Jess Barbagallo & Ramón Esquivel On Writing Process

Anna Zheng is a senior Gender Studies major, currently enrolled in Professor Kosmas’s Play/Performance Writing Course. They interviewed Visiting Playwrights Jess Barbagallo & Ramón Esquivel about their writing processes and inspirations while they were on campus teaching in connection with the HJT’s Annual Instant Play Festival. Following are their reflections. 

 Taking Professor Kosmas’s Play/Performance Writing course is fulfilling two things in my life: my last Gender Studies class and (most importantly) my love for writing. Deliberately choosing routes to channel my creative energy for my last semester, I found myself stepping foot in the Harper Joy Theater for the first time in 4 years.

When the opportunity to interview visiting playwrights Jess Barbagallo and Ramón Esquivel came along, it felt like frequencies aligned and beautiful harmonies erupted in my world. As a writer myself, collaborations and conversations with other writers create a sense of community and inspiration.

I interviewed Barbagallo and Esquivel separately but wanted to know about their writing processes.

Barbagallo states that their writing process is “pretty manic.”

“I also really like to think about writing in these utilitarian ways for myself: writer as factory worker,” Barbagallo said. “I’d rather have beginning, middle, end and crank it out even if it’s total shit. Then I feel like something can happen. Making mess, committing to mess, and then you’ll have something there.”

When I interviewed Esquivel, they first told me to read Amber Dawn’s “How Poetry Saved My Life.” Then, they told me that they noticed patterns in their writing process. Starting with an outline, which usually ends up being three pages with a beginning, middle and end, they’d write a first draft. Then, second.

“I can feel the clichés coming out [in my first draft of a play],” Esquivel said. “I’m jumping over difficult parts. But really, I’m just trying to get to the end. In my first drafts, the character I think is my protagonist is often a cypher. So once I finish the story, I see who’s my favorite character that’s come out of that first draft. [Then ask], how will that character deal with the question or problem that inspired me to write this story? Then I’ll write a completely different second draft, but I’ll place the interesting character upfront. Way more interesting things happen to that character because I know them better. They’re making stronger choices. They’re not passive like my first protagonist.”

I’m interested in attraction and how or why writers gravitate toward other writers. Barbagallo mentioned poetry multiple times in our conversation.

“Poems as places to stage the unspeakable,” Barbagallo said. “I hope the page is a place to get some shit out of you that you need to get out. There’s a book of poetry by Richard Siken called Crush. That’s one of my favorite books of poems; I could read it a lot. Henri Cole. Why am I into these people? I’m into these people because I’m a romantic person, and I want to feel like I’m in romance with the world I’m living in. Tommy Pico. Juliana Huxtable.”

Esquivel listed a few writers: Sherman Alexie, Tarell McCraney and Karen Zacarias.

In Esquivel’s words, “I’m drawn to writers of color because they often will find shades of story that I might not see from white writers.”

Assistant Professor of Theater Kristen Kosmas and playwright Jess Barbagallo welcome questions from the audience after the reading from Barbagallo’s essay Diary of a Practicing Artist: A Portrait of Cultural Production in Real Time. Photo by Missy Garlach.

Instant Play Festival at Harper Joy Theatre– Sept. 23 and 24 at 8pm
After three weeks of playwriting workshops with a different guest playwright each week, student talents then receive a prompt in the evening, write all night, and the next morning, vigorous rehearsals take place all day and performances start at 8pm. Come join us in this exciting journey by getting your tickets on See you!