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Artist Spotlight
Emilio Rodriguez, Playwright

Photo courtesy of Emilio Rodriguez.

Tell us who you are and where you're from!

Hi! My name is Emilio. I’m a playwright, educator, and theatre artist and I don’t technically have a home. I was born in Germany and lived in Hawaii, Georgia and California throughout my childhood. 

What inspired you to write Swimming While Drowning?

The idea first hit me when I was living in Los Angeles right after graduating college. I walked past an LGBT shelter on my way to a club. I went home and googled it and discovered that there were LGBT shelters all over the country and because there were so many youth being kicked out of their homes for being gay, queer, trans, etc, almost all of the shelters were unable to house all of the youth who needed the space. I then starting volunteering at LGBT shelters and resource centers and met several people who lived in these shelters and they shared their experiences with me. I also volunteered at some shelters that didn’t cater specifically to LGBT youth, but several times I would see those same youth at the LGBT shelters as they got older. I was inspired by the people I met and in a sense, both Angelo and Mila are hybrids of so many people I cared about... many of them would leave the shelters without ever saying bye and I never knew what happened to them. 

What interests you in the work you create?

I am intrigued by social issues, but I like to explore them in a way that doesn’t make audiences feel lectured at. I am not a documentarian or a researcher or a historian. I like to think of my work as being about the people who experience the social issues rather than plays about social issues. By focusing on the people rather than the issues, it enables everyone to connect with the stories because we’re all human. We may not all know what homelessness feels like, but we all know what neglect, abandonment, or isolation feels like. I often hear social issues talked about as if they are some inanimate object... but I’m more interested in the people who are affected by these issues. Ultimately, the goal isn’t to end the issue, the goal is to empower all people to access the resources to overcome it. 

How has your work with LGBTQ shelters influenced your work?

Mila and Angelo are both people to me. They are many people. All of the youth I’ve interacted with made it easy to write the characters. I didn’t plot out what they’d say. I just focused on what would be true to these youth. I listened to the people who lived at these shelters so I knew what they sounded like. It’s been most rewarding to see some of these youth attend performances and readings and connect with the story. 

Has Swimming While Drowning changed any from it's first draft?

Oh yes! It started out as a four person cast with flashback scenes and me trying to figure out where it goes. From audience feedback, I realized that the story is about Mila and Angelo or “the two boys” as they were called back then. They were not given their moment to shine when there were other characters and flashbacks. Now I think there is a spotlight on Mila and Angelo which is what the play needed and what is best to honor the youth who inspired the story. 

What's exciting about this new work?

A really exciting aspect of this piece is the opportunity for actors to shine, actors who you wouldn’t normally see doing a two-person play. In all honesty, I wrote this play when I was still acting myself and never thought someone like me could get to play a lead role. Now, when actors tell me this is their first lead role or first two-person play and then to see them get other opportunities afterwards brings such an incredible feeling. It’s everything I would’ve wanted when I was acting, so I get to live vicariously through the actors. I still keep in touch with many of the actors from all over the country and seeing their careers take off... I imagine that’s how proud a parent must feel. 

What do you want the audience to take away from Swimming While Drowning?

I hope the audience gets a window-view into the life of someone different than themselves. Ultimately, I think we can all benefit from walking in someone else’s shoes to develop empathy and understanding before we judge anyone for their actions, their words or their choices. 

What are you up to currently?

I am working on a commission for a play about gentrification— or rather, a play about people who experience gentrification. It will go up at Teatro Prometeo in Miami this December. I’ll be out there in October for the auditions and first read through. 

What's next for you?

Swimming While Drowning will go up in New Mexico at Working Classrooms. I hope to use the freezing midwest winters to stay in doors and finish some new scripts that I’ve been working on. 

Swimming While Drowning is playing at Stages through October 21, 2018.

Stanley Andrew Jackson III and Reginald Choyce in Stages Repertory Theatre's production of Swimming While Drowning. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

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