Paul Calderon is a playwright and actor whose work has earned him an Obie Award. His latest piece is titled “Master of Crossroads” and tells the story of a woman named Yolanda. Although divorced, Yolanda is on speaking terms with her ex-husband, Cornbread, yet when she arrives at his house to deliver him medication, she discovers that he is holding a stranger hostage at gunpoint.

Paul recently discussed the “Masters of Crossroads” and more via an exclusive interview.

Theater, writing, and an Obie Award

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into theater and make your name for yourself in the industry?

Paul Calderon (PC): I was into the theater from the very beginning. The acting school I attended, The Sonia Moore Acting Studio, was housed where Sonia ran the American Stanislavsky Theater, where she also directed shows. She was in her mid-70s back then (circa 1977-1978) and she would direct every show and the other teachers at the school would act in them, as did some of the students. I attended on the G.I Bill and had no knowledge of acting or theater so I shied away from auditioning for any of the productions which were all “white”. I am of Afro and Caribbean descent; but volunteered as a stage hand and sat in on rehearsals and learned so much that way.

MM: How did you hone your writing skills and build recognition?

PC: I was always interested in writing and in my early twenties did one of those old correspondence courses via old-fashioned mail. Then later when I was already established as an actor I enrolled and did several semesters of the YMCA writing program taught by a fantast writer and teacher named Kaylie Jones. Her father was James Jones and she herself was and is an accomplished novelist.

I then attended her private class and from there some of us the class formed our own small (6-7 members) weekly writers get togethers (which included Kate Christensen, a Penn/Faulkner Award Winner) where we would critique each other’s work.

MM: What was it like to win an Obie Award and what was the plot of the play you won for?

PC: Winning an Obie was a surprise because I was told I was being invited because the Obie committee was going to award George Wolfe an award. When they announced I was being awarded with one I was shocked but kept my composure and went up to the podium and accepted. The play for which I was awarded the Obie was “Blade to The Heat” by Oliver Meyer. It’s a play about boxing; machismo; homophobia and shattered dreams. I played a Cuban boxer is the undisputed middleweight champion of the world and gets dethroned by a boxer who is rumored to be gay. That rumor does a number and him, because if he lost to a gay what does that make him? He descends into alcoholic fueled nightmares and demands a rematch.

In the brutal rematch he gets killed by his opponent.

Plot, characters and subjects

MM: How did you think up “Master of the Crossroads” and what strikes you most about the plot and characters?

PC: The story is loosely based on a short story of mine that was published in a literary magazine back in the early 1990’s called “Brother’s Keeper.” In that instance, the older brother is the Army guy who comes home and leave and discovers his much younger brother addled by drugs and alcohol, and refusing to let his infant daughter, who is in need of urgent care, out of the apartment until his young common law wife whom he chased out of their apartment by firing rounds from a .45 automatic returns to him.

This story took place in Spanish Harlem and the characters were Puerto Rican. Earlier this year I decided to adapt the story into a stage play. “Master of the Crossroads” takes place in a ghetto in Louisiana and the brothers are African-American and are both combat vets of the current Iraqi conflict.

MM: This play discusses the effect of war on this a topic that you or loved ones have been affected by?

PC: I served in the U.S military for two years in the mid-seventies and all my drill sergeants in boot camp and later in Advanced Individual Training (mine was Infantry) had been Vietnam vets. I could see their harrowing wounded-ness in their eyes and body language even in peace time.

Then after I was stationed in Germany, I got extremely bored with the repetitiveness of routine so I asked to be discharge but I was denied. I was told by some older guys that if I pretended to be having mental problems, I would get the discharge. I made an appointment at the Army hospital there in Germany and told the Army doctor that I hearing voices in my head and other silly things and, before I knew it, I was strait jacketed, shot full of meds and ambulanced to the main psychiatric military clinic in Manheim Germany. I spent a couple of weeks there with hard cased military psychiatric patients. I was finally released at the end of two weeks when I was finally able to convince the Army Colonel who was the head doctor that I was not insane.

MM: This play also approaches the subject of mental illness leading to violence; given all the mass shootings recently do you think the story line is especially timely?

PC: When I was growing up, I heard only about one mass shooter. Charles Whitman “The Texas Tower Sniper.” That was 1966. I really didn’t hear about another mass shooter until decades later. Now it seems like there’s an outbreak every two weeks. It seems to be social disorder, by men in our culture (I haven’t heard of a female mass shooter) who have gone off the deep end. mentally; emotionally; socially. I believe many of them seek medical help and the first response by the doctor is to be put on medication which then has a merry go round effect which on some people has a deleterious end result.

I’ve been up close and personal with same severely mentally damaged people (at that Hospital in Manheim) and in the streets where I grew up and even with some family members and if any of them had had access to a gun, they would have readily used it. If not on themselves then on others. That would be their way of relieving the terrible mental pressure crushing in on their psyche.

MM: What do you hope audience responses are and what’s coming up next in the future?

PC: I want to be able to put them up close and personal and give them an idea of what it would be like to personally have to deal with the terrible disorders of mental illness and violence and in doing so potentially help them take appropriate measures to deal with them.

Our theater company Primitive Grace has finally been granted a 501c3 which give us tax exempt status for the first time during our four years of existence and we hope to put several of 8-9 original projects written by our company members.