Playwright Rogelio Martinez finds inspiration on the streets of Lower Manhattan

The works of award-winning playwright Rogelio Martinez have been produced in theaters around the world. And this spring you can see his new production, “Sidewalk Echoes“, as part of “Downtown Stories: Dreams from New York´s Oldest Streets” – the Downtown Alliance’s upcoming collaboration with En Garde Arts. Directed by Johanna McKeon, the production is a documentary theater piece inspired by hours of interviews conducted with small business owners in Lower Manhattan, and will be staged at the historic John Street Methodist Church in June.

We caught up with Martinez to learn more about the project and how the neighborhood provides artistic inspiration; for more on “Downtown Stories” and “Sidewalk Echoes,” including tickets, visit here.

What prompted you to get involved in this project?

I think it’s because it’s out of my comfort zone. it’s much less of a traditional form and it excites me and scares me. I think if you’re not afraid, then you’re not taking risks, and if you’re not taking risks, you’re not growing.

Did any companies strike you as having particularly notable stories?

Oh my god, isn’t it. There’s one I listened to – it was a two hour interview – and after listening to it I thought, if we just took these two hours it would be so compelling. It was breathtaking. We went through this person’s life, and twists and turns, and you know, he was backing off in his storytelling, he didn’t say, “Let me back off for a second,” he was just doing it naturally. It felt like the essence of writing, which is that it shouldn’t be from point A to point B to point C. It should move around a bit and keep you on edge. It was unpredictable. So yes, many stories were inspiring.

Have you seen any links between neighborhood resilience and business resilience?

So, for me, Lower Manhattan works in an interesting way. It moves from Lower Manhattan upwards and somehow returns to Lower Manhattan. In this process, the neighborhood is slightly different. And one of the most interesting discoveries was where we’re performing the play, which is John Street Methodist Church. You can walk by and miss it, but here stands the structure that hasn’t changed for almost 200 years.

There’s a children’s book called “The Little House,” I think, and it starts with the building of the little house and the neighborhood changes but the house stays the same while everything changes around it. In this case, the church stayed and stayed, and it’s like an artifact of a different world. And it was inspiring. You have a sense of responsibility telling the story because you have to remind people that this place has been around for a very long time.

What’s your favorite thing about Lower Manhattan? What do you think makes the neighborhood so special?

The fact that the streets move unpredictably. It’s easy to get lost if you’re not familiar with the area. That’s the essence of drama, you move through a world and it should surprise you, and it should confuse you. You find your bearings when you look up and see where the World Trade Center and Fulton Street Market once stood. That’s one of the things I love about it. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the streets move in ways they don’t move in other parts of New York.

photo: Rogelio Martinez

Keywords: downtown stories, rogelio martinez

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