I am speaking to Michael Patrick Spillers, playwright of the new show "Always & Forever" currently playing at Casa 0101 in East Los Angeles. This play was born at the theater in 2004 during a writing course.
Q. How does a young man from the Ozarks come to write about a young girl celebrating her Quincea??era?
A. I think it started when I heard that Adan Sanchez was killed. I was watching the news and I was unfamiliar with the music. I wanted to know how a local star could have such an effect on so many people. I started researching his life and that went to researching his father, Chalino Sanchez. I really wanted to talk about the young women who were fans of Adan and what it meant to them when he was killed. I wondered what stories were there for those young girls and that was how this story got started.
Q. So Casa 0101 must have a very special place in your heart. It seems only fitting that you brought back this play to its place of origin.
A. Yes, I started seeing plays here early on and I am a big fan of Josefina Lopez. Everything I saw here, at Casa 0101, the community and the stories that are told here are so illuminating. This became my favorite place to see plays. I am so inspired and the people at Casa inspired these characters. It was only fitting to bring the play back here.
Q. I must say I really enjoyed the play and the cast is amazing. How did you come to find this amazing cast?
A. We published audition notices on Actors Access and we have a mailing list. I looked for people who had sparks and energy. I was really lucky. We sat down with two of the producers and it was a wonderful result, a family. What is interesting about this cast as they are not regulars from Casa, there are a lot of newcomers, new faces. It brings new blood and it's great to see new faces.
Q. The character, Jesus Malverde, the Narco-Saint was very comical. What gave you the idea to bring in this patron saint of bad boys?
A. Malverde has a deeper connection to Adan's father, Chalino. The rebel underground that was going on in the 90's. When I started researching that music, that saint kept popping up everywhere. And it was interesting that there was a paradox, these criminals they worship and they pray and these guys have their own saint, too. I started thinking that Malverde didn't start out that way he was more like a Robin Hood. Malverde is like Pinocchio he wishes he was a real saint.
Q. The main character, Alma is so real. Is she based on someone that you know?
A. I can't recall anyone in particular that I based her on. I volunteered at a place called The Unusual Suspects. It is a theater program for at risk youth and I learned about the hopes and dreams of these girls. In the writing class there were some girls in the same age as Alma's character and they helped inspire her speech. Her character is universal, teenage angst. She wants to fit in.
Q. Who was the hardest character to cast and why?
A. I would say the hardest character was Malverde. He shows up as all of these statues. It's a very specific place where he is from. Arturo Medina showed up to audition for the role of Boxer. Just on a lark we asked Arturo to read for the Malverde role and he just lit up the stage. I can't imagine anyone else in that role now. He has such a wonderful energy and one of the best parts of the audition process was finding Arturo. We never saw that coming.
Q. It was nice to see an African American actress in the show. How did you go about finding Candace Daniels?
A. We were referred to her. I'm not sure how she heard of the show but once she walked in she was amazing. Her character has to be the eyes and ears of the audience. If the audience is not familiar with the Latino culture her character asks questions that the other characters can answer. It's important for her to be expressive and fun and she brings everybody together. It's really fun watching how that role evolved because when I first wrote the play, it was a whole Latina cast. We decided it would be interesting to talk about the diversity that was happening in Los Angeles with the Latino and African American communities merging together. And once we came to that decision we never looked back because she was such an inspired choice.
Q. There is a gay character in the show, too. That was a bit of a surprise to a culture that is stereotypical macho Latinos. Geo Hernandez was pretty brave to take on such a role especially since he just arrived from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
A. Yes, he is the youngest member of the cast and we were originally seeing him for the role of Moy. Geo has such a great sensibility to that role and he is just so great. With Prop 8 going on now it's interesting to discuss these issues. East L.A. was one of the communities that had a No on Prop 8 office and they work really hard to bring these issues and differences of opinion. I thought it's an issue that is rarely discussed in Latino theater and I thought it would be interesting to explore. How do you grieve when you are a soldier and hiding the fact that you're gay? It really helped flesh out these issues. The character of Rudy was such a hero and his character helps the audience to say maybe I can live my life more honestly, too.
Q. Why should someone come to see your show?
A. It's a lot of fun, comedy. It celebrates music, young people. People of all backgrounds will enjoy seeing a slice of Los Angeles. The music gets to you and this celebration of culture. A lot of people make fun of Mexican music, but it is a celebration. So come one, come all!
Q. What are you working on next?
A. There is a play in celebration of the gold line train. One of my writings is a monologue in the new play. I will keep writing and looking for new homes for "Always & Forever".
Q. Thank you so much I really enjoyed spending some time with you today.
A. Thank you and I'd like to invite all the readers from Latino LA to come see the show!