Monet Hurst-Mendoza is an accomplished NYC-based playwright from LA. Rising Circle Theater Collective, Looking Glass Theatre (NYC), Amios, Playwright’s Playground at Classical Theatre of Harlem, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and many others have developed her plays. She is a current member of the 2017 Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater and is a 2016-2018 Van Lier Fellow at New Dramatists. Monet was a 2014-2016 WP Theater Lab Time Warner Foundation Fellow and has held residencies with The Other Mirror, The MITTEN Lab, and SPACE on Ryder Farm.
Hurst-Mendoza debuted her play, Veil’d, at the Astoria Performing Arts Center in November. Just before the premiere, Hurst-Mendoza spoke with The Brooklyn Review’s Cherry Lou Sy about playwriting, Veil’d, fighting xenophobia in the age of Trump, pie, and the Dodgers. An excerpt from Veil’d follows.
Cherry Lou Sy: Why theatre? Why are you so passionate about it?
Monet Hurst-Mendoza: I am passionate about theatre because it is an in-your-face, moment-to-moment experience that can’t be replicated the same way twice. Theatre can be entertaining, but it can also call for brutal honesty and introspection. I love that theatre can be a political act just by its existence. But what compels me most about theatre is that it is a communal gathering, at once vivid, volatile, and necessary — and it can spark inspiration that can change the course of someone’s life.
CLS: What would you like people to know about you?
MHM: I love to bake pies, but I rarely ever eat a pie I’ve made myself. I really revel in the baking process and then enjoy watching others eat this dessert I’ve made with my own two hands. I guess it’s very similar to playwriting.
CLS: What do you think makes a “good” play?
MHM: I always say, “I know it’s a good play if I’m afraid to show it to my grandmother.”
CLS: You’ve had so much success with developmental programs in NYC: the Van Lier at New Dramatists, the Public’s Emerging Writer’s Group, and the WP Playwright Lab, to name a few. How were these programs helpful to you as an artist? Do you have any advice to other playwrights who would like to apply?
MHM: I’ve been very fortunate to have been admitted to these wonderful programs — I absolutely think they’ve helped me grow as an artist. Each group is unique, but they have all provided me with a sense of community that I think is so vital to what we do.
Artists need other artists to survive. Community provides opportunities and a wealth of resources you may not have previously had access to.
I got in to all of the fellowships I’ve been accepted to after several rounds of denials. When you’re starting out, it can feel like you have to apply for everything all the time. You don’t have to put that momentous pressure on yourself, That is absurd.
I constantly have to remind myself that it’s better to submit a quality application than a rushed one, and that it’s okay to wait to apply if I don’t have a play or personal statement (hate those) that is quite ready for what is being asked for in the application guidelines. Keep working, keep marinating, and set a goal to apply the following round. If you’re passionate about a program and you get denied, keep reapplying for as long as you deem it useful to you. In the meantime, find opportunities to create work and build community close to home. Start your own writer’s group, participate in one-off play festivals, etc. Stay tenacious — you got this.
CLS: Congratulations on Veil’d, your world premier production at Astoria Performing Arts Center in New York. Why is this work important now?
MHM: Thank you! I thought the production was very exciting. Veil’d was the first full-length play I ever wrote, so it’s poetic that it was also my first world-premiere.
The play is a modern-day twist on the Rapunzel fairy tale. It focuses on an Afghani couple that immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan at the height of Taliban rule to create a new life for themselves. After difficulty conceiving, they gave birth to a daughter, Dima, with a rare allergic reaction to the sun. As a result of her illness, the young girl becomes more sheltered and finds safety and comfort in wearing her mother’s old burqa. Though her parents worry about her future and are dismayed at her choice to wear the burqa, as it symbolizes the life they escaped, we as the audience get to watch how Dima grows into young adulthood with the help of some secret friends.
As much as this play is about first love, friendship, and self-actualization, it also examines what it means to be an American in today’s climate. Trump’s Muslim Ban is just one of numerous examples of the caustic effects of xenophobia that impacts the lives of many wonderful people in our communities. That is not the America I want to live in. So, as a playwright, I pick up my pen to engender understanding, hope, and empathy through truth in my storytelling. During our rehearsal process, we emphasized the importance of upholding the narrative of a Middle Eastern family that was not rooted in fear, judgment, or alienation. The Mansour family is just like any other you might encounter, grappling with questions of parenting and identity as they work to create the stability and happiness we as Americans promote and strive for. If the American dream is meant to belong to all, then it is our responsibility to set places at the table for everyone.
CLS: Can you talk about one defining moment that influenced you as an artist?
MHM: I saw Soho Rep’s production of Blasted by Sarah Kane in college. Sarah Benson exquisitely directed the production. I rushed an evening performance without having any knowledge of the play beforehand, except that it came highly recommended by my playwriting teacher. I was seated in the front row, which was a really intense seat location for Blasted. There is a moment in the play where the setting of the first scene, a nice hotel room, collapses. When it happened, a piece of prop ice from a champagne bucket hit my foot. After that, I knew this play wouldn’t be like anything I had ever experienced before. After the show was over, I was shaking, inspired, and in tears; I couldn’t physically move from my chair. That play, that production, changed my entire perspective of what theatricality is and can be. It blew my mind.
CLS: Anything else you might want to add?
MHM: I’m a Dodgers fan so I gotta shout out my boys for all the hard work they put in this past season. #GoBlue
Read an excerpt of Veil’d here: Veil'd