ago! Time goes by fast, man. 

We’ve put so much of ourselves into our pieces and we’d love to share them with you all, so I really hope that you (reader) can come out and see our work. We’d definitely love to see you out there! 

Here’s the info:

New Works Festival Three– Staged Readings

McClintock Theatre (USC campus)

Admission is FREE!!!

And All The Trees Shall Clap Their Hands by Megan Kelly, May 28 (8pm)  & May 31 (8pm)
¡What a Piece of Work is Man! by Zury Ruiz, May 29 (8pm) and June 1 (2:30pm)
A Nice Indian Boy by Madhuri Shekar, May 30 (8pm) and June 1 (8pm) 
 
Image
 
Much Love,
Zury M Ruiz
 

 

 

 

 

 

Facial Hair, Writing & Success Baby: My Interview with Madhuri Shekar

Image

Feels like I’ve been spending a lot of time with Madhuri Shekar these past couple of days. More so than usual, actually, at least during the course of this crazy semester. It all started last Monday evening when I was her date/arm-candy  to the East West Players Gala. Table 60. What a night. We saw awards handed out, performances, ate bread rolls like kings (had to–didn’t know if there was going to be a vegetarian option or not), and of course– heard the line up for EWP’s upcoming season. They’ve got some good plays in the mix 😉

Since Madhuri and I had all this time to share together, I figured I would update my portion of the blog (because I’ve been slacking off, huh?) and interview her.

To spice it up, we went ahead and recorded the interview. Below is the link where you’ll see us discussing her work, her sense of style, hating on Megan Kelly, and other topics.

-Zury

I interview Megan Kelly

Hanging out in the TA office, our home away from home away from home, I interview Megan Kelly.

Megan Kelly touches a store decoration

Megan Kelly touches a store decoration

MADHURI:     Hello Megan.

MEGAN:         Hello!

MADHURI:     It’s nice to see you. We haven’t talked in a while.

MEGAN:         (laughing) I know! (uncertain pause) No, wait, we have.

MADHURI:     I’m going to ask you something you asked me the other day. If you were going to create a comic character for a TV show, based on your own personality, like what Larry David does in Curb Your Enthusiasm, what would that character be?

MEGAN:         Well the thing about Larry David is that- he’s this guy who just has to be right, and can’t keep it in, that he has to be right, and he keeps doing it over and over again. So the thing that I do over and over again is… care. An inordinate amount. About being liked, and about everyone being happy. And that can get me into trouble that can sometimes be funny, so I think that’s where most of the comedy in my life comes from- needing to be liked. And it’s kind of a ridiculous desire, needing to be liked by people I don’t like.

MADHURI:     Can you point to an example or a story of something like that?

MEGAN:         Um…

MADHURI:     We can change the names to protect the identities. We here in the interview studio.

MEGAN:         (laughing) Okay. I had a nemesis. (Madhuri squeals and claps her hands.) Well, you know about her because I talked about her constantly and was obsessed with her.

MADHURI:     Yes!

MEGAN:         But the only reason she was my nemesis- the single only reason- was that she didn’t like me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get her to like me. I think she found my, uh, accommodating sweetness like, really annoying. And she was very open about that. And so I would try harder, and then… yeah.

There wasn’t any single thing that happened, except she told me that I mispronounced your name, and that really annoyed me. And I came to you and said I absolutely DIDN’T mispronounce your name, and you said, well, yes, you do.

MADHURI:     (laughing) I tried saying my name the way you say my name, today, and it felt weird in my mouth.

MEGAN:         Yeah.

MADHURI:     So-

MEGAN:         Also, my character- my character is pretty personal. My character in my play. She wants to be liked, but that’s not really… her thing. Her thing is that she’s a Christian and an intellectual, and those things are constantly at war between her. Within her. So… I’ve written a play about that character based on me… there’s enough comedy fuel there.

Megan Kelly watching a bad stand-up set.

Megan Kelly watching a bad stand-up set.

MADHURI:     And it’s funny, because you’re on this weird meta journey with your play- you’re going through the same journey your character is going through, where she kind of has to balance the Christian world and the comedy world. And that’s you- because- when we do this play, we will have people from the theatre world seeing it, and responding to it in a certain way, and we’ll also have your family and friends from your Christian community also there, so it’s kind of like- how to you serve both?

MEGAN:         Yeah. Yeah. It’s like this endless loop of… (laughing) 

… anxiety- that I’ve put in the character, and then I behave the way she behaves in real life. And her mother behaves the way my mother behaves… well, in some ways. Actually the mother in the play has gotten further and further away from my mother. Like today, I was on the phone with my mom, and I said, oh, I wrote this for you, I’m writing this for you, and she said, oh, that’s sweet, but then she was like- But… the mother’s crazy! She thinks Jesus told her that thing! And I was like, she’s not crazy, what if Jesus told you that same thing, what if that happened, and she’s like, yeah, I guess I’d have to believe it.

I’m rambling, what was the original question?

MADHURI:     I don’t think there was. I made a statement and we talked about that statement.

MEGAN:         Oh, yeah.

MADHURI:     I really liked your personal statement that you wrote for that fellowship application recently. Can you talk about- your- your- artistic statement?

MEGAN:         Oh yeah, artistic statements are always thrilling. (laughing)

Thrilling to write. I think artistic statements are- are a way of making sense of yourself as a writer in a compelling way. Making sense of yourself as a special writer. That’s what we’re all trying to do, and I don’t think that’s bad. I finally found the thing I’m trying to be in life and work, which is something my Mom came up with. She says I always defend the stranger, that I always, always am on the other side- it’s something I’ve done since I was a kid- in an argument between a stranger and the Kelly family, I’m always on the side of the stranger. This annoys her, and my brother- one of my brothers- and I used to think this was because I disagreed with my family, but it turns out that it’s just- I just do that. Like, I was always against Christians- well, no, because I’m one of them, but theoretically, you know, I was against them, and then I came down here, and here, there aren’t any Christians to disagree with. (laughing)

So I started disagreeing- or rather defending the stranger, Christians, down here- because I didn’t realize people didn’t know what they were like. That never occurred to me. So I think that’s what happens in all of my plays, and all of my work. Because even when it’s not about Christians per say, it’s about something that- someone that’s misunderstood.

So, yeah.

MADHURI:     Yeah.

I have to think of another question now.

MEGAN:         Yeah.

MADHURI:     (pause)

There are so many things we talk about, and they’re all so interesting, so it’s hard to pick one.

MEGAN:         We’re so interesting.

MADHURI:     We are such interesting people.

(long pause) (Madhuri decides to put up a picture of Megan Kelly instead.)

Megan Kelly at the beach.

Megan Kelly at the beach.

MADHURI:     I think this was a very good interview.

MEGAN:         Yeah. Thank you. I feel special and self-conscious.

Megan Kelly's got the moves.

We’ve got the moves.

The Writer’s Workout

Doctor Who inspired me to start running.

If you haven’t seen the show, there’s a lot of running involved. The Doctor and his companion(s) run, all the time, from every kind of monster and creepy crawly and terrifying psychic beast imaginable. I started to think, if the TARDIS  shows up one day outside my door, and The Doctor steps out and offers to show me the ultimate wonders of space and time and bow-ties, I would have to say, you know Doc, I’ve seen your show, and I don’t think I’d last the entire 42 minutes of our first adventure. Sorry mate. I can’t run.

So last summer, I downloaded a Couch to 5K app on my phone, bought a pair of Brooks Adrenaline sneakers, and started running. I was doing well for a little bit- made it through the first 10 weeks of the program- when I hurt myself and took a little break. Somehow that little pause in momentum threw me off completely, and although I’ve been running for six months now, three times a week, I still can’t break one mile without feeling like I have to throw up and die (not necessarily in that order).

So don’t worry, this isn’t a post about the wonders of running. I’m not gonna Murakami you. Running kinda sucks. Maybe it isn’t for me. But I need to find some kind of physical activity to do, because the majority of my time is spent with my butt on a chair (or my bed, or the floor- my butt doesn’t like to fight gravity much), and I hate most forms of exercise.

Also, there have been studies that show that if you have to make several tough decisions in a short span of time, your brain winds up craving sugar. Or naps. Just craving it. And what is writing if not making a series of tough decisions, word by word, under a terrible deadline? I’m practically doomed. [Don’t ask me for citations, it’s Sunday afternoon and this is a blog.]

The brief period in my life when I was actually physically active was from the ages of 16-20, when, on a random impulse that paid off in spades, I joined a Bharatanatyam dance class.

Most Bharatanatyam dancers started dancing when they were 5, or 6, or 7, maybe 10, but rarely 16. However, no one told me outright that I was crazy, so I had nothing to stop me. I was in the beginners class with a bunch of 6 year olds, and felt a little stupid at first, but because my brain was so much bigger than theirs (suck it, pre-pubescents), I quickly advanced through the first few levels until, in less than a year, I was dancing with nine year olds! SUCCESS!

Check out this picture from my very first stage performance, in 2003-

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is not like the others.

I still hated the exercise. I remember, very vividly, the feeling of utter terror that would grip my entire body each time I was driven to dance class. I could barely breathe. My heart would be racing in anticipation of the brutal workout I was going to put it through.

But I loved the dancing. I loved Bharatanatyam because I didn’t have to be thin to do it- some of the best dancers in the world are older, even larger women. I loved Bharatanatyam because it was story-telling, and I loved it because I got to go on stage and perform.

And, okay, I liked that I got skinny too.

Two years later, with the same group.

That’s me in the middle, two years later, with the same group.

I haven’t danced consistently since I left India almost six years ago, partly because it’s hard to find an instructor in LA who teaches my particular style of Bharatanatyam, partly because I can’t fit it into my schedule, and partly because classes are way too expensive for me out here. So I’ll get back to it one day, but probably not very soon.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to give running a rest, and start walking instead. I do like walking. I’m never too tired to walk. I have like six hundred podcasts to catch up on. And I do my best writing when I’m relaxed and outside the house. So let’s see how that goes.

But don’t worry. If The Doctor does show up, I’ll have my trusty pair of Brooks ready. Just in case.

Happy & Sane

Image

(Picture in the dining room– Tlacolula, Oaxaca.) 

I didn’t work on my thesis play today—and this has made me a happier/ saner person—at least for today.

As of late, I’ve been stuck in the writing of my thesis play—specifically one scene, which for some reason I’m stressing over like crazy. If you don’t finish this scene you can’t keep going! Well, this weekend I spent time working on this scene, re-writing it and re-writing it like mad. Then at one point, Saturday night to be exact, I thought—COFFEE! COFFEE WILL MAKE IT BETTER… Not the case. I got a gnarly headache, threw myself on the floor and whined to my dogs. 

 

NOTE TO SELF—NO MORE COFFEE

 

But it wasn’t all downhill—I ended up making pizza (from scratch, yo!—Madhuri’s last post inspired me) while blasting music in the kitchen. I rolled that mother-flipping dough like it deserved it. Then I enjoyed said pizza while watching Trainspotting with my baby bro and his girl because I love being the third wheel.

Image

Image

 

Sunday continued said struggle—the fucking scene just didn’t suffice. Finally, I was like: Just write the scene, Zury. Let it be shitty. Shitty as shitty can be.

And guess what—it is.

 

I decided that for today I would work on something else. So I’m here, in the dining room, taking a small break from having spent a good part of the day working on another piece I wrote last year/second semester. It’s nice to be working on this older piece—It’s nice to actually feel like I know what I’m doing and that I’m being productive. Of course, last year/ second semester this was not the case. I needed a break from the piece. So, I’m hoping that giving myself this small day break from my thesis play will allow me to go back to it tomorrow and feel good about it (doesn’t have to be great, just good).

 

Jorge is now telling me about his day and his new shoes. The only ones listening are the dogs. It’s hard to multitask, so I’m going to stop being disrespectful and listen to what he has to say. 

Image

The Leaning Tower of Pizza

Rewriting is hard.

Is the first draft more difficult to write, or the multiple revised drafts that follow? That’s a dumb question (that I just posed). Every single step of writing and developing a play is ridiculously hard and makes my brain crave sugar and naps.

(Never trust a skinny writer.)

A Nice Indian Boy has been a real challenge for me to rewrite. The reason why will make me sound very full of myself, but it’s kinda true- the first draft is actually pretty good. The first draft, of this play, surprisingly, turned out pretty well. I don’t know how it happened. It’s intricately plotted and well structured, and has multiple motifs and running jokes that all intertwine and pay off at the end. It’s pretty good.

Unfortunately, it also has one huge, glaring, impossible-to-overlook problem- the protagonist is the most boring character in the story. Whoops.

So in the quest to actually make his story interesting, dramatic and meaningful, my rewrite has resulted in my beautiful structure crumbling to pieces. And in my laziness, I clung to my old draft, defended it, convinced myself that my baby is perfect as it is- which it really isn’t. The problem is in the foundation. The problem is in the very premise of the play.

In short, my first draft is like the Leaning Tower of Pizza. Delicious, but fundamentally flawed.

Mmmm.

And so if I want my play to stand upright, function structurally, and be beautiful at the same time, I need to tear this thing down and rebuild it brick by brick. Layer by layer. Topping by…

Anyway. The good news is that once I got over myself and let go of my first draft, the writing has actually gotten easier. Retooling the premise has given me room to make the story more about the characters, and not so much about the cleverness of the jokes. I’m actually enjoying the writing instead of dreading it.

Today I am, anyway. 🙂

And now, time for lunch. Guess what I’m having.