Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Rocky Rodriguez Jr: Bed Peace

By | Published on Friday 5 April 2019

Already up and running over at The Cockpit Theatre is ‘Bed Peace’, a play based on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous bed based protest, which sounds fascinating and has already won some critical acclaim.

To find out more about the show, and the inspiration for it, I spoke to Craft Theatre’s Rocky Rodriguez Jr., writer of the play.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about what the show is about, and where the narrative heads?
RR: 50 years ago the Lennons took over a hotel room, to initiate a political action grounded in peace, discussion and staying in bed. It’s a ‘Bed-in For Peace Folks’ (To quote John).

‘Bed Peace’ follows the Lennons through a time of great change in their lives. The time in which John realises his anger, the ways he oppresses, and deconstructs himself to become aware of what is stopping him from recognising the peace in his heart.

Isolation, miscarriage, true love are precursors to a violent shift in John’s perception; a shift that would lead to John creating some of the most raw and important songs of all time.

CM: How would you describe the show in terms of its style? What different types of performance are used?
RR: The style represents John Lennon’s word play, absurd/brash comedy and scathing honesty juxtaposed with an emotional authenticity rare in the theatre today. The piece is very ‘dreamlike’ at the top, and moves toward hyper realism by the end. You will laugh, you may cry – and if you want to sing, you can.

The staging uses all kinds of theatrical aesthetics – from a true ensemble charged poor theatre, physical theatre, spectacle, to a film-esque intimacy. The piece is set in the round, in a 220 capacity venue, means the actors are very close to the audience – it will feel at points as if you are laying in bed with John and Yoko.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
RR: Masculinity, isolation, unconditional love, support, hope, racism, privilege, equality, internal development, community. Heroism, true heroism as opposed to ‘justified murder heroism’ so prevalent in popular culture… And of course, Peace. Finding peace in our hearts.

CM: Would you say it’s a political show?
RR: What show isn’t political? The themes are bold, but this show isn’t a preach fest of my ideas of political future. It is much more about people opening their hearts to see others fully, as opposed to seeing our projections/prejudices. John allows himself to look at his choices and lets himself see how his choices affect others – and in the act, he grows.

The piece is kind of saying ‘everyone needs to calm down’… the ramifications of that in practice across society, if people allow themselves to go through what John does, would have huge political implications. But, again, these are implied ‘by-products’ of actions taken in the show – Bed Peace is not like tuning into the Parliament channel.

CM: How did you go about creating it? Did you use Lennon and Ono’s own words when putting it together?
RR: Lots and lots of research; daily research for about a year – rigorously navigating all aspects of the Lennons’ lives, the truth, the myth, the music, the interviews, the writing, the documentaries, the historic footage, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful all found its way into this play. I eventually became hyper focused on 68/69/70 – it was clear to me, that to find the truth of John’s journey is in his music – so I spent extra time looking at the shifts in his music, the shifts in his thinking… that, alongside historic timelines allowed me to deduce and predict a lot of ‘pillow talk’ moments, and private moments between John and Yoko.

What happened that brought John to write ‘Imagine’? I hope the play answers that question accurately. And I wanted to give fans the feeling that they are ‘hanging out’ with their idol. I wanted to give spectators ‘time’ with the ‘essence’ of John and Yoko.

And yes, there are some ‘verbatim’ aspects to the piece: for instance, we play the actual recording of a conversation John and Yoko had with the Berkley student protestors among other things.

CM: What made you want to use the couple’s protest as the basis of this? How did it inspire you to create a show?
RR: The Bed in for Peace, John and Yoko’s Year of Peace, Give Peace a Chance movement – is one of the most important moments in contemporary history. Yet ‘society’ in general doesn’t celebrate it as it should. I wanted to make a show that supports the event and this period in John’s life as integral to our development as humans…

As far as my personal inspiration goes, I have been a John Lennon fan for a very long time: his honesty is such a breath of fresh air in our ‘postmodern’ society. His words and music have helped me navigate through some very tough times, and will continue to do so in the future. And I know millions of people feel the same way.

Never forget ‘Imagine’ was voted Song of the Century by the National Music Publishers Association – millions of copies of the song are still purchased year after year across the globe. John Lennon has influenced millions of people toward peace and will continue to do so for years to come, that should be acknowledged and celebrated.

CM: How is what they did and said relevant to a contemporary audience?
RR: The issues that the Lennons highlight have not really changed. Women’s liberation, equality, race, corruption, gay rights, income inequality, privilege.

The biggest issues facing us – it’s kind of the same as it always was, shame, as it always was.

During a lot of the conversations in the piece, the line between 1969 and 2019 gets very blurred – it is as if their Bed-In was really meant for now – just with less hair, and fewer tie-dye clothes.

CM: Does Craft Theatre have any other new shows in the pipeline?
RR: I am set to release a documentary I made about how ‘normal people’ responded to the refugee crisis – MPs, NGOs, and Noam Chomsky are in the doc – as well as a lot of first hand footage of the truth and solidarity on the frontlines.

I am also getting the pieces together to make a short film written by Lyna Dubarry (a Craft Producer) over the summer. I am in early phases with a Cambridge professor about directing a documentary on music/community/activism in Nairobi.

As far as theatre goes, I will push ‘Bed Peace’ for the foreseeable future – but all while looking for further collaborations. I’d love to do something at the Young Vic, or bring some of my ‘ways’ to the National… in any case, I will defiantly be continuing to develop my relationship with Dave Wybrow at the Cockpit – he runs very supportive venue, trying to do fringe theatre right in a city where venues often just bleed practitioners for profits…

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
RR: Rest, opening new collaborations, spending time with my partner and my dog, I’m going to get better at guitar- and I am going to work at finding more ‘peace’ in my life.

‘Bed Peace’ is on at The Cockpit Theatre until 28 Apr, see the venue website here for information and to book tickets.

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