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Meet Roger Mason of Pearl Street Productions in Koreatown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Roger Q. Mason.

Roger, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a Black, Irish, Filipino, plus-sized, queer, gender non-conformist writer of color. The intersection of my identities compels me to create performance texts for theatre, television, and film that are agents of visibility and inclusion.

To my mind, I am making art for a new media canon where LGBTQ people, immigrants, and mixed-race folks are the new protagonists, and their stories are the new mainstream. Thematically, I am drawn to stories about queer affirmation, body pride, and non-binary gender identity celebration because these are counteractions to the gender-policing, queer-bashing, and fat-shaming I have experienced throughout my life.

I write to manifest a world different from my own – one where characters live out loud unapologetically, free from the prejudice and restrictions that silence those outside of the established norm. At my core, I am a creature of the theatre. It is a sacred place for me. It is the temple. In my opinion, playwrights are cultural clearinghouses – they reflect, refract, direct, and critique the culture.

As a dramatist, I hold fast to the Ancient Greek definition of theatre: “theatron” – the seeing place. What I write for the theatre is an embodiment of what I have seen in the world. My hope and expectation are that people who watch my plays see themselves reflected in the world.

I am writing to let know that, ultimately, everything is going to be alright.

I am writing to alert them that everything is just as fucked up in my world as it is in theirs and, because of that, everything is going to be alright.

I am writing to tell warn them that the world is a mess and that is not alright, and we need to get off our behinds to change it.

So how did I get started? Well, my journey begins with a diagnosis.

Growing up, I had bronchitis almost quarterly. As a child of the 90s, the answer to every ailment was Amoxicillin. Sometime during the fall before my 13th birthday, I went to the doctor to get my quarterly allotment of antibiotics. He looked me over, nodded, and went into the other room. When he returned, he silently handed me a prescription and sent me home for the night. When I arrived at my house, my mother was livid.

“The doctor said you’re a faggot and I need to fix you.” Apparently he went into the other room to call her. I will never know what truly transpired on that call. Who said what, especially in decades-long hindsight, becomes a grey, fuzzy thing. However, I do recall this: my mother began ranting and raving about how I needed to straighten up and act “like a man” so I would stop embarrassing her in public. She was screaming so loud that my father burst into the room. “So you wanna put shit up your ass? Is that what you want?” An evening of gender-policing, HIV stigmatization, and familial shaming ensued.

After that night, I began maintaining a notebook of observations about people and their behavior. I wanted to dissect the anatomy of hate. My goal was to understand why people thought and acted as they did. What did people do when they wanted something from someone else or felt uncomfortable in an unfamiliar surrounding or needed to hide something?

I wanted to see how people expressed love – not just in words, but in behavior, the subtleties of the body. And, most importantly, I was experimenting with a stylistic vocabulary for how to represent what I saw on the page. I was searching for my voice. I began to write short stories. Then poems. Then character sketches. And movement sequence for two people, three, four. And finally, dialogue emerged.

I started writing plays. Notice how plays and dialogue-based work emerged last. To many folks, good old fashioned character-driven, dialogue-based plays are the bedrock of a solid theatrical experience. The characters say some things that you may have said or wanted to say; they make you feel some kind of way; you connect; you have a nice time and go home. I’m not knocking it. I love some juicy stage speak myself.

But I want to push us even further. What stories does the body tell? What is our relationship to space, to object, to silence? And can we STILL see ourselves in experimental world? Is it just as relatable, digestible, and accessible as the mainstream? I say yes. And that’s been my journey the last few years: how can I create work that is hybridized – informed by visual art, movement, and performance art – and still have it reflect the hopes, dreams, and nightmares of the people.

In addition to mining identity politics on stage and screen, I am dedicated to stretching the bones of form and aesthetics. Why am I doing this? No, not to be difficult or contrary or baselessly avant guard. No. I believe audiences can handle it; I believe they are down for whatever and want the ride. I started this reflection manifesting that I want to contribute to a new queer canon.

How can I create something new if I don’t build some new rules for how to tell these stories? Oftentimes, we see the forebears of a movement having to use acceptable, tried forms and infuse them with new ideas to make them acceptable for “mainstream” audiences.” I am blessed in that much of that cross-over work has been done. Now, it’s time to fly.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
My greatest obstacle has been embracing myself and how I make work. I create hybridized performance texts because I came to the theatre late (and television/film even later). Before short stories then theatre, I was trained in oil painting, classical piano, and modern dance.

Those skillsets inform the particularities and peculiarities of how I make work. When I first write a script, it emerges as a very skeletal draft (maybe 20-30 pages), then I bring it to the rehearsal room and fill it in with the help of actors and a director through discussion, improvisation, and workshops. I used to think that I was an inferior writer because I couldn’t just sit down to write a play.

About five years ago, a mentor and hero named Aaron Henne said that we don’t need to be seated at our computers to be writing. We can be cleaning dishes, walking our dogs, taking a long shower – and so long as we are reflecting on a sequence of dramatic actions being pursued by a character in a world in a defined time, place, and moment, we are still writing. That was a powerful revelation for me. It completely redefined how I do what I do.

Then, about three years ago, I was sitting in on a discussion with writer Laura Eason. She told the audience that she often starts with a skeletal draft and embellishes upon it while in rehearsals. Then, about a year ago, I was walking up Larchmont and speaking with one of my heroes, Chicago director Gina Marie Hayes, about my process. Gina labeled me a “librettist.”

They said that what I created on the page was a blueprint invitation for a larger performance event that often invited movement, music, and scenography into the storytelling wheelhouse to complete the image. Then, it dawned on me. I was still painting: my skeletal play drafts were like the charcoal sketches onto which I added tone, then color, then texture.

I was still dancing: I needed bodies in the room to complete the stories I was writing; dialogue accounted for about 20-30 pages of my work, but the rest of the play was physical text, choreography. I was still playing the piano: you don’t learn the dynamics of a piece until you present it before others – first mentors and collaborators, then an audience. And silence was the loudest sound in the room.

Once I recognized who I was, how I became that way, and why I operated as I did, I could hone those skillsets and direct them in a focussed, concerted, and inspired way to truly use my instrument to its fuller, more robust capacity. Now, as my paternal grandmother used to say, “I was cooking with gas.”

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Pearl Street Productions – what should we know?
My company is called Pearl Street Productions. It is new, and yet it has always been there. My great grandfather, Daniel M. Mason, was one of the first blacks to practice law in the state of Texas. He got a law degree after slavery and opened his first legal office with his brother on Pearl Street in Dallas, Texas. He was noted as an enterprising lawyer in the Reconstruction-era book PROGRESS OF A RACE. What I know of him was that he was self-sufficient, ingenuitive, and self-reliant.

When you make weird shit for the theatre like I do, you many times have to put work up on your own or in partnership with companies who develop content as you do. Recently, I began thinking about what happens when I put on a play. I basically create these little production companies of like-minded or complementary artists. We work together to make the play happen. But we are all enterprising. We all know what it means to do it yourself.

We have all had to open up our own offices, so to speak, on our own proverbial Pearl Streets. So the name emerged from a need to find heroes from the past who has pioneered, innovated, and done for themselves (with the help of others). It is my way of knowing I am not alone. My family has always been a salmon swimming upstream. And it’s also my way of giving thanks to my dad and my family, who have been staunch supporters of my work.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My parents and my brother deserve tremendous credit. They are the best muses for my work: all the complexities, contradictions, juxtapositions, dysfunction, love, dedication, concern, backstabbing, and unconditional uplift flow from our home. They are the human condition in microcosm. Why in the hell would I not write some of this shit down? But more importantly, my family makes my work possible. My dad is a very important part of Pearl Street Productions.

I think he enjoys being in showbiz again. Growing up he wanted to be a performer. He had a William Morris contract and performed on the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, in the tour of HELLZAPOPPIN, and others. But my grandmother was a Cold War realism. She said there was only one Sammy Davis Jr, and her son wasn’t it. She loved that he was in the arts, but wanted him to find a means by which to sustain himself (and the family). So he went into the law, like his father, and his grandfather. He opened up his own office on his own proverbial Pearl Street. I’m sure part of him is completing his artistic journey through involving himself with my work.

In addition to the fam, I adore my collaborators. I am grateful to the directors who bring my strange scripts to life. They include but are not limited to, Lovell Holder, Michael Alvarez, Adin Walker, June Carryl, Jesse Bliss, Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx. I am thankful for the designers who pluck worlds from my dreams/nightmares and make them real. Two designers who excite me are Carlo Maghirang and Yuang Yuang Liang. I indebted to the producers and content developers who share me, my words, and my work with the world. They include but are not limited to Ashley Steed, Sara Martin, Abdullah Helwani, and Nastassia Cordeiro.

It takes a lot of people to make this work possible, and I thank every single person who has worked with me as a collaborator, ally, supporter, cheerleader, or interested party. Without all of those folks, nothing would be possible. And because of those folks, I continue to make work.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Michael Alvarez, Roger Q. Mason, Lovell Holder, Joseph Doyle, Stanley Mathabane, Roger Q. Mason, Abraham Johnson, J. Sebastian Alberti, Davi Santos, Levin Valayin, Abdullah Helwani, Bridget Flannery and Julanne Chidi Hill, Darian Battle, Terrell Carter and Rick Cosnett

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