The late August Wilson’s ten play, Pulitzer Prize-winning The Pittsburgh Cycle, now has a rival. Jonathan G Galvez’s if forging through his ambitious “Bridge” series of 16 plays. The current entry to the canon, SKYLAR, concerns a trans high school student clinging to life after being attacked at a school dance. Their girlfriend, father, and teacher meet in the waiting room and consider the events that led them there. The New York International Fringe Festival will serve as host of this latest work and has served as host for many of Galvez’s Bridge Series, including Thirty Minutes or Less, The Girl With Her Hands in the Sand, The Call of the Siren, and A Life TBD. A Hand Across the Bridge, recently scored major accolades and award nominations at this year’s Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.
Led by queer director, Kristen Keim, the cast features Sam Lopresti as David, Skylar’s teacher; Kaitlyn Gill as Pamela, Skylar’s activist girlfriend; Eric Novak as Adam, Skylar’s religious father, Dana Scurlock as the Nurse, Mark Levy as Vice Principal Gonzalez, Ashton Garcia as Scott, a football player, and Eli Denson as the titular Skylar, a trans teen. It should be noted that not only is Skylar portrayed by trans-gender-queer actor, Denson, but also role of Scott, a traditionally cis-gendered (identifying with the sex they were born as) role, being portrayed by trans-masculine actor, Garcia.
Theatrical Gems Presents Jonathan G. Galvez’ SKYLAR, performing at the new Fringe HUB Theatre, 685 Washington Street, NYC, on Tues Oct 16 @ 8:15pm; Sunday, Oct 21 @ 12:00pm; Thursday, Oct 25 @ 7:00pm; Saturday, Oct 27 @ 4:00pm; Sunday, Oct 28 @ 4:30pm. Tickets are $22, with discounts for groups. SKYLAR is also part of FringeHigh, a group of plays directed toward teen and young adult audiences. A talk-back with the cast & creators will follow the Sunday, Oct 21st showing at noon. More info can be found at www.fringenyc.org
We wanted to chat briefly with the young artists tackling a dozen plus four as a proposed canon.
Tell Us About Yourself as an Artist
As a playwright, I consider myself a writer of, what I call, “everyday realism.” There are stories that are about these sweeping moments in time and space, screaming from the rooftops. I don’t write those. I write your neighbor’s tragedy, your cousin’s comedy, and your third girlfriend’s drama. What I feel makes my work compelling is that I always start with the human aspect of a story, what a character has gone through and what their point of view is. I think people are drawn to my work because the characters feel so real on paper, and it gives the actors who perform my work an opportunity to really find the life of the characters and get the reality I’ve set them in. I like human stories. Give me an autobiography on tape read by the writer over a fantasy novel any day. A person’s life could be way more extraordinary.
What was the inspiration to write this?
There’s a monologue in this play about how the teen’s father viewed transgender individuals through religion. That’s where the play started. Sometimes you get a string of ideas in your head, write it down and think, “Hey, I should do something with this”. And the character of Skylar was already one I had hinted at in my play series, and it was time to flesh the character out. What has helped, and what continues to help, shape the piece are my friends and allies within the LGBTQ+ community. Knowing their lives gave me a backing for the story I wanted to create.
Tell us about the Bridge Play series.
The Bridge Series is a play cycle of 16 full-length pieces. They are comprised of characters and storylines that intersect with each other over time. It started with “A Hand Across the Bridge”, which, after a decade of rewrites, premiered this past summer in the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. It is chapter one of the series, and the rest of it follows the characters of that play through the next 10, 20 years of their lives. Sometimes you see them together, most times you don’t. But if you see more than one of the plays, you’ll find characters or instances that connect to other plays. For example, in “Crossing Lights”, which premiered at the Manhattan Repertory Theater in 2008 and is Chapter 2 in the series, you hear one side of a phone call. In chapter 3, “The Girl with her Hands in the Sand”, which premiered in the NY Fringe in 2012, you hear the other side of the phone conversation. In this play, you get to see a character as a teenager and see the moment they were inspired to become their character several years later in “The Alice of Ward 13”, which premiered at William Paterson University in 2013. While each play can stands on its own and tells their own story in their own styles, when looked at all together, you can see how interconnected people can be, and how close we actually are to each other no matter how many miles, or pages, are between us.
What was the most challenging part of being a cis-writer on such a piece?
It’s amazing that we’ve already gotten criticism, even before anyone has seen or read the full piece. Yes, I’m a cis-writer who created a play about a trans character. Within the LGBTQ+ community, this would be a huge taboo, due to there being too many plays and productions that treat being trans as a novelty, something I wish to avoid. But I’m also a minority. Yes, I’m cis and I’m straight but I’m also Filipino. I’ve had my share of discrimination, so I understand what it’s like to be misunderstood and misrepresented. And even with that, I still made sure to get the story right and the characters believable. I hired a queer director I trust, have consulted with trans and non-binary individuals, and have ensured that the production properly and diversely hired talented people. Contrary to what some writers may believe, I believe you can write whatever you want no matter who or what you are. You just have to understand what you’re writing about. So to answer your question about the most challenging part, I can’t answer that yet because I know it’s coming. It’s going to be getting people to judge and criticize the piece, without making who or what I am a part of their criticism. Hopefully it’ll be good enough to stand on its own.
What’s next for this play, the series, and what’s next for you – in case they are separate questions.
I refer to the Socratic statement “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” Three years ago, after my thrid Fringe show, I said I was done with doing festivals, and here I am on my fifth Fringe show. Of my 16 plays, 8 have had their world premieres in various capacities. The life goal is to have all 16 receive full productions. Whether or not that’s realistic, it’s hard to say. As for this particular play, I suppose it’ll come down to how it’s received. Getting published would be great, seeing someone do it without me in the room would be even better. Same goes for all of my plays. Frankly, I never know what’s next until it happens. For this Fringe, I am 1 of 97 shows out of X amount of submissions. If my odds of getting an acceptance letter is 1 out of X, Lord know the odds are against me. But remembering I am 1 out of less than 100 who’ve gotten this far, one can’t help but be optimistic.