Voices of BTM XXIII: David Valdes
This is Not America was inspired by the experiences of Capitol rioters in their own words. Reading their blogs and interviews, and watching their home videos, I was startled at how mundane many of their posts were. I read one woman complaining about how long the line was at the liquor store when she needed drinks for the gals back at the hotel; the absurdity of this being the issue was the launch point for the play, which is heavy on found text.
What made you want to tell this story?
Let’s be real: election season, all ninety-eleven months was brutal. The stress and fear of what might happen never seemed to let up—including after the election was over. January 6 was a culmination of all those anxieties made manifest, and it was shocking to me that anyone could try to dismiss what took place. I mean, it was not a rally; it was a siege with a body count. I started reading coverage from the rioter’s points of view to try and get a sense of what kind of logic made that defensible. And what I found was an almost surreal disconnect from the seriousness of the events.
What interests you in the ten-minute format?
Honestly, the ten-minute form is a bear for me. I write the first draft of a full-length play every year and, some years, a book as well. But write a 10-minute play? That’s when my agita kicks in! It scares me every time—which is why I rarely do it. (We all have our phobias, ok?) I can barely brush my teeth without engaging in a soliloquy, so brevity is no joke. I admire others who have nailed this skill—who can encapsulate worlds so quickly every time.
What are the particular challenges to writing for (or adapting to) Zoom? Are there benefits to working in this medium? Were there any surprises along the way?
Zoom isn’t ideal for physical negotiation or for overlapping speech, both of which are common in my plays. Because I knew that this play would be Zoom-specific, I factored in that my characters’ interactions should not organically require either. But there are also two real benefits involved. For one, the focus on actors up close allows for subtlety and nuance of performance that might be eclipsed in a large space with the audience at a distance. The other big plus is access: more people can more easily “attend” a play than ever before. Geography and mobility no longer determine who theatergoers are.
What’s next for you as a playwright (or producer, actor, student, teacher, etc.)?
The pandemic slowed up submissions obviously. I had two plays in development that got tripped up by the pandemic: my play Up the Ladder, Down the Slide was in the National Showcase of New Plays and soon after that, my play Much Undone was shortlisted for Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries. Both were poised for a good submission season, but then (understandably) theaters stopped producing (or even accepting) new work, so both plays idled.
Naturally, instead of accepting this fact, I wrote a brand-new play, Alamar, about Cubans and Cuban-Americans in the Reagan era, so I have to start that development process while still submitting the previous two (newly without an agent). I’d say that makes me a masochist except that, honestly, if I’m not writing, I feel unhinged—better for everyone around me if I have a project at all times!
Outside of plays, I have a young adult novel, Spin Me Right Round, coming from Bloomsbury this fall, with another one following in 2022. And sometimes I sleep.
Don’t miss This is Not America on April 7. Boston Theater Marathon XXIII: Special Zoom Edition continues Monday-Saturday at 12 noon ET through May 28! More