CHAD ESCHMAN

INTERVIEW WITH CHAD ESCHMAN: 360 Xochi Quetzal Resident in Playwriting

 

Chad Eschman is an extremely talented actor and playwright from Chicago and LA. He gives us a rare, inside view of his playwriting and creative process and his honest and self ­reflective experiences at his first writer’s residency. ­  -dek

 

In your writer’s statement you offer the following provocative description: “I like to write about liars, the ghosts of religion, and the ways we search for and define our families.” Please tell us more about what this means and how it translates into your work.

I think a lot about the identities and roles we have as members of a family. Those roles can be based upon blood ties and shared DNA, sure, but families form in all sorts of other ways, too. Maybe it’s about sharing love, finding connections, feeling safe. Sometimes you find it with your blood relatives, sometimes you find it with others. I think the main thing is to find it. Most of my plays take place in slightly different versions of our world: the government isnotebook-cocktail-rooftop taxing our memories; little girls talk to sad angels; lonely vampires visits missionaries late at night. There’s usually something strange and dangerous going on.  I like to think about who we bond with and where our loyalties lie, when things get shaken up like that ­ when there’s a crisis you never would have expected. By moving things just outside of reality, it allows us to step back and apply the stories to our own lives. To think: if war came knocking on our doors, who would we hide with? Or fight for? Or betray?

Attending 360 Xochi Quetzal was your first writer’s residency. Tell us why it was important for you to attend a residency at this point in your career.

lake-chapalaAt the time, I was in a state of transition: moving from Chicago to Los Angeles, leaving a steady job to return to the chaos of freelancing, and trying to re­focus on acting and writing. While I’d been doing a ton of projects with our theatrical collective, Living Room Playmakers, I hadn’t written my own full­length piece in almost two years. A good friend, Jessy, came across 360XQ residency and immediately sent it my way. I had the idea for a new play, so the possibility of spending an entire month writing sounded amazing. I was also drawn to 360XQ because there would be artists working in other mediums besides writing, and that appealed to me as an inspirational atmosphere. On top of that, my grandmother’s family is originally from Jalisco, and I’d never been, so a residency in Chapala just felt right. Some artists come to a residency with a particular creative game plan. Others just arrive open to whatever inspires them at the moment.

How did you approach your residency and how did your time compare towhat you anticipated?

writing-el-arbol-de-cafeI definitely had a plan. My goal was to go through the entire writing process of a full first draft of this new play. I had the basic idea of my story and knew the major points, but everything else happened at the residency. Week one was spent brainstorming and outlining, as well as getting acquainted with the area, the 360XQ team, and my fellow residents. During weeks two and three I wrote out the play, scene by scene, entirely by hand. As I did, my outline kept changing, which was interesting. The story kind of defied me, but that was okay because it never felt out of control. Having a solid plan kept things level, even as that plan shifted. The final week I typed up and formatted the script, re­writing and editing as I went along. I completed the draft on the night before my last full day in Chapala. That felt great.

How did you structure your time during your residency?

courtyard-hammockTo be honest, I’m terrible at sticking to a consistent schedule. I often started each day with a jog down by the lake, and then I ran errands or dealt with email. It takes me a while (and some strong coffee) to get up to full speed. Afternoons are my favorite time to write, so I planted myself on the roof for a few hours and set a milestone: finish one entire scene, or write non­stop until a timer beeped, or nail down the events of the next act.  I also decided to blog every day to keep myself accountable and add structure. It was partly about the writing process, partly about discoveries I made while in residence, and partly about wandering the town.

What were some of the highlights of the residency for you? What parts were hard?

notebook-cocktail-rooftopThere is nothing like setting aside an entire period of time to devote to one writing project. It’s intimidating, but also liberating, and I learned that it is a great way for me to start a new play. The fact that I was in a place I’d never been before, speaking a language I don’t know very well, figuring out local rules and schedules, put me in a slightly uneasy state of mind which I found helpful, even when it was awkward.

 

You have worked in several collaborative settings. We would love to hear more about this process.

blogging-at-the-casaFor the past three years I’ve been co­managing Living Room Playmakers, primarily based in Chicago. Now I’m setting up our Los Angeles branch. LRP is a group of playwrights who write and produce plays for unusual spaces, and also throw some pretty good parties. There’s a couple things that make this group unique. Firstly. we write for specific locations: a mid­century furniture shop, an unlicensed concert hall, a tabletop gaming office, just to name a few. We make plays in places that belong to someone else, and are not at all designed for theatre; it feels like people are allowing us to come into their homes. So we explore, and we try to get to know how the place “works.” We look for the hidden stories there that excite us, and then we start to write. Secondly, we write as a team. Sometimes that means we’re all writing short plays that riff on a similar theme. Sometimes that means we’re breaking one big story into smaller moments that one of us takes ownership over. It’s a little different each time, but we’ve developed a process in which we are in sync from day one, sharing ideas and workshopping each other’s pages. It leads to productions that may tell several different stories, but that also have a cohesion and a flow that I find really exciting.

Tell us a little about what you are currently working on and what readings or productions are coming up?

writing-el-arbol-de-cafeI recently finished producing the first installment of LRP’s 10­minute script readings in Hollywood. The team in Chicago is putting up some pieces on the shore of Lake Michigan, and I’m helping them from afar. We’ve just launched our new website with a complete overhaul of our visual identity. I’m also having some conversations with my colleagues about our first full­scale production in LA, so we’re snooping around to find the right place for that. I’m preparing to start the fundraising campaign for Never Stop, a short film that I wrote, and which I’m producing and acting in this summer. It’s a piece I’ve been playing with since graduate school, when I became fascinated with William S. Burroughs and his book Naked Lunch. I wrote the original version using overheard conversations, stream­ of­consciousness journaling, cut­up pages of my own text, and a whole bunch of whiskey. But now, since coming to LA, the project has taken on its own life and gathered a really exciting group of filmmakers. I’m thrilled that we’re making this thing a reality.

Where can we see and read about more of your work?

I have a new website, which does include the blogging I did at 360XQ, as well as updates on all of my new pursuits.

The new LRP website has info on what we’re doing in both LA and Chicago.

My playwriting is on the New Play Exchange if you’d like to take a look.

I also send out updates on everything via Twitter, which includes my work in theatre, film, and cocktails.


Testimonials

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Kristen and I  would like to return each year.

Orion Kugel,Photographer

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Orion and I would like to return each year.

Kristen Pobatschnig, Painter
“Applying for the free Winter residency of Xochi Quetzal was the start of many positive transformations. The silence I found for myself during the residency, allowed me not only to write the best last chapter I can write at this stage of my evolution, it also granted me a most sought-after introspection moment during which I read my dreams and studied ancient Eastern writings. The serenity of the lake and presence of other artists inspired me to get mentally ready and organized for my future as a novelist. I am particularly fond of spending the holidays abroad with ‘strangers’. It always infuses me with these wild insights and whims. Our group was just lovely, the artists one by one very interesting. Cobra and Christian are warm and graceful hosts who made life easy. All in all, Xochi Quetzal was a weighty meditation, a poetic experience that carried me through the rest of Mexico in newness and will resonate long after.”
Heidi Souffriau, Writer
“I was partly inspired to apply for the Xochi Quetzal residency by The Retro Cocktail Hour — a popular Saturday night radio show on Kansas Public Radio 91.5 that features exotica music (a form of tropical jazz).  My hope was for the palm trees,  lakeside sunrises, and culture of Chapala & Mexico at large to inform my creative process.  These elements did precisely that, and the generous hospitality of Cobra & her partner Christian provided me with a cozy composing environment.”
Note from Staff: Listen to the music created during Andrew’s residency -Winter 2016
Andrew Morgan, Composer, Musician

Chapala is a safe, spiritually charged, beautiful place. Wild horses run through town.  It’s a place where you greet strangers on the street.

I walked along the lake in meditation a great deal. I hiked the looming cerro overlooking town. I biked all over the countryside. I wrote, documented, created composed soundscapes utilizing field recordings, and built small maquette light sculptures based on my experiences. I attended traditional temazcals, and sat alone in cathedrals.

It was pivotal for me in a spiritual sense more than a career advancing experience. I’m very grateful for it, and Deborah Kruger is a wonderful advocate to keep in contact with. I truly recommend the residency.

Justin R. Lytle, Sound Artist & Sculptor

My residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal in summer 2015 was both restorative and productive.  I was inspired by the beautiful studio and the surrounding Chapala  / Jalisco region.  The setting worked well for me in terms of inspiring and completing new work, and learning the history and customs of the area.  The flexible residency requirements allowed an easy engagement with other residents, and encouraged me to participate in Chapala and Guadalajara communities.  There are many contemporary art venues in Guadalajara, which are an easy bus ride from Chapala.

Michael Pribich, Sculptor

“Not only was this residency situated in one of the most beautifully mystical, culturally resonant, and stimulating settings imaginable, it also managed to be both peaceful and galvanizing: the perfect combination for immersing oneself in a creative project without hesitation or distraction. Deborah and Christian’s home was an oasis. One of my fellow residents remarked to me that “this place has amazing energy for getting work done,” and I wholeheartedly agree: the atmosphere seemed to hum with a low-key, generative productivity, one that helped me get closer than I’d been in many months to actually fully realizing and finishing a long story. I wish I was still there among the bougainvillea, the jade vines, the dogs and the pelicans.”

Suzanne K. Rivecca, Author

Chapala has become my home away from home. The Xochi Quetztal residency is run efficiently. Cobra and her team are friendly, accessible, and professional. My stay in Chapala is enhanced by the personal relationships I have developed with several of the team members. The casita I stay in is very well maintained and fully equipped. The studio area is large and ready for me to engage in art as soon as I arrive.  The weather is always fantastic. The lake, the town(s), the life, the restaurants, the view, the very friendly local people all call me back again and again. I love it!

Zahava Sherez, Sculptor

“This was the most work I’ve ever done in a single month in my life. I will never forget what an incredible experience this was and I thank you for honoring me with a residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal. The reference material I gathered throughout the trip to Chapala, Mexico is going to fuel my work for years to come. Thank you for everything! You run an incredible residency program!!!”

Santiago Galeas, Painter