Call and Response: Nilo Cruz

by Jerry Ruiz


Post image for Call and Response: Nilo Cruz

“…One day I had this urge to go to the theater. I went to the Coconut Grove and saw a play called “The Dresser.” The next day I was totally a transformed person. I felt like I couldn’t do anything else but surrender to the art form of theatre. I didn’t know whether I would be a writer, an actor, or a director, but I knew I had to be part of the theater. It was a very spiritual moment for me, and ever since it has been a spiritual moment for me, the process of writing a play.” –Nilo Cruz, I AM THEATRE

Thinking of the creative process as a spiritual moment strikes me as an incredibly powerful and profound approach to our craft.

Sometimes (not always), I am at my most calm and focused during rehearsals. Somehow being in the room with my collaborators forces me to surrender, to be totally present, and to leave behind the distractions and pressures of daily life. Everything else fades away and I am suddenly at my most awake and aware. I am in contact with my impulses and the impulses of my collaborators. It’s an incredibly active version of a meditative state.

Nilo talks about being open to his characters, allowing them to guide him along during the creative journey. Reaching that level of openness is central to our art form, and to our process. My most satisfying moments in rehearsal happen when I am totally open to my collaborators’ impulses; when we are so connected that we realize at exactly the same instant how a moment might play out. Our longing for these shared epiphanies, both in the rehearsal room and in performance, is what keeps us hooked on making art together. It is akin to a spiritual quest. But, like any spiritual endeavor, the process takes many years of training and practice to perfect.

This implicit spirituality is something we don’t consider often enough when we make theater. It’s far too easy – it certainly is for me as a director – to get caught up in the logistics of auditioning and casting actors, working with designers to hash out models and sketches, sending comments to playwrights on their new drafts, and hammering out rehearsal schedules with stage managers. But when this whirlwind of activity and preparation subsides, and I’m in the creative moment with my colleagues, that’s when I can (sometimes) reach that galvanizing calm and clarity.

It is an ongoing, life-long practice, and not an easy one to master, at that. Feeding the spirit of our collaborators and nurturing our own might be the most vital pursuit for those of us dedicated to pursuing the uncertain life of an artist. For me, it is the best way to achieve the transformation, certainty and clarity Nilo felt during his artistic awakening.

Does the idea of an artistic life as a prolonged spiritual moment resonate with you?

How can we support each other in working towards being completely open during the creative process?

When was the last time you experienced a shared epiphany with a collaborator, or a spiritual transformation when working on (or watching) a play?

Call and Response extends the conversation surrounding the I AM THEATRE videos (and hopefully inspires you to make your own video). You can watch Nilo’s video and catch up on I AM THEATRE here.

Jerry Ruiz is a director based in NYC. Recent directing credits include Enfrascada by Tanya Saracho for Clubbed Thumb, Sangre by Mando Alvarado for Summerstage, Twelfth Night for Chalk Rep in LA, Rattlers by Johnna Adams for Flux Theatre Ensemble, The King is Dead by Caroline V. McGraw, and You Are Here by NyLon Fusion Collective. In 2012, he will be directing Mariela in the Desert by Karen Zacarias for Repertorio Espanol and Love Goes to Press for the Mint Theater Company.

Jerry has developed work at The Public, Second Stage, The Atlantic, Playwright’s Horizons, Two River Theater Company, New Dramatists, and the Playwright’s Realm. He was a recipient of the 2009-2011 NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors. 2011 Phil Killian Directing Fellow at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 2008-2009 Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab. 2007-2009 Van Lier Directing Fellow at Second Stage. Jerry graduated from the MFA Directing program at UCSD. BA: Harvard.