A CLOSER LOOK: Meet Edison Ventura Mata Diaz!
It's a new season and a brave new world, and in such wild times, we are grateful to get to work with the wildly exciting playwright Edison Ventura Mata Diaz, one of our 2020-21 Van Lier New Voices Fellows! Edison is an Afro Latino writer/ actor/ finesser born in Providence, RI and raised in the Boogie Down, who describes his work as "an exploration of the hood, class, spirituality, and all things wavy." To give you a closer look into his process, insights, and visions for theater, we checked in for a brief interview. Read on to find out what Edison hopes to work on next, whether or not this multi-disciplinary artist would ever perform in his own work, and, a thought on ways the dreaded talkback might be made less dreadful. Happy reading!
How did you get started in playwriting? What excited you about the form and drew you to it?
I’ve been in love with stories, and the people who tell them since I was like 6 probably.. Yeah, 6 I think. Mostly through rap music like A Tribe Called Quest, Big L shit like that but anyways.. My mom & my Titi (ESPECIALLY MY TITI) used to force me to do things that I ain’t really wanna do but ended up enjoying anyways, and reading was one of those things. I don’t know if ya remember this, but you know in like elementary school they give you fake homework to read books over the summer, and nobody does that shit. I WAS THE ONE KID WHO DID IT. My aunt used to think that shit was required, and dead would make me go to the library with her, scoop some books, and pick a different slot of time each day for me to read. She’d make sure I read them shits too. Always popping her head in the room, asking me questions about the book so I couldn’t front like I was reading it. I’m making it sound bad, but I’m really grateful for her being on me like that.
Now, playwriting specifically I got into when I was like 17-18. I started in The MCC Youth Company’s Playwriting Lab. I wrote like a whole play in a week that was type wack, but I got to work with a great director, great cast, all that. The anxiety, the excitement, the loss of sleep, the laughs, all of it was so beautiful. The feeling you get just watching the shit you wrote on a stage is - I don’t even know how to describe it, but it’s stupefying in the most stunning way. I be watching my shit like I wasn’t the one who wrote it. Everybody should try it at least once, forreal.
In addition to being an incredible writer, you're also an amazing actor! Do you feel like each of these modes of storytelling influence the other? How have you seen that show up in your process? And, bonus question, have you ever/would you ever perform in your own written work?
Aww thanks, ya’ll are too kind. But most definitely. I think what influences my writing the most is finding out what exactly a character wants. I encourage improv to anybody who’s reading/acting for my shit cause I feel like there’s always some uncovered truth, or something interesting in the shit I wrote that I never would have thought of had that actor not said that thing or that thing in that way I didn’t imagine in my brain. Everybody gonna bring some different kind of sauce, or ingredient and I feel like it’s important to mix it all in the pot so I know for sure what can stay and what can go. Also dialogue. Cold readings in particular have given me a good grasp on dialogue and the timing and rhythm of it. And I don’t see myself performing in anything I write. I tried it once, and was like.. nah.
Anything you're working on now that you want to share a little about? Whether it's an actual play, or maybe just something you're starting to get interested in that you may end up writing about?
Yeah I wanna write some rap shit. I don’t got nothing too concrete yet, but I already know the vibe I want. I want it to be what people cross the street from if that makes sense. I want it to be something most theater goers won’t like. What’s understood don’t need to be explained. And I feel like it’s not my job to educate people and familiarize them with anything. I know who I write my stories for, and that’s exactly who I want it to pertain to. But yeah it’s gonna be some fly rap shit.
You mentioned wanting to "flip the American Theater upside down." Can you elaborate a little? What is your vision for the future of playwriting?
This is something I been thinking about for a while.. but especially now with all the uncertainty in the industry and all the bullshit we’ve had to deal with prior to this moment, enough is enough. Kids in lower class areas shouldn’t have to go on a journey to discover theater, or take 2 hour train rides to go see theater, and create theater like me and all my friends did. There shouldn’t have to be any intersections with richness/ whiteness, nor their institutions for someone to make a living off this shit, or watch it. Simple.
When are we going to stop caring about the crumbs we can get from a table of mutha fuckas who been eating and will continue to eat til there’s nothing left, when we can make our own feast (our food taste way better, are you shittin me.) That We See You W.A.T shit is cool or whatever, but on that main page.. you got signatures from mutha fuckas who have touched more money, resources, levels of fame and clout than me and all my ancestors combined. You have damn near 100,000 signatures from directors, writers, actors, designers, all kinds of theater making mutha fuckas and YET… you are demanding changes from people, and their institutions that don’t give not one fuck about you. Some of the names signed on that list were complicit in others people abuse, and even their own. Literally that main page alone could start their own company, network, wave, whatever and everybody and their mother would be on board to come see it, and support it.
Ya’ll do know we have 125th Street, Grand Concourse, Boston Road, Southern Boulevard, Fordham Road, Malcolm X BLVD, Adam Clayton Powell BLVD, 3rd Avenue, Linden BLVD, Sutter Avenue, and many many more places filled with a bunch of shit we don’t need that you can bring your shit to right? It’ll also have audiences filled with people you write ya’ll stories about, and maybe talkbacks don’t gotta be weird, maybe a kid sitting in that audience can see themselves in a way they never saw themselves before, maybe just maybe.. I don’t know but.. scared money don’t make none, and some of ya’ll looking like shook ones forreal.. But yeah sort of what I’m envisioning with my writing and all the work that I do is that. Bringing it everywhere for everyone I guess. There’s much more too it, it’s way bigger than that but that’s kind of where my mind and heart is at in the moment.