AAPEX Interview: Mario Farwell — AAPEX Interview , Mario Farwell — AAPEX

Saturday, August 20, 2011

AAPEX Interview: Mario Farwell

Mario Farwell

What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?

My childhood was filled with many wonderful experiences that fed my imagination and nurtured me artistically. I was a sickly child growing up, tending to be shy and introverted. As a coping mechanism, I developed a world of make believe which transcended the segregation of the fifties, my family's poor economic circumstance, and my feelings of being different. I created the most amazing castles from sticks and rocks, or made a beautiful mud pie -- fit for a king, or plant beans in a vacant lot and make-believe I was a Kansas farmer.

My mother was very influential in my creative development. She loved to work with her hands sewing, doing hair and arts and crafts, but would always take time to read to me and my brothers. We would gather on her bed and listen to her read fairy tales, Aesop’s Fables and more. She also took us to the Municipal Opera (“The Muny”), an outdoor summer theatre in Forest Park (site of the 1904 World’s Fair). Every summer we saw many of the popular musicals of the day – together, as a family.

Several things stand out in my theatre development. Once, we went to Tijuana and my mother bought me two puppets. I loved those puppets and played with the constantly. I would make up elaborate stories of heroes, villains, and damsels in distress. Puppetry certainly enhanced my wild imagination! My fourth-grade teacher also was very influential to my creative development. He brought classical music and opera to our inner city classroom for us to experience. Most of my classmates were bored, but the music enthralled me. It was the first time I heard the Opera “Carmen”, by Bizet. It was amazing.

Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.

I've always taken the approach to writing that says the more you know about other artistic disciplines; the better you will understand your chosen discipline. I've pursued formal training in dance, photography, music, painting and theatre; and, these various artistic disciplines have broadened me as a playwright.

I wrote my first play in junior high school. It was the typical droll example of the adolescent mind striking out at the injustices of the world at large. In high school, I was peripherally involved in theatre. My father frowned on the arts; he thought being in the theatre was for sissies. When I decided I was going to major in theatre, he gave me an ultimatum: find a practical career or he wouldn’t pay for college. I defied his wishes, and went on to major in theatre at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. There I studied theatre; began dance classes (and fell in love with ballet) and pursued a dance career with great zeal. I dreamed of one day dancing with the New York City ballet. After graduation, I packed by bags and moved to New York. I was going to be an overnight sensation; instead, I was schooled in life and hard knocks. I struggled and I starved. I continued taking dance classes, did some cattle calls, and got involved in all sorts of diversions. No matter how far I strayed from theatre, though, it always seemed to call me back. I eventually returned to writing by collaborating on a children’s musical. I wrote the book and lyrics and a friend/composer wrote the music. Over the years the small children's musical has morphed into the full-length musical “Starfest.” During this same period, I wrote another musical based on the life of “Joan of Arc.” The process of writing two musicals taught me persistence, the art of collaboration, and the beauty and power of dramatic structure.

My restless heart has taken me from New York City, to San Diego, across the ocean to London and now I’m firmly rooted in St. Louis again. Someone once said the best way to be an artist is to go out and live life. I’ve done just that, and my life has ended up on the pages of “Life Among the Trees,” “The Last Day's of Cafe Cafe”, “The Seamstress of St. Francis Street,” “Icarus Wing,” "The Healing of Joey Padowaski” and “You Know I Can’t Eat Buffalo Meat When There’s a Terrorist on the Loose.”

I’ve discovered over the many years of writing plays, and numerous other artistic projects, that I’m always chasing after that transcending moment when magic happens on stage; the dark shadows of life are illuminated, we’re able to laugh at the foibles of others we see in ourselves, and soar on the joy of being transported to another world. I strive to create these moments whenever I tackle a new project.

Tell us about the founding and the mission of The St. Louis Writers Group.

The St. Louis Writers’ Group is a group of like-minded scriptwriters who meet twice a month to help each other develop their scripts. We have no membership fees, no teachers, and no pressure to attend meetings. We are a family of artists helping each other perfect our scripts and writing craft. The group evolved out of my frustration in not having a regular venue to have my plays read and discussed. I approached the owner of a local coffee shop and asked him if I could do a reading of one my plays; he agreed and that was the beginning of the St. Louis Writers’ Group. I invited some other writers to attend the first reading, and they liked the venue and the atmosphere so much, they asked if they could have their plays read at the coffee shop. I agreed, and arranged more readings at the coffee shop, and the writers and scripts kept coming week after week.

One day, I realized the St. Louis Writers’ Group had a life of its own and needed legitimacy. First Run Theatre, is a local theatre company where I was closely involved and I approached them with the idea of becoming part of their organization. They agreed and the St. Louis Writers’ Group is now under the umbrella of First Run Theatre and has been going strong for the past six years.

During our short history, hundreds of writers, actor, directors, and other theatre professionals, have participated in our script developmental process. Many of the plays developed at the St. Louis Writers’ Group have gone on to full productions in St. Louis and across the country. One of our plays was produced in Ghana, Africa. The St. Louis Writers’ Group meets twice a month. The first Monday of the month we read complete scripts, and we workshop script in various stages of development on the third Monday of the month.

What are your thoughts on St. Louis as a theatre town?

There is a very large and diverse theatre scene happening in St. Louis. Although I don’t see nearly as much theatre as I would like, much of what I see is good and professionally executed. My only pet peeve with St. Louis theatre is there is so little original theatre done in the town.

To learn about Mario and his work, please click the post's title to visit his website.

Jaz Dorsey

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