NEW YORK – Playwright Jonathan Alexandratos was recently awarded a New Works Grant from the Queens Council on the Arts’ Queens Art Fund. He took time out of his busy schedule to talk with The National Herald about his life and work. Born and raised in Knoxville, TN, Alexandratos has roots in Thessaloniki on his mother’s side and Ithaca on his father’s. His plays explore his family’s immigrant history and as he noted, the stories he tells are “very personal, yet universal.”
The New Works Grant will help Alexandratos complete his latest play based on his maternal grandmother’s dramatic life and immigrant story. Having already written about his father’s side in We See What Happen, he told TNH it was time to write about his mother’s side of the family.
Alexandratos now makes his home in Astoria, but he loves Knoxville, he said, and returns there frequently to visit, adding that it was a unique experience being a member of the only Greek family in the neighborhood. The consciousness of being different, going to the only Greek church in the area, had a definite influence on him as a person and as a playwright.
He noted that the word “moussaka” was a punchline to a joke for many in Knoxville at the time, and his family was the resident Greek family who ate strange foods, including moussaka. It may not have seemed funny at the time for a child growing up, trying to fit in, but it certainly helped create a wellspring of inspiration for his work as a playwright.
When asked if he always wanted to be a playwright, Alexandratos said he did, noting that he had had a hard time reading while at school and found long novels that were assigned difficult to get through. He was actually placed in a special reading class in the 3rd grade when he discovered plays which helped with his reading. “Plays,” he said, “clicked with me.”
His love of action figures, which continues to this day, also fed into his writing. The toys themselves are texts as they help create worlds through characters that could be anyone and do anything. The power of theatre to explore themes and issues in a way no other medium can has helped Alexandratos share his unique voice with the world.
Besides his work as a playwright, he also teaches English at Queensborough Community College. Many of his diverse group of students have dramatic immigration stories to tell as well, some of them inspiring Alexandratos’ submission to a one-minute play festival.
Alexandratos “co-runs Page 23, Denver Comic Con’s literary conference, where students, teachers, professors, and scholars share their current scholarly projects on all things pop culture, engage in roundtable discussions, and offer workshops to students and pros alike.” He told TNH that Denver Comic Con was the first big Comic Con to expand and include fandoms beyond superheroes and comics.
Playwright Jonathan Alexandratos. Photo by Natasha Petersen
When asked what inspires him, Alexandratos said, “everything inspires me. That’s weird to say, but it’s true. Looking out the window of a bus while it passes an abandoned shopping mall inspires me. Other playwrights inspire me: Euripides, Shakespeare, Shaw, Sarah Ruhl, Tina Howe, Paula Vogel, Milcha Sanchez-Scott, Vern Thiessen, Noah Haidle, and so, so, so many more. My action figures inspire me. The academic essays of Dan Yezbick inspire me. What hurts inspires me. I could go on.
“Usually, I’m not entirely sure where the inspiration comes from, but, when it calls, I answer. The hard part is trying to craft something that does justice to the inspiration, which seemed so pure and wonderful when it struck, and is now muddled by my repeated failure to translate it into theatre. But it gets there.”
Of his writing regimen, Alexandratos said, “I write every day. I generally stick to that because I’m not too hard on myself about what counts as ‘writing.’ If I write a couple of lines, or a journal entry, or a poem, or a thinkpiece on action figures, or an academic essay, or a full-length play – I count it all. Because I write daily, I don’t really have a specific time. I’m usually so disorganized – I don’t even own a watch or a calendar! – mainly because too much structure starts to feel scary. Everything gets done, though. I may not be schedule-oriented, but I am goal-oriented.”
When asked about the publication of his plays, Alexandratos noted, “All of my most current stuff is on the New Play Exchange, which I love because it allows people to interact with my work online.”
Information about his plays can be found at newplayexchange.org.
From Nashville Repertory Theatre’s performance of We See What Happen in 2016. Photo: Shane Burkeen
Greek-American playwright Jonathan Alexandratos with Eclipses Theater Group New York members Ioanna Katsarou, Katerina Alexaki, Alexandra Skendrou, and Demetri Bonaros. Photo by Eleni Sakellis