By David Walters
After attending the reading of THE PINK – An Intimacy Ritual by playwright Roger Q. Mason presented by Primary Stages and Breaking the Binary Theatre at 59 East 59, I was given the opportunity to ask Roger several questions about their process and the emotionally intimate play that they had written.
Roger, I really enjoyed the reading and your performance. Thank you for taking the time for a couple of questions about you, your process, and the script. But first,
- What does the Q in your name stand for?
Well, aren’t we getting personal right off the bat! I love it. I am named after my paternal grandfather, Roger Quincy Mason, who was one of the first African American delegates to participate in the Democratic National Convention in the 1940s. He was an attorney in Texas and Missouri, and a real estate manager in Los Angeles later in life.
- What brought you to the story of THE PINK at this point in your life?
Well, I just had to talk about intimacy on stage. Ever since watching Spring Awakening on Broadway in 2007, I’ve revered the power of dismantling our taboo relationship to sexuality through the ritual of performance. Our stages are powerful tools in re-writing our relationships to aspects of everyday life that scare, challenge and shame us.
Our Puritan socio-legal origins and current cultural climate have placed queerness and its visibility under attack. The Pink brings queer intimacy into the limelight, affording an opportunity to explore its unique expression and note its universality. Every human being can relate to the grasp for tenderness in a damaging world.
- You said that you didn’t think you could ever get to a place to write something like this. Why not? What had been stopping you in the past that no longer does?
I had to live it first. I grew up in the Gay 90s, which were not gay at all, honey. We had Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the streets and gender policing in my household. The stigma of the AIDS epidemic lingered in the air and I was made to feel that my queerness would literally kill me. It took many years to heal internally from the feelings of fear and shame surrounding my own intimate desires – let alone write about them. Dating has healed me. I’ve met many people romantically whose stories of intimacy mirrored or counter-balanced my own. I became a physical, loving being – in the bedroom and outside of it. And that openness allowed me to write this play.
- Did you have yourself in mind as the actor playing Mel in the play from the beginning?
I think Mel is an exhilarating, complicated and rigorous character to play, and – when we get our first production – I’d like to put my stamp on him.
- You had said previously about your writing that you usually write about 20 pages and then develop the rest of the play in rehearsals. Did THE PINK happen this way or was there a different approach to this script?
Oh, you dug deep in the archives for that quote. Lovely research! While I was attending graduate school at Northwestern, Laura Eason described her time with Lookingglass Theatre. She discussed bringing skeletal versions of plays into rehearsal and building the flesh of the work in the room with collaborators. I identified with her creative impulses because I also learn a lot about my plays when I am in the room.
The Pink started as a skeletal draft that I developed over the course of a year through a series of dramaturg-led workshops. Typically, I do a lot of improvising and language channeling in the rehearsal room. Much of my writing comes through extemporaneous oration. When we arrive at a section of the play that needs work, I start dreaming aloud and someone has a pen and paper out while I talk and someone has a tape recorder.
And everybody knows that the language doesn’t come out the same way twice, so we have to get it down. The channel is open. It is jazz-like for me.
Now, when I am sitting down to write the first drafts of the plays by myself I think rhythmically as well. It is somewhat stream-of-consciousness that later gets refined in the revision process. Working this way connects me back to my roots in musical performance, particularly vocal performance where I started as a child.
- The character Herman in your script is in school studying church history from a queer perspective. Did you grow up with a Catholic background?
My mother is Catholic, and I was interested in the legacies of ritual, shame, and hope that can arise from her religion. I started with the premise that Herman was a Catholic grad student and let him take me where he wanted to go in the script.
- Having seen the reading of the play, I was wondering how you envision some aspects of the script. In the reading, there are numbered moments read as stage directions (Moment 1, Moment 2) that shine a light on important things that are about to happen. Do you expect those moments to be highlighted in some way in a full production?
We are interested in building ritual through production. Collaborators would know best how to use project and light design would highlight the episodic and cumulative narrative script that the piece uses when describing scenes as moments. The intensity built between the characters is what moves us from one moment to another as they ultimately consummate their desire for one another.
- I also have to ask you about the graphic sexual content you’ve put on stage, how do you see it being performed live?
This piece is a playground for intimacy direction. I walk spiritually and creatively with my sister Ann James – a master of intimacy direction and cultural consciousness. I hope to one day have the honor of building a production of this piece with her in the room.
- Besides being incredibly creative, and constantly putting yourself and your work out there, you do give back. Can you tell me a little bit about the Shay Foundation and the New Visions Fellowship and your involvement?
Mentorship is my passion. I am nothing if I don’t give forward to the next generation. The Shay Foundation was founded by writer/actor/activist Larry Powell, who is a dear friend of mine. He was interested in supporting the careers of young black solo performers traversing different genres to develop their work. The New Visions Fellowship is a collaboration between the Dramatists Guild and the National Queer Theatre to uplift black transgender and gender-expansive playwrights. Working as a mentor with these two organizations has afforded me the opportunity to embolden the next generation of queer artists to recognize their brilliance and advocate for their worth as partitioners of the craft and business people in our industry.
Thank you, Roger. I appreciate you taking the time and sharing some of your insight into your work.
Roger Q. Mason (they/them), Playwright and Performer
Roger Q. Mason (they/them) was recently touted by The Brooklyn Rail as “quickly becoming one of the most significant playwrights of the decade.” Their playwriting has been seen on Broadway at Circle in the Square (Circle Reading Series); Off and Off-Off-Broadway at MCC Theatre with Carnegie Hall, La Mama ETC, New York Theatre Workshop, New Group, The Fire This Time Festival, Dixon Place, American Theatre of Actors, Flea Theatre, and Access Theater; and regionally at McCarter Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Victory Gardens, Chicago Dramatists, Steep Theatre, Serenbe Playhouse, Theatre Rhinoceros, Open Fist Theatre Company, EST/LA, Coeurage Theatre, Rogue Artists Ensemble, Son of Semele, and Skylight Theatre. Roger is an honoree of the Kilroys List; the Chuck Rowland Pioneer Award; the Fire This Time Festival Alumni Spotlight; and the Hollywood Fringe Festival Encore Producers Award. Mason’s films have been recognized by the British Film Institute Flare Festival, Lonely Wolf International Film Festival, SCAD Film Festival, Oscar Micheaux Film Festival, AT&T Film Award, Atlanta International Film Festival, Webby Awards, and Telly Awards. They’ve screened at the British Film Institute Flare Festival, Lonely Wolf International Film Festival, Inside Out Festival (Toronto), SCAD Film Festival, Hollyshorts, Outfest and Outfest Fusion, Bentonville Film Festival, Outshine Film Festival, and the Pan African Film Festival. Mason holds degrees from Princeton University, Middlebury College, and Northwestern University. They are a member of Page 73’s Interstate 73 Writers Group and Primary Stages Writing Cohort, an alumnus of The Fire This Time Festival, the co-host of Sister Roger’s Gayborhood podcast, and the lead mentor of the Shay Foundation Fellowship and the New Visions Fellowship. Instagram: @rogerq.mason
Roger Q. Mason will have a developmental reading of their new play Waiting for a Wake with Page 73 at Open Jar Studios (1601 Broadway 11th floor, New York, NY 10019) on Friday, April 21 at 4pm. Inspired by the tradition of the American Family drama, Waiting for a Wake is a post-kitchen sink drama that will establish black and brown folks as the new protagonists of the American Dream and its struggles. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP and join the waitlist.