Interview with Playwright Benjamin Benne

Hacienda Heights, CA. Part of the Los Angeles County sprawl. After a few years in Seattle, I fondly think of that as my home base now.

Current Town:
Minneapolis, MN. I’m on Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center.

Current projects? 
I just wrapped up a production at Pillsbury House Theatre in which I was 1 of 5 local playwrights commissioned to write a short play for The Great Divide: Plays For a Broken Nation. It was an honor to work with this fabulous team of folks at one of my favorite theater companies in the Twin Cities. Also, I got to write a play where the actors were blowing bubbles non-stop. The whole experience was magical.
My next project is my final workshop at the Playwrights’ Center as a Many Voices Fellow. I’ve been working on a play about immigration and inequity within the U.S. education system. The play has evolved significantly since I first began working on it in spring of 2016. I’m excited to get three days to work with a director and actors to continue the intensive rewriting process for this untitled piece. Then I’ll be flying to Seattle to do a workshop of a Forward Flux Productions’ commissioned play that will be produced this fall.

Why do you write?
My tendency is to be introverted, a processor, a listener. Only in intimate, safe spaces will I openly express my thoughts and opinions. And I find the page to be one of the most intimate and safe places to release every thought, whim, opinion, fantasy, fear, image, idea, and dream that I hold in my person. It’s an opportunity to grapple with ideas that puzzle and confound me, exorcise the demons that haunt me, and confront my deepest fears. Also, I love the word, “play.” I truly see my writing as an opportunity to let my imagination run wild in the way that I did when I was a kid. I love stories. I love receiving them but I don’t think I’m particularly skilled in delivering them verbally — so I love that theater allows me to write the story and have actors skillfully tell it with me.
Identities that you carry?
I’m a Jewtino of Guatemalan heritage. I also identify as queer. And as a Christian. I’m a son, brother, nephew, grandson, friend, lover, ex-boyfriend, and stranger.

Tell me about q u e r e n c i a: an imagined autobiography about forbidden fruits.
This play follows Milo. A man of 23 at the top of the play. He’s visiting a carousel in his old neighborhood when he happens to run into his best friend from when he was age 13. The play then cycles back in time to when Milo is 13, grappling with his sexual identity, a target of the gym class bully, and his aunt has just been released from jail. It’s been labeled a “coming-of-age story”…I suppose it is. It’s the sort of play that I cringe a bit whenever I hear it read aloud. People like to ask how much of the play is autobiographical; I remind them that the word “imagined” proceeds it and holds just as much weight as the word “autobiography.” (The proportion of how much is “imagined” and how much is “autobiography” is my own personal secret.) q u e r e n c i a: an imagined autobiography about forbidden fruits was a 2016 Princess Grace Award finalist, 2017 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference finalist, 2017 Bay Area Playwrights Festival finalist, 2017 Headwaters New Play Festival finalist, and won me the 2016-17 Playwrights’ Center Many Voices Fellowship.
What are you working on?
Currently, I’m lodged in rewrite land working on the previously mentioned untitled immigration play and Forward Flux commission. The untitled play is a two-hander that occurs in real time between a mother and daughter. It’s my first attempt at a play that abides by the unities of time, place, and action and (mostly) conforms to the realism mold. It’s been the most challenging play I’ve written from both form and content perspectives. The commission is a play called las mariposas Y los muertos about a buzz band on the verge of breaking out…or breaking up. It deals with the intimate relationships that form between artistic collaborators and what happens when compromise turns toxic. There’s also a thread in there about cultural appropriation within the music industry. Oh! And I collaborated with a musician named Angie Citlali who wrote four original songs to be included in the play and that will be released as an EP/teaser leading up to the production. On top of those projects, I’ve begun the research phase for the next play that I’ll be writing.

What advice for Latinx, Black and Afrolatinx playwrights just starting out?
Write from a place of NEED. A play is about urgency. Something that must be told…even if you’re afraid to. That push-pull is the beginning of conflict…use it!
Prioritize character over concept.
Do Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY.
Carry a notebook with you everywhere you go. Write down images, memories, overheard bits of dialogue, juicy words, and the voices in your head as they strike you throughout the day.
Read the work of others. Classics are fine but really look at what your contemporaries are up to.
Always remember that your POV of the world is yours. Hold onto that unique vision. Don’t allow it to become diluted by too many influences. Appreciate the voices of others but don’t try to adopt them as your own…Be true to your voice.
Find mentors and peers who understand and will support your voice — and do that in return for them. Find your tribe, be kind to your collaborators, and tell them how much they mean to you.

Where can people find you and your work:
My website:

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