By Byrne Harrison
Name: Takeo Rivera
Relationship to production: Playwright
How did you first get involved in theatre?
In college, I was involved as a spoken word/slam poet, and I was very interested in using performance poetry to explore and interrogate social issues. My first serious foray into theatre, however, occurred when I was taking a course from my mentor, Cherríe Moraga. Cherríe assigned us all to write creative responses to the texts we read, so I always wrote poetry, since it was an area of comfort for me. Eventually, Cherríe told me, "I think you have this poetry thing down. So therefore, you're no longer allowed to write poetry in my class." Instead, she insisted, I was to write scenes, plays, that sort of thing. The miniature play I wrote for her class was absolutely terrible, but it ended up being a thoroughly valuable experience that taught me a lot about the potential of lyricism in drama. I think it was only five or six months later, at the beginning of junior year, that I wrote the first draft of Goliath, a choreopoem-style play.
Who are your biggest influences?
As I mentioned, Cherríe Moraga was my hugest artistic mentor, so I've been heavily informed by a feminism-of-color aesthetic and politic. Goliath most strongly echoes the work of Ntozake Shange, Anna Deavere-Smith, and Velina Hasu-Houston, unabashedly embracing the fluidity of poetic drama. Poetically and prosaically, I've been informed by folks like Audre Lorde, Sekou Sundiata, Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Williams, Famia Nkansa, Carl Hancock Rux, and Arundhati Roy. There's a little bit of music in there, too: I think was listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and Philip Glass when I wrote Goliath, for example.
Goliath is a fictional work inspired by a true story of an atrocity that occurred during the Iraq War in 2005. However, I'd say that Goliath is not so much about the tragedy itself so much as what the tragedy says about American social constructions of gender, sexuality, race, and nationhood. The vast majority of the slam-poetry-style monologues are about America and the discursive practices that reinforce inequalities and encourage violence. And we're talking about violence against the Other, violence against women, violence against those who do not conform to our normative, hegemonic notions of what it means to be a "man," or an "American," and so on and so forth. David, the central character, experiences the violence and horror of the war, but he's also experienced the violence and horror of simply growing up; his story illustrates that sometimes, unfortunately, we need a tragedy to illuminate the personal of the politics and the politics of the personal.
What inspired you to write/direct/perform in it?
I only read a snippet of that news story when it broke out (and in the interest of spoiler alerts, I won't elaborate on the story itself), but the brutality of the incident was absolutely profound to me. I felt the story epitomized the profound dehumanization that we're capable of when our social inequalities are so vast. I meditated on the story for several months, and then literally spent one weekend in the corner of a library to write a first draft. It was one of those very rare "divine inspiration" type things that I've never been able to quite recreate. I'd say 75% of what you'll see at Planet Connections is from those first afternoons and evenings in Green Library at Stanford.
Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?
Well, Goliath is not exactly an explicitly environmentalist play per se, but I think that it is important to be epistemologically expansive when we think about "environmentalism." Central to environmentalism is the notion of having a respect for our surroundings, even beyond the "human." Goliath is a piece that exposes the tragedy of our social constructions and the domination by privileged groups, particularly via masculine state power. What would be a more appropriate location to host Goliath than a festival focused on supporting Mother Earth?
Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity. What charity has your production chosen and why?
We will be benefiting Operation Uplink through Veterans of Foreign Wars, which provides Free Call Days to troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan to call home. Our society and our government sets our servicewomen and servicemen up for trauma and tragedy, as we see in Goliath; it's very important that we recognize and support the humanity of the real flesh-and-blood people who die and bleed for the abstract heroism our nation trumpets. America's soldiers deserve to be loved and cared for, not sent away to kill or be killed for problematic reasons.
What's next for you after Planet Connections?
I'm quite excited to start a PhD program in Performance Studies at UC Berkeley in August, where I will professionally continue my career in socially-conscious artist-scholarship.
And finally, if your play was food, what kind of food would it be?
I'd say a piece of maguro sushi doused in a lot of wasabi. It's simple, clean, a little painful 'cause it shoots up your sinuses; but by the end if it, you're thoroughly satisfied.
Wednesday, June 01 at 9:00PM
Saturday, June 04 at 9:00PM
Sunday, June 05 at 1:15PM
Tuesday, June 07 at 6:15PM
Saturday, June 11 at 6:15PM
Saturday, June 18 at 2:00PM
The Robert Moss Theatre
440 Lafayette Street