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May 7, 2014

Edgar Oliver’s Wanderings in the Park

By Shoshana Greenberg

Actor, playwright, and storyteller Edgar Oliver has one of the most distinctive voices in the theater. In his new solo show with Axis Company, In The Park, a world premiere directed by Axis’ Randy Sharp, he wanders the paths of Prospect Park, his mellifluous tone illuminating memories and experiences both old and current. Running May 8th to June 7th at Axis Theatre in the West Village, In The Park is Oliver’s third full-length monologue piece. He previously performed East 10th Street, about his old rooming house, and Helen & Edgar, about his childhood with his sister Helen and his mother. Culturadar blogger Shoshana Greenberg talked to Oliver about In The Park, his unexpected career in show business, and how and why he tells stories.

Culturadar: What is your connection to Prospect Park?

Edgar Oliver: Well, I’ve been going to Prospect Park now for 30 years. Probably the first time I went there I was around 27. I’d been living in New York since I was 21 but I hadn’t really ever been to Brooklyn. One day I just chanced to go there, I just walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and I wound up in Prospect Park. I’ve been going there ever since. I love going there to write so I wanted to do a show about me wandering in Prospect Park and what I’m thinking while I’m wandering. Oftentimes I enter my childhood and I imagine myself living there as a little boy among the trees.

CR: Do you live near the park now?

EO: I don’t. I live in Manhattan but down on the Lower East Side very close to the Williamsburg Bridge. I love to walk across all the bridges, and I love Brooklyn and I love Prospect Park. I love the fact that I can go there and I can just sit for hours and think. I can write or not write. It’s so savage and overgrown. I can just be there, and if I have to pee I can just go into the trees and pee and then come back.

CR: Is that why you chose Prospect Park as opposed to the other NYC parks?

EO: Yes, exactly. I can feel truly alone.

CR: What was your process for writing this piece?

EO: Over the past few years, I’ve written a series of short poems that are all set in Prospect Park about me now. I wanted to assemble them into a longer piece, and I had this idea that I wanted to do something about me now in the park. I proposed this show to Randy Sharp from Axis, and Randy really loved the idea, so we started working together and assembling it into a full-length show.

CR: Do you start with a lot of text and edit it down?

EO: It’s gone through a lot of changes. At first there were some flashbacks to scenes in my intermediate past, like when I was maybe 32, and to a boy that I was very much in love with at the time. But Randy and I decided that that flashback shouldn’t be referred to directly, that the show should solely be about now and my childhood. Any references to that love for that boy from my intermediate past should be more indirect.

CR: How does the piece differ from some of your previous pieces?

EO: It’s the most personal of all the full length monologues I’ve done. It’s more a meditative piece about me now and about my own peculiar workings of my mind. It’s very personal to me, but I think, I hope and I believe, that almost anyone who comes to the show will be able to identify with it, or find notes that are struck that are tuned to their souls and inner thoughts.

CR: Why do you choose to tell stories in this way as opposed to a more traditionally dramatic way?

EO: For a number of years I wrote a series of plays and fantastical autobiographies about my childhood. I love those plays. I premiered them over the years at La Mama on East 4th Street. Every year for 10 years I would premiere a new play at La Mama for Halloween, always about my childhood. I don’t know really how [these monologues] came about. I guess perhaps over the past 13 years I told so many stories at The Moth, and George Green, who founded the Moth, wanted me to do a full-length show telling my stories. Brian Barnhart and Randy from Axis wanted me to because I told them so many stories about East 10th Street. I had both sets of people asking me to come up with this piece about East 10th Street, so maybe it was because I was asked to do so by both of them. Nothing like being asked to do something to make you do it. Not supply and demand, but demand and then you supply. But this one in the park I’m doing because I asked to do it myself.

CR: Was it difficult to go from doing a play to then doing a monologue?

EO: I didn’t go directly from one to the other. I had been for a number of years now telling stories for The Moth. It became a natural process.


CR: When did you start working with The Moth and what has been your involvement?

EO: I first told a story at The Moth about, oh gosh, maybe 15 years ago and I just loved telling stories with them. But although this show is a long-form monologue, it’s somewhat different, and I don’t know exactly how to put that into words. But I love working with The Moth the past 15 years and with Randy now the past 13 years.

CR: Which writers and storytellers influenced you growing up?

EO: Flannery O’Conner above everyone, I love. James Agee was very important to me. His book A Death in the Family that I read when I was 17 was and remains one of the most important books to me. Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve always written poetry and I never ever in a million years when I was growing up expected that I would be in show business, that I would be a theatrical performer, but I always knew from when I was 16, when I started writing poetry, that that involved doing readings. So although I was terribly shy, I knew that I would be doing readings. When I came to New York, I wound up doing poetry readings in night clubs, like the Pyramid, because that’s where people asked me to do things. I just drifted into performance.

CR: Do you enjoy the show business part?

EO: Yes, I do now, but I still am terribly shy. I’m so glad that I came to New York and got involved in performing. It really changed my life.

Photos by Dixie Sheridan.


Shoshana Greenberg writes musicals, plays, and prose. Her musicals include Lightning Man (Ars Nova ANT Fest), Sophia Venetia Voyager, and Soon Never, and her work has been featured in concerts at Lincoln Center, The York Theatre Company, the Duplex Cabaret Theater, the TriArts Sharon Playhouse, the Goodspeed Opera House, and The Laurie Beechman Theatre. She earned her MFA from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program after graduating from Barnard College. She also blogs about theater for The Huffington Post.

Posted at 2:28 PM

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