Go Deeper

Artist Profile: Playwright Greg Romero

Posted May 26th, 2009

Greg Romero once wrote a play while working as a guinea pig for a pharmaceutical clinic. That play, Sharpen My Dick, was a “theatricalization of the cyber sex experience,” recalled Romero. The young playwright’s already extensive body of work showcases experimental themes and boundary-erasing ideas.

Romero grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and first moved to Philadelphia in the summer of 2007. Although his first love in high school was sports, he discovered his passion for theater at the same time.

“I eventually had to make a choice,” said Romero. “The tryouts for the baseball team were the same day as the tryouts for the musical; I chose the musical. That year our baseball team won the state championship. But I didn’t regret doing the musical . . . it was awesome.”

He wrote his first play while sitting in the Louisiana graveyard made famous by the movie Steel Magnolias. Waiting for Bitches, which takes place in that same graveyard, is a dark comedy about two college freshmen waiting for their love interests to meet them. Our policy dictates no spoilers, so all you can know is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, it does not end well.

In 2004 Romero wrote The Book of Remembrance and Forgetting in collaboration with choreographer Ray Eliot Schwarz, electronic music composer Mike Vernusky, and five dancers. The piece was inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Everything Is Illuminated. During the play’s performance at the University of Texas, Romero took on the role of The Writer, pictured at right.

“This piece was hugely important to me, both because it launched the ongoing collaboration between me and Mike Vernusky . . . [and it] totally opened me up to a new way of thinking about how my work can engage with live bodies in space,” says Romero.

Romero is revising and completing several works and hopes to have them ready for Philadelphia productions over the next twelve months. Radio Ghosts is a collaborative endeavor with a composer inspired by the electronic voice phenomenon of speech-like sounds created by electronic devices. The first act is finished and was presented to Philadelphia and New York audiences early last year as a work in progress.

Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich is a play about a man in his 50s who kidnaps a 14-year-old who he’d been in love with for seven years. Her feelings are never fully explained or realized, leaving behind a play informed by moral ambiguity. Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich went into production in Austin this month. In the fall, the 20-minute play will go up here as one of three short plays with common themes written by Philadelphia-based playwrights. Also, look out for the reworked rendition of Romero’s The Most Beautiful Lullaby You’ve Ever Heard, which is set to come out in Philly next year.

Romero also doubles as professor; he’s a former faculty member of The O’Neill National Theater Institute in Connecticut and worked as a lecturer at The University of the Arts. Currently, Romero teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Saint Joseph’s University. He says his students respond most viscerally to discovering of their own creativity. “The majority of my students at St. Joe’s are not in creative majors . . . they’re frightened at first but are surprised at how much fun they’ve had. It excites them.”

This spring, some of Romero’s student’s turned the tables and took him along on an adventure. “[They] discovered [The Gershman Y] to create/play around with some project ideas and they invited me . . . The mask is actually a mannequin head that I found lying around . . . While I was playing, one of my students took some really great photos. That night produced some interesting video work . . . More than anything, I was just really proud of my students for finding such an interesting space and following their impulses to do.”

And he’s optimistic about the future of new theater in Philadelphia. “I’m encouraged by how Philadelphia is as interested as it’s ever been in new works. The Fringe has helped that. That’s really exciting to me.”

–Jennifer Burrini

Photos courtesy of Greg Romero