Despite the fact that many people here at Boston College appear to be your regular, average students, many of them are pursuing passion projects beyond the BC bubble that leave you wondering how they get any sleep. One of my good friends, Michael Pisaturo, is one of those such students. As a Secondary Ed major minoring in Math, Mike can often be found slaving away over problem sets or student teaching at area high schools. However, when not teaching algebra or studying for a big exam, Mike spends his time performing in the Robsham Theater Arts Center and, in light of some recent achievements, presenting his own plays on off-broadway stages in New York City. His most recent piece, Paper Planes, takes place atop a skyscraper and documents an interaction between two characters who have both been closely affected by suicide. The short play was chosen as a regional finalist at the Kennedy Center Annual College Theatre Festival, and it has premiered at other festivals and series in New York City and beyond. I had the chance to sit down with Mike and ask him a few questions about these exciting accomplishments.
Q: How did you first become involved in theatre in general?
It was through acting. My first play was The Wiz in middle school. Ask me why a mostly white middle school was doing The Wiz? I don’t know. I began my theatre career as the lead flying monkey and it just blossomed from there.
Q: Would you say that your experience here at BC leans more towards acting or playwriting, and is there one you enjoy more?
I enjoy them both equally, but I see myself having more potential in the area of playwriting. I don’t think I could totally devote myself to one or the other at the college level, because I would feel a void on both ends. They’re both so much fun! As much as I love writing, being on stage is so exhilarating.
Q: What compelled you to write a play about suicide, or what inspired you to tackle such a sensitive but important issue?
I was in an Uber driving through Boston at night and I had this weird feeling of déjà vu, like a melancholic nostalgia. I envisioned myself so far removed from everyone “down there”, just kind of sitting on top of a skyscraper. I’m picturing this way having this feeling and I thought, how interesting would it be to set a play on top of a skyscraper. And then I thought, when you think of someone sitting on the edge of a skyscraper, you think suicide. So I thought it would be interesting to set it up there but not have that person planning to commit suicide, but have it rooted in something else. So you subvert what people are expecting.
Q: What has it been like to lead the life of both a student and an active, working playwright?
The first time I went to New York City for the [The Emerging Artists’ Theatre’s] New Works Series, I think I was the youngest playwright/director by a couple decades. It was very bizarre because a lot of them had been working in the field for a while at that point. In terms of balancing the two, it’s all about prioritizing certain things. As much of a passion as playwriting is, I’m also a student. I have to make it about prioritizing them, because my field of study and playwriting don’t exactly overlap. If you were a theatre major and also directing something outside of BC, you can use experiences in both worlds to influence one another. But in taking math classes and teaching, there aren’t many significant overlaps. It’s also about making sure I have enough time. I am horrible at time management, so I try to get my school work done, and then I’ll allocate what time I have left to playwriting. Thank God I’m a night owl.
Q: Has your acting experience impacted the way you view plays or conceptualize them when you’re beginning to write one?
I’ve always found myself most comfortable in terms of an actor dealing with more contemporary pieces, particularly ones that have very realistic dialogue. One of my biggest inspirations is Annie Baker. She’s all about hyperrealism. Her dialogue has so many ums, uhs, beats, pauses and silences which is how regular people talk; I found myself drawn to that. Having had a chance to work with pieces that use that kind of dialogue, I’ve been able to see how writers use it to their advantage. Finding out what makes that particular play successful has certainly been helpful. Because you can write that way and it can still come out horribly. Also, when I’ve brought my play to other festivals, I’ve had to direct it myself. So experience as an actor has been helpful, if not integral, to being able to direct something like that.
Q: Do you enjoy directing your play, or would you rather someone else direct it?
One of the playwrights at KCACTF said “I would rather have absolute, total control over my entire play or have no involvement in it whatsoever”. I don’t know if I definitely agree with that, but I know especially with writing hyper-realistic dialogue, every single beat, pause, and intonation is so purposeful. As a playwright I spend so much time placing them in certain locations to give the dialogue the right effect, so I’m always very particular about how things are said. I think I do prefer to direct my play. But, over this last week at KCACTF, it was a lot of letting the actors go through the dialogue themselves to feel what sounds right and what doesn’t. Ultimately they read it in the way I originally intended, but it sounded a lot more comfortable and natural.
Q: Do you have any upcoming plans for this play, or is there anything else you’re working on?
There is a one-act I just finished called The Happy Club, and it’s basically an extension of Paper Planes. When I was originally at the New Works Series, one of the audience members asked me if I would ever be interested in expanding Paper Planes. My initial response was that I wasn’t exactly sure. So on the spot I said that I don’t know if I would expand the short play itself, but I would like to include it in a series of vignettes all focusing on the same topic. That’s ultimately what I did, and I wrote two additional vignettes with a relatively simple narrative to string them together. It’s all about Stella, the character in Paper Planes. She leads a support group for people affected by suicide. The whole play takes place within their last meeting, and only two of the other members could show up. Throughout the meeting, the three members have flashbacks to what brought them there, and each flashback contains a short scene. At the end we see Stella flashing back to Paper Planes, reminding her why she does the whole thing. It’s essentially about how people connect with one another through tragedy. I’m also currently working on a full-length for my thesis that’s going to deal with the roles of racism and classism in the public school system. It’s loosely based off of a New York Times op-ed that follows a twelve year old girl whose family is being shuffled between homeless shelters. It talks about her educational experience and how, in her school, the arts budget was potentially going to be cut, which meant the dance program would be cut as well. That’s the one thing that drew this girl to school. The article does not talk about whether the budget was cut, so this play imagines what would happen if this program were cut and how it would affect the students and faculty there.