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!

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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). 

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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:

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Madhuri’s Set:

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Lucky Megan– she got 2 set designers!

Megan’s Set #1

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

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Megan’s Set #2:

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Beautiful stuff, right?

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

This is our serious picture:

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And then we go nuts!

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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:

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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) 
 
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Much Love,
Zury M Ruiz
 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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

Happy & Sane

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(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.

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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. 

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Scary Stuff

Here’s Ellen:

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Here’s one of my favorite bits of hers:

Isn’t it great? It’s one of my favorites. I think it’s super funny and kind of masterful.  I love Ellen’s comedy, because well, I love her. (Who doesn’t? I mean, honestly, it’s crazy how well-beloved this woman is.) I don’t really feel like analyzing the bit, because things just get way less funny when you lay out exactly why they’re funny, right? Yes, you say. In this case, I think the bit’s power is in some crazy, wonderful combination of subversion and absurdity and character. I thought you weren’t gonna analyze it, you say. I also think—okay, I am analyzing, I can’t help myself, Really? Can you really not just stop—that the absurdity of all those scary thing (a bat biting her ear, a rack of lamb, a legless leopard) is the lesser absurdity. Oh my God. Isn’t the joke that they’re all sitting in that room being forced to listen to this winding, ridiculous string of thoughts? She’s holding them captive, guys!

Your italicized voice has no words.

(Brief parenthetical: I’ve been told that my prose is too self-effacing—saying “kind of masterful” instead of “masterful”, for example, or using a lot of “I think”s, instead of just making statements. I qualify things, unnecessarily, say people in positions of authority. I don’t know why I thought giving myself a snarky, italicized, Reader alter-ego was a step in the right direction.)

Ellen holding her audience captive is actually one of things I’m most excited about and scared of in my play. I’m excited because I can chuckle at this bit when I’m listening to it alone, but I’m sure if I was in the room when she performed it, I’d be having trouble breathing. Stand-up and theatre have that in common. It’s really all about the shared experience, the inability to walk out. You are a part of the work, because the artist can see you, because it’s all happening in real time and space, and you’re real, too, and in that time and space, affecting things. I think this makes theatre and stand-up either truly transporting, or unbearable. (I have rarely been so completely uncomfortable and miserable as I was last week with Madhuri at a show of new stand-ups.

Me, looking scared.

Me, looking scared.

The MC was antagonistic (and all over the place). Comic after comic tanked, and blamed us. I want to laugh, I kept thinking. I paid to laugh. You give me something… You poor, poor person for whom I now have sympathy hives. I have a pretty low tolerance for social awkwardness, let me just say, even less tolerance for other people’s pain, and the very least for any kind of lack of control on my part (Do better, I also kept thinking, concentrated, like a Jedi). So when the room was dead and nervous and small, I wanted to throw up, in between my fake laughs, which couldn’t be too soft or the comic might not be properly encouraged or the scary MC might call me out, or too loud, in which case, he might also, call me out. It was a nightmare, and I don’t think I’ll ever recover…. And if Madhuri had a fine time, if it was just another interesting, enjoyable, healthy evening for her, that is because she is an unfeeling person.)

I’m scared of this whole captive thing in my play because there will be stand-up interludes in it, and they will be written, and in some cases, have already been written, by me… as is only natural since they’re in the play and I’m writing the play and I’m a writer. I’m not scared at all. And if I was scared, it would only be a sign that this is a good thing artistically, right? Right.

I actually don’t think that is always true. Scary things are not automatically “good things artistically.” But sometimes, maybe, everything else considered.

I do qualify things. That is the truth.

“You know what would have been even scarier?…”

Baby Megan Kelly & Friends <3

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Baby Megan Kelly is a cutie. Did you all see her last blog post? If you didn’t you really should, because there you will see the cuteness that is Baby Megan Kelly. I kept telling Madhuri– “I want to draw her” and she was encouraging about it but I wasn’t inspired to do it quite yet. BUT THEN Megan went ahead and made the bear cub comment (please refer to Madhuri Shekar’s last entry to read that little gem) and that changed everything.

Above is the result. It was effortless, really. I drew it late saturday night after the three of us (Madhuri, Megan and I) went to South Coast Rep to see David Henry Hwang’s “Chinglish”–which was really funny, btw. 

I wanted to keep the drawing a secret, make multiple color copies, and use them for Valentine’s Day cards (hence the hearts), but then I remembered that required effort, so… that wasn’t going to happen. 

Madhuri and Megan already know about this drawing, btw. I showed it to Madhuri on Sunday afternoon (via email) and to Megan in class earlier today (Madhuri and I both wanted to see her reaction, so we had to wait). Megan’s reaction wasn’t what we expected. She was confused. 

“It’s Baby Megan Kelly”, said Madhuri.

“Is that a rolled up piece of paper?” asked Megan.

“No. It’s Madhuri “Cinnamon Stick” Shekar. See, she’s wearing her green coat”, I said. 

“Oh”, Megan replied– still confused.

“Zury’s supposed to be the bear cub. See, the glasses”, Madhuri added.

“Oh”, said Megan, clearly still processing it.

Well, that was a bust. 

 

 

The things that help you write a play. (Shrug.)

Megan and her mom, on a swing.

Megan and her mom, on a swing.

So, I planned to do a little post about this picture and my mom and the original impetus for writing this play for my Wednesday post, and guess what? It’s my mom’s birthday today! Perfect timing!

I actually found this picture right when I had to build a story idea for a screenplay last winter. I had in my mind this mother-daughter relationship—this mother that can talk to Jesus and hear Him talk back, and the intellectual (Christian) daughter that secretly struggles with that fact.

I found this picture, and I loved this picture, instantly and for all time. Look at my mom, beautiful and laughing, and look at me, tiny and worried. Look at that face. I’m clearly trying desperately to enjoy myself. I know I’m supposed to be enjoying the ride. It’s a swing. Mom’s holding me. And if nothing else, I have always been a person that knows what’s expected of her—even at age 2, trying to smile on the brink of my own death. Because really, my little self is convinced that my mother’s joy is premature, that she’s gonna slip, I’m gonna slip, something’s about to go horribly wrong, whatever it is, it’s gonna be terrible, my little self knows it.  Look at my face, my furrowed brow! Look at my little leg, twisted behind hers, clamped, a guard against life’s many and overwhelming dangers.

So, this is what I took into the writing process with me—this picture, these two characters, and this relationship between two people that have fundamentally different understandings of their circumstance. Then, of course, I made the daughter a comic, and the screenplay went its own way, and then the adapted play really went its own way, which is good, and annoying, and I have a lot of work ahead. Re-writing is difficult. Madhuri, Zury, and I have been talking about it. Sometimes a collection of funny, interesting scenes doesn’t add up to anything special, or to the special thing you hope for, and it’s really difficult to stay true to small moments and characters within them while also trying to develop a more meaningful structure.  Something horrible might happen. It might all go terribly wrong.

I re-found this picture recently, and I’m gonna keep it with me for the re-writes, because it’s surprising how much of that little Megan is in the play and how much of her laughing mother, despite the characters’ individual views of comedy and God. I have a tendency to complicate plays. I get nervous or bored, and add another dimension to the character, another relationship, another conflict, something else that can simmer, hidden, something else to boil over. Why did she have to be a comic? (Shrug.) See, I do it even before I start writing, so there’s no real way to un-do it. Sarah is a comic, and Pilar heard from God she’s gonna die in a plane crash. Now, how does that relate? I’ve learned not to dislike this about my work. But it requires some extra discipline in shaping the whole thing.  It requires me to keep a hold of fundamental things, even if they’re hidden and slippery and there’s a lot going on besides. What does this character Sarah really believe in her heart of hearts? And what does she want?  Basic dramaturgical questions, and I’m working on them. I think it might have to do with the swing, but I could also be crazy. That’s a possibility. It’s a great picture, though, right? My mom is so much fun—she’s that much fun, all the time—and I’m so glad she was born.