Meet Jaymes Sanchez, playwright, educator, and just one of eight playwrights working on ATB’s new documentary theatre project This Place/Displaced, to give voice to stories of displacement, gentrification, and housing inequity in Boston.
We chatted with Jaymes to find out a little bit more about his play, Who Owns What, and what this project means to him.
Join us at Charlestown Working Theater August 17-25 to see Who Owns What and seven more new plays!
What attracted you to this project?
A lot of things. I write about the urban working class and people of color. I try to write people first and issues second. But gentrification is a huge issue for the people I write about and it invariably finds its way into their lives. I love the challenge of writing characters with real dimensions in plays in which the stakes are high and personal, but can also reveal truths about our society if you dig just a little bit. Aside from that I was excited to work with all of the people involved. I have a lot of respect for these artists.
Have you ever worked on a play based off of interviews before? What has this process been like for you?
No, I’ve never written anything based on interviews before. The process is very delicate and I think it should be. This isn’t just subject matter; it’s a person’s life, and that should be treated with sensitivity. I think it’s difficult to do justice to a real person’s entire life in a ten-minute play, so I never intended for my piece to be directly biographical. I wanted to focus on one or two important things and render them as honestly and powerfully as I could.
You’ve taken a comedic approach to the issue of displacement. What lead you to that choice?
My interview partner mentioned that at some point she saw that her condo was up for auction while she was still living there and fighting over her mortgage. I just thought that was such a grim incongruity. My partner is fighting for her way of life while people with little placards are playing a very low stakes game with money. Honestly, I have never actually BEEN to an auction. But how high can the stakes possibly be? People are competing for the privilege of spending their money. If they “lose” at that auction, they still have money. It doesn’t come close to what a person in danger of losing their home experiences. What if those worlds collided? What if those people came face to face? That’s why I decided to bring a flashy gameshow concept into the living room of a person struggling against displacement. Hopefully people will laugh at the tension between Eve’s seriousness and everyone else’s inability to take things any more seriously than they take a gameshow. And hopefully they will laugh because it reveals that we know that exploitation is the norm but that we wish it wasn’t.
What do you feel is the role of comedy in dealing with intense social issues?
Laughter is often the shortest distance between two cognitive points, because a joke doesn’t have to make total sense. A joke is essentially a question with a surprise answer. And what we find surprising (and how we communicate that surprise) says a lot about us, what we expect from life, and how we feel about those possibilities. So I often try to use humor in a way that is truly, at its core, just rage masquerading as silly scenarios and fun little incongruities. If I can convince someone that we share similar expectations of the shit the world has to offer, and then surprise them and make them laugh, then maybe I can make them share my rage. That’s a step.
In addition to all that, I’m interested in creating moments in which people are absolutely NOT laughing. I think that comedy can enhance the impact of drama when serious moments are placed strategically. We might be laughing one minute, but what happens in the excruciatingly long moment in which the main character prepares herself to very slowly crutch her way across the stage in complete silence? How do we feel in that moment knowing that we were laughing just a few seconds ago? Hopefully y’all feel uncomfortable. Because most of us are spectators to displacement. And I hope that this play makes us feel at least a little bit complicit.
Where there parts of your partner’s story you were not able to include in the piece? Can you share some of those dead darlings with us?
There is a lot of stuff that didn’t make into the play. Without getting too much into specifics, the thing that I wish I could communicate is the scope of the story. It stretches across more time, space, relationships, interactions, and events than I could hope to represent in a ten-minute play. If this story was made into a T.V. series, it could be a family drama, intrapersonal drama, courtroom procedural, hospital procedural, and a few other things as well. It’s that complex.
What have you learned through this project?
The biggest learning experience of this process has been interacting on a personal level with issues that I had only an intellectual understanding of previously. It’s one thing to understand what gentrification is, how it happens, who it happens to, and that it is bad. It is a different thing entirely to come face to face with real people who are living through it. My home town isn’t experiencing displacement at the same levels as Boston, so it was eye-opening to hear these stories and meet these people.
Who is your playwriting hero?
Laura Neill! Go see her new play Winter People at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre December 6 -16. She’s talented, hard-working, sensitive, smart, ruthless in her writing, and courageous. I try to emulate her attitude and work ethic as an artistic entrepreneur. Some playwrights that I try to emulate stylistically are August Wilson, David Henry Hwang, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Tom Stoppard.
Jaymes Sanchez is a Texan playwright, actor, director, and educator who lives and works in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Jaymes’s work portrays the complex, poetic, and underrepresented lives of people of color and the urban working class. His play SODA FROM WATER CUPS is a finalist for the Latinx Theatre Commons’ 2018 Carnaval of New Latinx work. Jaymes recently joined the Company One PlayLab Unit for 2018. Jaymes’s work has been featured in short play festivals at Dartmouth College, and his play Family Mechanics received an honorable mention for the Elinor Frost Playwriting Award. Jaymes earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Brown University and now teaches English and Theatre at Milton High School in Milton, MA. Jaymes also runs the Youth Shakespeare Project in New Hampshire with his wife, playwright Laura Neill.
This Place/Displaced is performing at the Charlestown Working Theatre on at 8pm August 17, 18, 24, and 25. Tickets from $10. Join us to hear the stories of our eight amazing community partners from across the city of Boston. Plus, check out an exhibit of our community partners’ own artwork and writing in the lobby and pick up ATB’s original zine about the history and current climate of gentrification in Boston.