“Race has nothing to do with being attracted to someone,’ says Travis, the protagonist of Michael Golamco’s Cowboy Vs. Samurai. But in this witty, satiric comedy, that statement is challenged over and over again… This play is ultimately as much about friendship as it is about love.”-Dan Bacalzo
His current play, “Year Zero” is a comedic drama about young Cambodian Americans — that touches on reincarnation, reinvention, and ultimately, redemption. It was selected for workshop development at Chicago Dramatists through its Many Voices Project, and was chosen as its 2008 Grand Prize Winner.
It started out as a ten minute play that expanded to a full-length and was publicly read in New York City with Second Generation last March 2008. Last July and a couple of weeks ago, a public reading was held at the Chicago’s Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Biograph Theater through its IGNITION: Emerging Playwrights of Color Initiative, a project supported by the Ford Foundation.
Michael was raised in thein a multi-cultural household. His mother is Filipino and his father is with a very strong connection to their Chinese roots. He jokingly claims that, “I got the worst attributes of both ethnic groups — I can’t dance and I’m stingy with my dough.”
He originally wanted to write novels because he feels that it’s the purest form of storytelling there is since
it’s a direct interface between the writer and the reader. Currently, he concentrates on writing plays and screenplays with a manager handling his film work in Los Angeles. His current goal is to work on film, television, and theater which is shaping out pretty well for him.
Aside from being a writer, Michael works as a programmer and he finds that programming has a lot of similarities with writing which are creative problem solving, finding elegance and structure, and making things work. He’s has already started taking steps to shift his focus on writing full time but he will still write software even for fun.
In addition to this, I asked Michael about his work process:
CP: What was the inspiration for writing “Year Zero?”
MG: I was tangentially interested in the Khmer Genocide as a historical event. We all have salient spikes of interest about things in the back of our minds. The idea of the play was kind of a cloud in my head. It wasn’t real yet.
I have this Cambodian friend and through discussions with her it made me realize that — damn — people we know actually lived through this. It happened within their lifetimes. I think that was what made the play real. That was what made me want to write it.
I had wanted to write something about personal histories and how they’re passed on. The past is this weird thing — on one hand it’s set in stone, unchangeable, and we are all products of what happened in the past. But on the other hand, unless the story of the past is told, it vanishes from our memories. It dies without us. And I also wanted to write about Cambodian Americans because not enough is said about Cambodian Americans. More needs to be said.
CP: Your plays seem to feature Asian American characters, is this a conscious effort on your part as a writer? And if so, why is that?
MG: I think that there aren’t enough good roles for Asian American actors. That’s the primary reason why I do what I do. I have two distinct bodies of work: Universal stories and very Asian-specific stories that have universal themes, like Year Zero.
With the first body of work my goal is to write unique, mainstream stories that could come from an author of any ethnicity, and contain characters that could be cast from any ethnicity. My goal is to just do good storytelling. Of course, I know a lot of Asian American actors, so if I have any pull I can always put people in my stuff. This way we can work together we can show the audience that, hey –these actors have skills. They can do non ethnic specific roles and do them well. Maybe they should be cast in other non ethnic specific
roles as well…
The second body of work concerns stories that are part of the Asian American experience but are also essential to the American experience as a whole. For instance, Year Zero: It’s about the children of the
survivors of the (Cambodian) genocide. But it’s also about personal histories — about how the past doesn’t get passed along by parents because they feel it would be harmful to their children. It deals with the repercussions of that. And I think all Americans can relate to that idea.
Plus it’s funny. It’s a play that’s got laughs in it, that has a lively sort of humor. It takes place in Long Beach, has things to say about hip hop culture, etc.. It deals with the Khmer genocide but isn’t about doom and gloom — it’s about life.
So what you get out of my work is a sense that
At least, I hope that’s what people get. But I’ve been all over the country, and the work seems to resonate fairly well with a universal audience — black, white, latino/a people, old, young.
And that’s not just me — it’s a testament to the talent of these Asian American actors, and to the merit of these stories. And that’s pretty great.
CP: How much of the author can we find in the characters of your plays?
MG: Someone once told me that when you dream, each of the characters in your dream is really a representation of yourself. I think that says a lot about how a writer handles his or her characters — they are
distinctly related to how the writer views him/herself.
I am distinctly sprinkled throughout all of my characters. At a fairly animated talkback after a recent performance of Cowboy Versus Samurai, an audience member said, “From hearing you talk right now I can hear the voices of your characters.” I put a lot of myself into these characters. I think you have to.
Also, I don’t have any throwaway characters. In theater I prefer to use small casts, concentrate on fewer characters and give them more meat. I have no one playing trees in my work. And doing so forces you to find a sort of love for each character. Maybe that means I’m a narcissist and I love myself. It’s quite possible!
Actually, I love humanity. Not every day — sometimes humanity sucks. But for the most part, I love people, and I try to instill that sort of love in my characters.
CP: What are the subject themes you’d like to explore in the future?
MG: Currently, I’m looking into doing a play about the relationship between a man and his drug dealer. I’m also looking into doing a play about a small squad of Army reservists lost in the middle of the desert during the opening week of the Iraq war.
CP: Who are the other writers that you admire or emulate?
MG: I really love Neil Simon’s work. My favorite archetype of his is the smart-ass teenage kid. Right now I really like this guy Stephen Adly Guirgis. One of his plays begins with the line, “WHAT KINDA FUCKIN WORLD IS THIS?!” You gotta love that. I also like , , and the plays of my buddy Lloyd Suh and of Julia Cho.
Currently, Michael is commissioned to create a play for actors, Law and Order) and (LOST) about guys that make video games. He also have some other projects in motion right now. He thinks that for emerging young writers who are trying to get their works published or recognized, they need to “write every day. Write a lot. Don’t just write one thing and place all your hopes on it. In terms of getting stuff published and produced, it’s a numbers game. Be prolific.”(