WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — An uptown actor and playwright is raising money to produce his first show, which is set entirely on the George Washington Bridge and deals with issues of child molestation and suicide.
Reza Salazar, 29, created an Indiegogo campaign to raise $3,500 to help him produce "Incognito," one of 41 plays accepted into the Thespis Theater Festival, which brings never-before-seen works to the stage. Thespis, organized by the Cabrini Repertory Theater, provides space for the show, but Salazar must pay for actors, lighting, costumes and rehearsal space.
Salazar said that the festival is offering him an essential opportunity.
“I haven’t heard or seen the completed play yet,” he said. "It’s so important for me as the playwright to have that experience and to have other people see it and give feedback so that I can improve it.”
Salazar, who is currently appearing in a show at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, has been performing since childhood. However, "Incognito" is his first effort at writing. It took him eight years to complete a final draft of the play, which is inspired by Salazar's own experience with molestation.
"Incognito" runs about 45 minutes and is a conversation between two characters — Inti and Incognito — set on the George Washington Bridge. Their intense dialogue, which begins with Inti trying to kill Incognito, builds to an ending with a twist.
“The deep spiritual and transcendent story touched our heart,” said Franco Moschetti, organizer of Thespis.
Salazar chose the bridge as the setting because of the pivotal role Washington Heights has played in his life.
He moved to the neighborhood from Brooklyn seven years ago. The move coincided with the beginning of what Salazar describes as a very dark period in his life, during which he started to confront memories of being molested as a child for the first time.
“I had some very rough years here,” Salazar said. “I really started to confront my life while I was living in the Heights.”
Washington Heights is also where Salazar first sought help to deal with his traumatic memories and later began to heal. A few years ago, he started volunteering at Word Up, the volunteer-run bookstore and ad hoc community center, and formed a strong creative community there. He still hosts open mic nights at the bookstore every week.
"For the past three or four years, I've felt very connected to Washington Heights, because I made the effort to be connected to the neighborhood," he said.
So far, the Indiegogo campaign has raised $1,250 of the $3,500 goal, with 15 days left to go.
The Thespis Festival offers a $3,500 prize for the top play. Salazar said that if Incognito is chosen, he will put the money into a second production.
His ultimate goal is to see the play translated into Spanish, his native tongue, and performed in high schools, community centers, backyards — any place that could spark a conversation about issues that are often kept secret.
“If it could provide a safe place for people to have those conversations and begin to heal — that was when I began to heal, when I could articulate it,” he said.
Salazar said some people have already shared their experiences with him after seeing rehearsals for the play.
“One guy came up to me and said that he had never told anyone before because he didn’t think it was OK to talk about it,” Salazar said. “When I have insecurities about my play, I think about those people and that there is a bigger reason to do this.”
The show will run Aug. 18, 23 and 24 at the Roy Arias Stage on West 43rd Street.