It’s easy for some Baby Boomers to downplay or even mock the Millennial journey, but are their struggles any less than the classic American story of rags to riches? Would Sylvester Stallone, in his now famous lowest point in life prior to Rocky fame (and when he had to sell his dog for $50) have made it as a modern day millennial? What drives success? What process or situation explodes into a moment of realization? Perhaps there is some sort of epiphany that propels an idea as simple as a spoken word piece to grow into a full length play? Situations may change. Generations may pass. But for the artist, many challenges remain the same... and that brings us to the new play by Jacqui Rêgo, “Baby Hubris”
Ms. Rêgo is a young, versatile New York actor (let’s dispense with such labels as “millennial” for a moment and just call her an artist) who once wowed me at an acting audition. I cast her on the spot. The play never happened, but she left an indelible impression and recently resurfaced in my radar as a playwright, poet, actor, and creative soul. In her arsenal this time, she brought with her a new full-length play she wrote and is opening at Manhattan Rep Theatre later this month. I see plenty of young artists with new plays, but what really got my attention is how this play evolved, and how driven this young playwright has been.
In the exclusive interview that follows, you will notice that the evolution of a theatrical play can happen in many ways, and that the artist, deep down, is still a very unique being who thrives on overcoming obstacles.
Q~ How was this play conceived and when did you know you were bringing it to the stage?
Jacqui Rêgo: Baby Hubris started when I literally dropped what I was doing to write a ten-page spoken word piece eight years ago. To this day, I call it “my howling.” I needed to get it out of me, and I performed it in front of an audience that weekend. A pared-down version of that spoken word poem eventually became the prologue to the play.
It’s hard to say I wrote a play with myths and ghost doctors out of sheer necessity, but I did. I found myself struggling in New York City and trying to piece together my adulthood while all these things would get in the way – rent money, physical hunger, loneliness, exhaustion, and this voracious longing for authentic connection. I didn’t know how to play the game of what I was taught a woman “should” be while trying to navigate the double standards found in gender dynamics and survival, so I started writing. I really felt driven to seek out community as the play shaped up to be a full length project, I took a chance and submitted it to FringeNYC two years ago and in the application form had to write “self” under the theater company, director, and production boxes. I had never submitted to anything before and when I was accepted it was such a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps and make it happen” undertaking.
Q~ Has "Baby Hubris" changed or grown since it was first created or staged? If so, how. Will this upcoming presentation be different in any way from the first staging?
Jacqui Rêgo: I’ve shaved fifteen minutes off the play, and I strongly believe in going for both the jugular and the love in any given project. This time around, I’ve tried to pump up the love even more. Originally I thought I was writing a straight-up comedy, but I like saying the thing out loud that everyone in the room is thinking and from there came these deeply dramatic (and hopefully honest) moments. The play is unapologetic in that sense, and under the direction of Alejandra Parody, this staging feels rawer. Sexuality is part of the back bone of the piece and I think as a performer I’ve evolved and stopped shying away from those parts of myself too.
Q~ How would you describe "Baby Hubris" if asked you to quickly describe it? What about the meaning of the tilte?
Jacqui Rêgo: “Baby Hubris” is a magical realism call-to-arms and a backlash against hipster hook-up culture. An overworked single mom starts hallucinating the ghost of child expert, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and takes him as her personal guru. Wyatt, a transplanted cowboy howls at the moon with three-headed dogs, and their six-month old baby, Jack – talks.
“Baby Hubris” is about overcoming your own ego to grow into adulthood so you can find genuine love for yourself and others. The title of the play is a play on words of the Greek term "hubris" where the hero of the story would have his downfall come from his own reckless pride against the gods.
The arrival of the baby in the play, Jack (who is also the smartest of all the characters) makes Wyatt and Leslie reckon with their own sense of pride/ego/and defense mechanisms or face their own downfall. They finally, in very different ways, come of age into authentic adulthood. To coin a hipster phrase that makes my skin crawl, they stop "adulting" and move forward in their lives. For lack of a better word, they stop pulling their punches and actually grow and mature. Since the play has actual Greek gods and plenty of flawed humans, the title came to me as a way to subtlety reference the different moving parts and themes of the show.
Q~ “Hipster hook up culture...” What is that?
Jacqui Rêgo: Hipster hook-up culture is this pandemic of right-swipe hook-up culture but in the crucible of the New York City downtown arts scene, so there are unstable finances and survival tactics that people use as an excuse to keep their blinders up and their hearts closed. It's the "always busy" mentality because we actually are, I work (not infrequently) 18 to 20 hours a day juggling performing, writing, auditioning and all these different day/night/round-the-clock jobs but it's also an all too convenient way to put up your armor. No matter how 'busy' you are It's always an excuse people use to keep from connecting. I wanted to call that out.
So you drop all this in the indie arts scene or in the middle of a loft party in Bushwick, and you have grit, beauty, and a lot of very talented full-grown adults who are scared out of their minds to say “I'm going to risk losing my s*** over you, because you just may be the love of my life.” We all get hurt over and over again, and it's awful sometimes. I have horrible scars that will never go away, but deciding not to "right-swipe" through your life is an active choice. Specifically, in this community, it's choosing to be brave. I adore Lena Dunham, I secretly want to be her best friend, but in some ways, Baby Hubris both pre-dates and references Girls. I started working on this play eight years ago, and there's no Hollywood nepotism. This is a brought up quite rhythmically in the spoken word prologue of the play, but all I have are my spirit, passion, and my words. It's literally all I have to give anyone, and also it's everything.
Q~ What is the story about? Not a synopsis so much, but thematically?
Jacqui Rêgo: It’s about giving birth to your strength and getting out of your own way, which sometimes feels a hundred times harder when you’re cooking and growing in the crucible of New York City. Mythology is weaved into the play because I see people pattern femininity and masculinity in these primal and often dangerous archetypes and through comedy I wanted to ask the question, “is there a better way to ‘do’ relationships?” I meant that quite genuinely, can we learn how to come together without destroying the best parts of each other? I honestly didn’t have the answer when I started writing this, but I think the answer is “yes.” If you set fire to your own ego and find someone who is willing to do the same, I have great hope.
Q~ Greek mythology is part of your story. Can you reveal in what way and how it plays into the material?
Jacqui Rêgo: The character “Wyatt” writes rock musicals about Greek gods because his ego needs superheroes to hide behind but really I wanted to explore male and female dynamics in very specific ways. How Zeus’ endless conquests leave a trail of progeny in its wake. Since Zeus is king of the Gods all his sexual encounters lead to births and I was ruffled at the inequity in that, and how even in 2017, female sexuality still has more at stake and more to lose than its cisgendered male heterosexual counterparts. I was peeved that in the myths Zeus left all these mortal women to pick up the pieces and raise children because some idiot swan or amorous beam of sunlight swooped in and had its way with them. I also touch upon the rape of Persephone by Hades and delve into the love affair of Eros (Love) and Psyche (Soul) despite their topsy-turvy and sort of unlikely start.
Q~ As a multifaceted playwright, actor, producer, where would you like to see this material go? Is there a plan? A dream?
Jacqui Rêgo: The dream has always been an off-Broadway run. I have a vision board in my bedroom. It’s where I prepare for auditions and do most of my writing; and every morning I wake up and look at photos of my life goals, and the things I have to do day to day to put in the work to accomplish them. On it I literally have a picture of a Samuel French play script with my name written on the author byline. I read somewhere once that the greatest predictor of success is grit, and I came to this city fifteen years ago disowned and with $400 to my name. It sounds like the beginnings of a rags to riches origin story but the truth of it is that it made for a gutting decade. My trajectory as an artist has always been focused on integrity and growth. I like being pushed to my limits and seeing what’s on the other side. That’s not an original trait by any means but I wish it was something more commonly celebrated in women. If you truly want to be a badass I think it means your strength comes from not only holding your ground but also doing the honest work of risking your heart.
Jacqui Rêgo: Yes, I was actually disowned. I was born in Rio de Janeiro and am half-Brazilian. Latin culture doesn't always look fondly on teenage girls running off 1,000 miles away from home to pursue an education in the arts. My dad, who is now my biggest fan, once disowned me for six months for studying acting and getting my BFA at Tisch instead of studying something less worrying to an immigrant parent. I'm the first person in my family with a college degree and he desperately wanted me to become a lawyer or a doctor so I wouldn't have to struggle financially like my own parents have. Two weeks after I moved to NYC was September 11th, which is also three days before my birthday. It was a shaking experience for everyone watching open-mouthed on sidewalks in New York City that day but it was also a very personal hubris for my own family. Life is always too short, right? My dad decided if he was going to be angry with me it shouldn't be because his firstborn child was crazy about Shakespeare. On that birthday, my dad spoke to me for the first time in months and sang me "happy birthday" in Portuguese. To this day, it's one of my sweetest and most poignant memories of my life.
Tickets are now on sale for “Baby Hubris” by contacting Manhattan Rep Theatre here: http://manhattanrep.com/baby-hubris-2017/
TWO DATES ONLY: MAY,16TH @ 7:45 PM & MAY, 21ST @ 8:00 PM
VENUE: Manhattan Repertory Theatre, 17-19 West 45th St. Third Floor #301, New York, NY 10036 or email firstname.lastname@example.org