Playwright Ana Nogueira
South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many plays and playwrights, including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel and Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee.
Among the five readings at the 2019 festival is Mask Only by Ana Nogueira. We caught up with her and talked about her favorite (and surprising) writing place, the play that changed her life and more.
Nogueira writing on the subway.
Describe your favorite writing space.
I need a mixture of public and private. I don't write very well in like, a silent cabin in the woods. But I also can't write in a loud space with music. I need people around and a sort of low hum of conversation. Also, snacks. I'm very picky! I think it's because I'm a little more extroverted than most playwrights, so I get energy being in a room full of people. When I'm home alone and trying to write, I just end up taking a nap; there's no energy for me to feed off. I also have to set strict rules for myself. I hide my phone (literally putting it in a cabinet or asking someone at the coffee shop to put it behind the bar for me) and I have an app that turns off my internet for an allotted period of time. I guess the place that makes all of this possible with the least effort on my part is the subway. As long as you can find a seat, it's one of the best places to write in New York. Plus, having to finish writing a scene is one of the best ways to keep yourself from feeling homicidal towards the MTA for all the delays.
As a kid, what story did you read in secret?
I wish I had been cool enough to read something in secret! That sounds like a badass move for a child. There was no Lady Chatterly's Lover under the covers with a flashlight happening for me. Everything I read, I read in public.
When did you know that you wanted to be a playwright?
I absolutely stumbled into this job. I'm an actress as well and that's what I spent my life working towards and studying. My mother was always telling me that I was a writer, but I ignored her because it felt like she was telling me I wasn't a good enough actress (she wasn't saying that—I’m just overly sensitive!). When I was in my mid-20s, I had an idea for a play and I sort of gave myself the challenge to see if I could finish it. It was really just an exercise, but I clearly fell in love with the process. Writing is hard work and takes a ton of discipline, but there is also this liminal space that you can slip into, where time expands and the play seems to be writing itself through you. It is quite a delicate state and it can't be forced; but, when it happens to you, you want to try to make it happen again and again. Add to that the joy of working with actors and a director on something you wrote and you have a job that's sort of an addiction.
What play changed your life?
There are so many, but the first one that really shifted my perspective was Into the Woods. I was obsessed with it as a child. I would build forts in the TV room so I could camp out and watch the PBS “Great Performances” VHS tape of it on loop. I was really young, probably 8 years old, and I think the mixture of familiar subject matter (fairy tales) and the deeply universal and complicated adult themes simultaneously drew me in and also forced me to rise to a new level of thought. I think about this a lot lately: the way too much musical theatre panders to its audience, to its fan base, without forcing them to step outside of their comfort zone. The great musicals do and I believe that's why they've withstood the test of time and deserve a place in the history books next to Shakespeare and Chekhov and all the rest. I think falling in love with Into the Woods at such a young age put me on a lifelong search for theatre that balances darkness and light. I'm always trying to find that sweet spot and this play, Mask Only, is no exception.
What should we know about Mask Only?
I guess it's important to know that Mask Only is about something I care about deeply. Or rather, many things that I care about deeply: musical theatre, friendship, the allyship between straight women and gay men. It is very much a love letter to all the people that I went to theatre school with many moons ago. But, to care about things deeply also means that you have to examine them fully and be willing to criticize them and even make fun of them. There are a lot of competing issues brought up in the play and I hope people know that I don't take a definitive stance on any of them but, rather that I am curious about the argument and the mucky grey territory. Also, it's about the theatre and there are a lot of inside baseball jokes about musicals, but it will make just as much sense if you've never seen a musical in your life.
There are three public readings during PPF of Mask Only, directed by Mike Donahue: Friday, April 26, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 27, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m., in the Nicholas Studio.
Learn more and purchase tickets.