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A Filipino American Los Angeles Story

Boni B. Alvarez and Jon Lawrence Rivera of ‘Bloodletting’ Discuss Playwrights’ Arena, Collaboration, and Diversity in L.A. Theatre


(L-R) Myra Cris Ocenar, Boni B. Alvarez, Alberto Isaac, Jon Lawrence Rivera, and Anne Yatco, from the Playwrights' Arena production of "Bloodletting" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Luke Fontana.

Entering its 26th year, Playwrights’ Arena is the only theatre company that continues to exclusively produce and promote Los Angeles playwrights.

Artistic Director and Founder Jon Lawrence Rivera strives to showcase diverse and adventurous theatre programming, supporting local playwrights like Boni B. Alvarez. Rivera directs Alvarez’s Bloodletting at the Kirk Douglas Theatre’s Block Party (onstage March 29 – April 8, 2018), extending a relationship between the company and playwright that began over 10 years ago while Alvarez was still a graduate student.

Jon actually came to my thesis reading for my MFA at USC and was really enamored with the play [Ruby Tragically Rotund], Alvarez recalled, and pretty much within the week committed to producing it, so that was very exciting—to come out of school and know that you’re going to have a production.

Playwrights’ Arena premiered Ruby, Tragically Rotund—the story of a self-described fat girl and her quest for a beauty pageant crown—at The Los Angeles Theatre Center in 2009. The company followed it with Alvarez’s Dallas Non-Stop—set at an American airline call center with a Filipino staff—in 2013. This is the third collaboration we’ve had with Boni, and we hope to have more collaborations with him in the future, said Rivera, who has directed all three plays by the Filipino playwright.

Although Alvarez has found success in developing work at Playwrights’ Arena, he understands the challenges of being a playwright in L.A., especially the difficulties of living in the shadows of film and TV. Because of this, Alvarez has appreciated Rivera’s commitment to the stage and his openness to producing a wide range of scripts. I never really have to self-censor with Playwrights’ Arena, Alvarez said, it’s like whatever I might be writing it could very well have a home at Playwrights’ Arena, and that’s a very unique thing—it’s unheard of.

Since its establishment in 1992, Playwrights’ Arena has worked to broaden representation in the L.A. area—both culturally and artistically. Which is one reason why the company is such a good fit with our Block Party program, which is designed to celebrate Los Angeles theatre. After attending two of the three Block Party productions last year, Rivera grew excited about the whole idea of brotherhood and community fostered by the program, and knew Playwrights’ Arena had to be a part of it. There is this community of artists—as diverse as they can be—working and creating art, creating theatre year-round in Los Angeles, Rivera explained. This participation of Playwrights’ Arena in Block Party really gives us a sense of visibility for an audience that may not know us.

He also feels there is a sense of pride that fills the entire community when different theatres—both local mainstays and companies in the more intimate scene—are able to showcase their work together. Rivera hopes that Bloodletting will serve as an example of a cultural story worth adding to the mix: There are many stories told in the city of Los Angeles, he said, and a Filipino American story is something that is a part of that.

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