Theatre Buzz: Roger Q. Mason: Tapping Their Life and the World Beyond

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Roger Q. Mason is a rising Los Angeles playwright who has written, directed, produced and performed in shows around town. In last year’s Lavender Men, they played a character named Taffeta, who goes back in time to explore a relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Colonel Elmer Ellsworth. This weekend, there will be a reading of their latest play, Hide and Hide, a more personal work inspired by the life of their mother.

This LA native tells stories of their family and city and the wide world beyond. We spoke to them about their past, present and future work.

Do you think of yourself primarily as a writer, a performer, or something else—or do those labels blur together?

I’ve always seen this craft of ours as magical and holistic. I don’t believe in hierarchy and compartmentalization, although I have great respect for those who specialize. But I think about the whole experience; that has become more popular in the last several years, with multi-hyphenates coming to the forefront of our business. It wasn’t always so possible. “They” wanted writers to be quiet and pass notes or not show up to rehearsals at all. There’s been more recognition of playwrights’ contributions through their presence.

So yes, I’m a performer, playwright, director and producer. I’ll continue to work in all of those arenas because I can’t help but think about the whole as well as the parts. That’s made me a better playwright.

You say you see the theater as “a holy ‘seeing place’ wherein we can envision worlds different and more inclusive than our own.” I love your notion that “If we can dream it in the theatre, we can build it in the world.” In your play Lavender Men, you create what you call a “fantasia” to create a world that’s both real and a utopia. Is that one of the ways you manifest that dream of building a different world?

We have to imagine the social transformation that we want to see in the world. The theater becomes a great playground in which we can envision new worlds and new ways of interacting with one another that we can then manifest in the real world.

I believe that the theater, with its immediacy, liveness and its direct connection with an audience, possesses the power to change hearts by humanizing the experiences and stories of people who are sometimes cast aside. I put those “forgotten moments in remembered time” at the forefront of my work.

You describe yourself as “a Black, Filipinx, plus-sized, gender non-conforming, queer artist of color.” How does your identity impact your writing?

My identity becomes my rally cry. In all of the worlds I inhabit, our society has tried to render me silenced and invisible, and I’m not one to take the beating in silence. I raise hell where others tell me I should sit down and shut up. My life’s mission is to tell the truth that some find difficult and to bring dignity and hope to people who feel they are not valued in our society.

You’ve added screenwriting to your resume, correct?

Lavender Men was adapted for a short film, Taffeta, that toured the globe and has been adapted into a full-length feature film directed by Lovell Holder. The film is completed and awaiting sale. Taffeta is so eager to connect with her fans that she might be compelling me as the writer to do some TV.

Tell us about your upcoming reading, Hide and Hide, on October 20th.

Hide and Hide is a Homeric critique of the power and danger of the American Dream. It imagines a Texan rent boy [male prostitute] on the run as a Filipinx undocumented immigrant who enters a sham marriage to escape culpability and pursue some aspect of American promise.

The play was inspired by the year my mother moved to the United States, 1980, just like the girl in the play, Constanza. My mother moved here because of the view that was exported to her. As I’ve watched her navigate through American life, she, like many, has been by turns exhilarated and disheartened by what it takes to live and thrive in this country. I wanted to capture that journey.

The piece is also loosely based on a court case involving an attorney who facilitated many sham marriages for green cards in California. We pay tribute to the dreams of the people who went through such brave lengths to get what was promised to them by cultural exportation.

Hide and Hide features the songs my mother was listening to when she was contemplating her move from the Philippines to America, those flights of fancy, excess and deviousness. Those songs had a great impact on developing the world’s sensibilities about the West.

We have a great responsibility to export equity to the world. People come here with a romanticized view of American life and are disillusioned. This play follows two people’s such devolution in the American Dream.

How would you describe your path from writing your first play to being asked to write commissioned works? What is the commissioning process like?

My very first play was a short piece called Vile. It was an intentional misspelling of vial, a vessel for a specimen. It was about a queer son being forced into artificial insemination by his father who was worried he wouldn’t give him any offspring. I wrote this when I was 19, so I’ve been navigating the hard questions about the human condition for the whole of my career.

My work took a turn about seven years ago when I started performing in my plays; they became much less cerebral and more character-based, more earnest, immediate and vulnerable. That honesty and vulnerability are what attracted folks who commission works.

Since the pandemic, I’ve had more commissioned work because more people know about me. The pandemic was terrible for theater artists because theaters closed. Digital theater allowed those of us who owned the power of the pivot to turn eyes that were otherwise engaged on lives that we could render on our phones. There was a large audience base and I credit that time with the opportunities I’m experiencing now. I was able to make some fabulous lemonade out of a very sour era in human existence.

Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has been reviewing theatre prolifically for five years at the Larchmont Buzz, a local Hancock Park-area website and email newsletter. She’s a playwright herself; her plays have been produced by NEO Ensemble Theatre. She's a new member of Theatre West.

Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has been reviewing theatre prolifically for five years at the Larchmont Buzz, a local Hancock Park-area website and email newsletter. She’s a playwright herself; her plays have been produced by NEO Ensemble Theatre. She's a new member of Theatre West.

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