Mark Erson won the English language award on the first edition of Carlo Annoni Playwriting Prize, in 2018, with his play Mark in Venice. Here is an interview with the author.
What do people not understand about diversity and so why is so important to dedicate a playwriting prize on this matter?
While there are many contests for playwrights to enter, we do not always know how gay-centered stories/scripts will be received. There are many theatres around the US that have to be concerned with how such stories would be received by their patrons. Another challenge of producing theatre in a hyper-capitalistic system. Contests like these help voices that have not typically been present in the theatre to have a place to be and to be celebrated. It ensures development of new stories and new voices.
The year after my win, I wrote a play about daVinci that I would have never written if I hadn’t been encouraged by the contest organizers. In doing so, I learned about daVinci and what a hero the LGBTQ community has in him. Recently, commercial TV in the US has depicted him with little truth about the man. A contest like this can also help our community claim and tell a history that has otherwise been hidden and even hijacked.
Can you tell me an anecdote about your victory?
I was able to come to Milano to receive my award and participate in the celebration. A true high point in my life. Because I wrote a story that lifted up a coming out story to live in harmony and equivalent to a spiritual story, and since I am a openly gay pastor serving a parish that welcomes LGBTQ people, there was more discussion about me as a pastor than me as a playwright. But that was okay. My play, MARC IN VENICE, is definitely born out of my own spiritual journey and coming to terms with my own identity.
What has your victory of the Carlo Annoni Prize meant to you?
It was such incredible validation and affirmation. I’ve written a good number of plays. Most have been self-produced. Winning told me that someone else saw value in what I was writing. Since winning I have been more prolific and am writing with a greater sense of confidence.
Can you give any advice on how to write a play to the dramatists?
Look at your own life for ideas. Not to write autobiographical plays, but to see the themes and passions that have fueled your journey. Write what you know intimately. And play the “What if” game. Take an actual event or story idea and then start to ask: What if this happens or that happens.
What do you expect from the future after this global situation that we are living?
I want to believe that, like the renaissance that followed the plague of the 14th century, we will come out of this with new understanding about what is important, what feeds us, what is essential to our well-being. May the gift of 2020 be a refocusing (pun intended) and may we come out of it with a better vision of what is valuable. Of course in my opinion, the arts are at the heart of this re-birth.