Water By The Spoonful – Interview
Last semester the Hunter College Theatre Department ran Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Water By The Spoonful, directed by Hunter College Theatre Department Chair Gregory Mosher. According to Mosher, running this play was “a terrific springboard for our young artists, and [he] couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve achieved.” Hunter student actors had the opportunity to embody Hudes’ multifaceted characters and tackle timeless themes of identity, trauma, and morality. Water By The Spoonful centers on the story of Elliot (Daniel Chicon-Ramirez), an Iraqi veteran, and the growing opioid crisis in America.
Arts At Hunter: Water By The Spoonful is a Pulitzer Prize Winning Play – how was it like playing Elliot and bringing him to life?
It was absolutely incredible, being given the honor to work on such a celebrated play and to portray such a complicated character. Of all the characters I’ve ever played, Elliot definitely shaped up to be one of my favorites, if not my favorite. It was a real joy, piecing together who he was from not only this play, but the other two in the trilogy. So, I took clues from everything this character had made appearances in and did research into some of the things he had been through that weren’t written about. For example, I knew a big part of Elliot’s story was his time in the Marines. So, to get a better understanding of what it was like I interviewed a few people who had spent time in the service and, in a bit of an “ambitious” move, even expressed interest to the Marines about joining to really get to the root of what they stood for. That last method may have been a bit well, unique, but it gave me a great sense of how these warriors conducted themselves, how they sat and spoke to strangers, and that definitely made it into the physicality and personality of the character.
AAH: What responsibility did you feel taking on a story like Water By The Spoonful? Especially on addressing the narratives concerning drug abuse and wartime PTSD?
It’s a big responsibility. Dealing with a narrative like this and characters going through what they’re going through, there’s definitely a sense of need and desire to get it “right”. The way I saw it was that, above all else, my responsibility was to portray Elliot and his story truthfully. I felt that if I got to the truth of Elliot’s story, then I would also be getting to the truth of these real life problems many suffer with. This of course, meant a good amount of research into the mental disability of PTSD, just to make sure I understood the effects of the illness. I also want to commend my castmates, for bringing to life a variety of other characters with their own struggles. I think everyone in the cast was very aware of the stories we were telling and it definitely showed that we all really cared about showing respect too and correctly portraying them.
AAH: I heard the Quiara Alegría Hudes (playwright of WBTS) came in to speak with the actors. What did you learn from her and what she wanted out of her characters?
I still can’t believe that happened! I tell you, it literally felt like a dream. I had heard that there was a possibility she would come see a rehearsal, but I didn’t believe it would happen until she walked into the room! It was just jaw dropping to be in the room with such an inspiration and talented person. I was terrified rehearsing for her, in a good way! At that moment, I just really wanted her to enjoy the work I had done with this incredible character that she had created. I learned so much from her notes. Up until that point, me and Gregory had focused on the traumatic side of Elliot. Originally, our Elliot was this pent up, furious kid who was constantly ready for a fight at a second’s notice and wore his emotions on his sleeve. Quiara saw this and told us that, that layer was definitely there but there was another one we were missing. She spoke about her real cousin (Elliot Ruiz who the character is based on), and his sheer love to charm and make people smile. So, yes he had a lot of anger and distrust in him from what he had been through, but he still loved to joke with others, he was, as she put it “A superstar”. From then on, we added on that top layer and it became a wildly different take that was much closer to what you get in the performances. This 24 year old guy who, though has been through such a traumatic life in such a short time, is still this extraordinary person who has accomplished so much and would do anything to bring joy to the people he loves.
AAH: What depictions of Latino and Hispanic Americans do you hope to see more of in theater?
I don’t even think there’s a specific type I want to see. I just feel like there are so many stories to tell about Latinos and Hispanics out there and I would love to see as much variety as possible. We don’t get much representation in the entertainment industry and it really is a shame to see that so many stories are being ignored. But I’m patient and I think writers like Quiara and Lin Manuel Miranda are really starting to pave the road for us, so I hope to see a lot more of our stories on stage (and on screen) in the near future.
AAH: What was your favorite scene to act in?
Has to be the infamous scene 7! It’s the first scene after intermission, and, honestly, there is not another scene I asked to rehearse more. Spoiler alert, this is the scene where Elliot is pushed to his limit by his birth mother and he tells the fate of his younger sister to a complete stranger just to hurt his mom. It was definitely the hardest scene to get down, I think Gregory and I tried it a million different ways before we finally found what we wanted. Even so, we continued to make tweaks to it throughout the show run. There’s just so many things going on in Elliot’s head and it’s because of its complexity that makes it my favorite. It’s one of those scenes that I’ll be thinking about, and having new ideas about, probably for the rest of my life.
AAH: What do you hope the audience can take away from Water By The Spoonful?
With Water by the Spoonful or anything I work on, I want the audience to walk away either having more insight into themselves (if they’re going through something a character is) or having more knowledge into a situation or walk of life they would’ve never thought about. That’s really what excites me about acting, it’s that possibility of teaching someone a little bit more about themselves or about another’s situation through an experience they enjoy watching and can share with others.
AAH: What’s your dream role or a play you’d like to act in?
Ahhhh mannnn that’s a hard one. There are so many incredible characters and possibilities. As far as theatre goes, I’ve been dreaming of playing Angel in the Stephen Adly Guirgis play Jesus Hopped the A Train lately, but I’d also love to play Elliot again in the Water by the Spoonful Sequel The Happiest Song Plays Last and continue to explore the character even further. If you’re talking film, I’d love to have a shot at playing a superhero. Ever since the release of Black Panther proving that diverse movies could be gigantic successes worldwide, I’ve had the dream of being in a similar movie for the Hispanic community. I heard of this character called White Tiger who’s one of the only Hispanic superheroes from NYC, sooooo Marvel if you’re reading this, give me a call, we’ll talk!
Interview by Arts Ambassador Sharon Young
Photos by Esther Yumi Ko for the Hunter College Theatre Department
Catch the Hunter College Theatre Department’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Adrienne D. Williams – Nov 13-23. Get tickets here.