Miami Motel Stories Announces Playwright: Juan C. Sanchez
Juan C. Sanchez is one of Miami’s sharpest voices, a true Miami soul, and the first playwright in the Miami Motel Stories series. In fact, there would be no Miami Motel Stories without Juan. His play, Paradise Motel, caught our attention back in 2014, at Miami Theatre Center. The play centered around seven decades of Miami history as seen through one Calle Ocho motel room. We were so taken by it that Juggerknot decided to produce a staged reading at New York Theatre Workshop’s Fourth Street Theatre. The reading got such a great response that we wanted to develop the piece further. What if we took this play, had Juan reformulate it, and produced it in actual motel rooms in Miami? The answer to that question became Miami Motel Stories. Some Background on Juan:
Juan C. Sanchez had every intention of being a playwright even before he knew what a playwright did exactly. He’s been having people talk to each other on paper, ever since he can remember. The first show he wrote was in high school, for a Miami Dade Police Creative Crime Prevention Project. It was a Rashomon-style play, which he laughs about now, called It Could Happen to You. But even back then, his stylings were turning heads. On the judging panel were City Theatre’s Susan Westfall, and one of his heroes, Skipper Chuck, a local TV host. Juan impressed them both. Since then, his career has bloomed, making his city proud. His plays have been produced in Miami, Minneapolis, and New York. He’s a two-time Carbonell Award Nominee, and he’s a about to have a world premiere of his play A Gray Divide at the Postcard Theatre in North England in the UK. Like we said before, he’s one of Miami’s great voices. Our project reporter, William Hector, met up with Sanchez and left more excited than ever for Miami Motel Stories. Here’s what’s been going on behind the scenes, straight from Juan.
Juan C. Sanchez, Time and Change: An Interview by William Hector To begin, you’re personally familiar with the (still confidential) site for the play, correct?
Yes, as a matter of fact I’m from the neighborhood, I live about six blocks away from the space, from this building. And many, many, many moons ago I had actually gone into the building. I knew someone who lived in one of the rooms. I was in there for maybe five minutes, it was like a “hey, got to get something” whatever. That was the extent. But I did know the building. I didn’t know the history at all, it was just an old-ass building that was kind of cool looking.
But in writing the script for the space, I imagine you’ve learned quite a bit?
I’ve interviewed people from the neighborhood, [done] a lot of reading, spent some time going through the archives of the history museum. I’m trying to do each scene in a different time so that it feels like opening up a scrapbook. One story is coming from a man who owned the building. Another piece is inspired by, how can I say this… by an idea, in a sense: I’ve been interested for a while in exploring the “hardline,” very conservative Cuban philosophy. Can I trace it to the point of “oh that’s when it started?” And I think I have.
Speaking of beginnings, it’s been three years since you wrote Paradise Motel, which inspired Miami Motel Stories. How have you changed since then?
I think there’s a marked difference in how I’m working on this piece. I usually tend to write characters who are full of rage, even in their happiness. They’re angry. It doesn’t mean they’re like lashing out at everybody, but I tend to connect to that. That kind of desperate, hungry, sad thing that drives people to do things. With this piece, I think I’m keeping that stuff, but I’m also finding and being more open to the softer edges of these characters that I don’t think I was open to before. I don’t know, for me it’s been really interesting like ‘oh, this character can get what they want by a different kind of sweeter tactic or something. It isn’t always about the pain.’
Can you talk more about how this particular process has shaped the piece? Specifically, working with Director Tamilla Woodard?
I love it. I love working with Tamilla. Just to give you an idea of how she is, I hate sharing my work when it’s not ready. And I wrote [the first draft] really fast, just to get it out. I wanted a closed reading, just looking at the stories. Tamilla really felt it was important to bring in everyone else. I fought tooth and nail, and I gave a hundred million reasons, but the way the audition worked was she brought in people and it was a sort of movement, story kind of experience where [the actors] explored the hotel. The work ended with everyone finding a room that said something to them, and then sharing a story with the group, inside that particular room. There were no filters, nothing, just, boom, story. So, cut to when we’re talking about this reading, and I don’t want to do it, and Tamilla turns to me and she says: “Look, these are people that you want to work with because they’ve been cast. We’ve asked them to come into this thing, and we’ve asked them to go into a room and share, and bear their souls. I think it’s only fair, Juan, that you do the same.” And that was it, how can you say no to that?
And how is having the actors there as you’re refining this raw material?
I’m someone who likes to write for people. I find that inspiring… This is definitely a little more than I’ve ever done before. I’m doing work with these actors as I’m writing. I’m calling people up and having coffee and listening to them speak and trying to understand how they communicate because I’m writing for people specifically now.
So maybe therein lies that softer edge?
Yeah, I think it might also be all of the history. Everything that I’ve read has taught me that there are different perspectives and that… Hey thirty-six views, you can see a mountain from thirty-six different views. And I think I’m trying to do a little of that. Unintentionally. And maybe I’m just growing myself.