Playwright Rogelio Martinez Finds Inspiration on Lower Manhattan’s Streets
Award-winning playwright Rogelio Martinez’s works have been produced in theaters all over the world. And this spring, you can see his newest production, “Sidewalk Echoes,” as part of “Downtown Stories: Dreams from New York´s Oldest Streets” — the Downtown Alliance’s upcoming collaboration with En Garde Arts. Directed by Johanna McKeon, the production is a documentary theater piece inspired by hours of interviews conducted with small-business owners in Lower Manhattan, and will be staged at the historic John Street Methodist Church in June.
We caught up with Martinez to learn more about the project, and how the neighborhood provides artistic inspiration; for more on “Downtown Stories” and “Sidewalk Echoes,” including tickets, visit here.
What Inspired You To Get Involved With This Project?
I think it’s because it’s outside my comfort zone. it’s a lot less of a traditional form and that kind of excites me and scares me. I think that if you’re not scared, then you’re not taking risks, and if you’re not taking risks, you’re not growing.
Did Any Businesses Stick Out To You As Having Particularly Noteworthy Stories?
Oh my god, did they. There was one that I listened to — it was a two hour interview — and after I listened to it, I thought, if we just took these two hours, it would be so compelling. It was breathtaking. We went through this person’s life, and twists and turns, and you, know, he would back up in his storytelling, he didn’t say, “Let me back up a moment,” he would just do it naturally. It felt like the essence of writing, which is that it shouldn’t be Point A to Point B to Point C. It should move around a little bit and keep you on the edge. It was unpredictable. So yes, many stories were inspiring.
Did You See Connections Between The Resiliency Of The Neighborhood And The Resiliency Of The Businesses?
So Lower Manhattan, to me, works in an interesting way. It moves from Lower Manhattan up, and somehow swings back to Lower Manhattan. In that process, the neighborhood looks slightly different. And one of the more interesting discoveries was the place where we’re doing the play, which is John Street Methodist Church. You can walk by it and miss it, but here stands the structure that hasn’t changed in close to 200 years.
There’s a children’s book called “The Little House,” I think, and it starts with the building of the little house and the neighborhood changes but the house stays the same while everything changes around it. In this case, the church has stayed and remained, and it’s like an artifact from a different world. And that was inspiring. You have a sense of responsibility in telling the story because you have to remind people that this place has existed for a very long time.
What’s Your Favorite Thing About Lower Manhattan? What Do You Think Makes The Neighborhood So Special?
The fact that the streets move in an unpredictable way. It’s easy to get lost if you’re not familiar with the neighborhood. That’s the essence of drama, you’re moving through a world and it should surprise you, and it should confuse you. You find your bearings when you look up and see where the World Trade Center once stood, and Fulton Street Market. That’s one of the things I love about it. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the streets move in ways that they don’t move in other parts of New York.
photo: Rogelio MartinezTags: downtown stories, rogelio martinez