Q&A: ENMU alumni says play based on residents

Playwright and former Eastern New Mexico University student Robert Patrick will be showing his play "You're Family" to benefit the Bennett trust for Eastern New Mexico University at Ruidoso on Sept. 21-22 at the Old Dowlin Mill in Ruidoso.


Patrick answered questions about his play, the life of a playwright and his history with ENMU in Portales.

What about "You're Family" will speak to people in this area?

Although it's not stated in the play, all the characters are based on real people from this area (Roswell and Clovis), living in California as they grow older.

The topic of the play is the huge gaping wound left on all of our country by the conflicts over the war in Vietnam, then reopened by Desert Storm and our current collapse.

The play brings forward the great change in small-town America. When I left home in 1961, what I fled was ignorance and indifference. When I returned to my family after living for 30 years among the bravest and most original thinkers in the world, I found that the problem with America now is fear and rage.

Americans are afraid of their food, the air they breathe, the news they hear, and each other. We who marched in the streets and those who threw rocks at us are left together in a world we know we made. My play may be the first voice to say that precisely.

What was the inspiration behind this play?

I had to understand the new world I was flung into. My way of making sense of something is to write a play about it. A play won't work until I make its internal logic absolute by understanding the situation, characters and conflicts within it.

Which of your three characters do you think people will relate to best and why?

I tried to give each character's world-view and feelings equal weight. Although viewers may identify most easily with the character of their sex, age, or experience, I pray that they will empathize with all three. I do.

What character do you relate to best and why?

Well, one character is obviously based on me, but as I said above, writing the play made me feel equally with all three.

How has your time at ENMU influenced your career?

The library was a treasure-trove of plays by Coward, Shaw, O'Neill, Shakespeare; poems by Millay, Housman, Catullus, Sappho. Though I wanted to be a cartoonist or singer, I unconsciously learned writing like a computer being programmed. Our drama teacher was disappointing, but we learned acting and stagecraft by doing them, and music professor David Scott, whose musicals we played in, was extremely skilled and patient. Perhaps above all, I was for the first time in my nomadic life among the same people for more than a few months. The relationships I observed for three years taught me as much about human interaction as the poets did.

What is your muse for writing plays? Has it changed over the years?

I never dreamed of writing plays. I wanted to be a cartoonist or nightclub singer. Winding up by chance working as a "temple slave" at the Caffe Cino in New York, the first "Off-Off Broadway" theatre, I saw a play a week by some of the most exciting American writers ever, like Pulitzer prize winner Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, John Guare, and Tom Eyen (author of "Dreamgirls." Wonderful, magical people to be around, like the people in "All About Eve" or "The Red Shoes."

Robert Patrick

One day, to my surprise, I had an idea for a play. Because the Cino was so casual and chummy, I wrote it and they did it, and the next, and the next. I was thrilled to be accepted by my idols as one of them, and wrote more plays to remain in their company. So I became "New York's Most-Produced Playwright of the 1960s," according to play publisher Samuel French in 1972.

In the process I fell in love with the art form; a theatre is the best toy a boy ever had. Also, certain performers inspired me to write challenging roles for them.

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