Especially with so many different voices in your head from the interviews and the books, so many different competing voices.
Exactly, and different investments. That was the tough part. It was hard to figure out how to position the voice in the play.
Who are the performers in this piece? From what I understand it’s not your voice in the audio, it was recorded by Raúl Castillo and Randy Danson, right? Do you consider this a performance piece?
Yeah. There’s a character.
And it’s the narrator?
Yeah. And the narrator is various in its position, but it is a narrator. With a specific history and a specific location.
At what point did you start to move towards the idea of this recorded travelogue as the way the project was going to be realized?
I think from the get go Melanie knew she wanted a tour. She knew she wanted a kind of bus tour. I think what was open was where the tour was going to take place. We didn’t go in knowing the piece was going to be about the South Bronx. She, I think, knew she wanted to concentrate on the Bronx. I was from the Bronx. When I said yes, I thought, well, I grew up here, I have a history here, I perhaps could write about where I was from. But the logistics of the tour made clear very quickly that the area of the South Bronx was what was possible, and as we began to look at that it became fascinating and interesting. So it was a happy accident.
And when you say logistics, do you mean literally taking a passenger bus through the streets?
How closely did you have to work with the bus company? How many times have you been around this path on a bus or in a car?
It can’t be hundreds, but close. There were times when we were just driving a certain part of it over and over and over again on the same day.
Because you wanted to establish some kind of timing?
Right. And the bus driver, Mary [Wallace], it’s her bus, it’s her bus company.
Oh, it’s always the same bus driver?
It’s always the same bus driver and she’s fantastic. She had to be worked with in terms of the timing of the driving. There are lights that she has to hit and so a lot of the training went into training her in the pacing of the material. So it became clear very fast that the speed of the bus and pacing of the bus was one of the most important things in the play.
So she’s very much an actor in the piece, in a sense, or at least a stage manager?
I would have assumed that you would have had to have multiple drivers because of unions and that sort of thing.
Well, it’s her company, her bus, her rules. And there is a back-up. But clearly she is the one.
One thing that intrigues me about the piece, and touches on your point about the notion of persecution by representation, is the idea of provenance. That word, as I know it, is entirely associated with ownership and the history of ownership. It’s really interesting to think about combining that with the idea that to represent can also be to persecute, because you also lay claim to something by representing it in a certain way. How do you see that idea of ownership in relation to a neighborhood?
I think that is one of the key things—the question of who owns a neighborhood. Is it the people who live there? Or is it the people who own the property that’s there? Who controls that?