Hometown: Madison, WI
Current Town: New York City (uptown, baby! 207th st)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Besides my play PINKOLANDIA which recently opened at INTAR, I'm working on a new play called THE NECKLACE OF THE DOVE, which integrates text, music and movement. It tells interwoven stories and moves between 2 eras: the world of 21st-century immigrant, transsexual women who gather at an underground club in Queens, and the 11th-century love stories of Arabic-Spanish philosopher Ibn Hazm. These refugees from different eras travel between languages, genders and ways of loving – enacting their own Reconquista and reclaiming a pluralistic world. My collaborators are composer Amir Khosrowpour and director Lisa Rothe, and a kickass group of performers including David Anzuelo, Mariana Carreño, Maria Christina Oliveras and more wonderful artists. We all worked on our feet over several months and shared an initial version through Mabou Mines' Resident Artist Program in January. It's not something that I want to (or can) write alone in a room and then just hand a script to actors -- it needs to come into being on its feet, in time and space, and the writing process integrates what we all discover there.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I'm so bad at remembering stories! But here are some random details: I did get into a big fight with my whole 7th grade Social Studies class (and teacher) about Ronald Reagan, like the character Beny in my play Pinkolandia. This was in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1980's, and even though there's big progressive university there, in a public middle school the atmosphere wasn't quite the same. I used to get really fired up about Latin American politics, which other kids thought was weird and unpatriotic. My Dad took me to a march against the invasion of Granada and frat boys threw beer cans at us and called us commie pinkos. I thought it was fun. That's in the play too. Besides the politics, I was kind of a dreamer and loved, loved to read..the crossing guard used to yell at me because I'd cross the street reading books. When I was eleven I tried to invent a contraption that would let me read in the shower without getting the book wet. Nerd!
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Oh man. I think the following is the result of a limited kind of thinking in our field: lack of access, low presence of artists and audiences of color and less economic privilege, too-high ticket prices (should be no more than the cost of a movie)... Corporate thinking has been embraced too far, to the point where many so-called 'artistic' decisions are made based on what will sell, and even organizational hierarchies and payscales mirror corporate stratification (where often low-paid playwrights and other artists are subsidizing much higher salaries). This can veil an insidious colonialist kind of thinking, where stories by and about people who don't inhabit the 'usual' places of power (or cultural dominance) in our society aren't produced because they're 'unsellable,' or their stories are used to demonstrate a theater's 'diversity' on a superficial level. That's why...we have to keep producing ourselves! And why we still need theaters like INTAR that nourish Latino/a artists, places where we can be our full artistic selves. We can't just wait for people to get a clue. As Patricia Araiza, brilliant Colombian theater artist, once said, if we 'on the margins' keep doing what we're doing, then eventually the center of gravity will move, and the margins will become the center.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Maria Irene Fornes is still my theatrical hero -- even now, with Alzheimer's, when I go see her in the nursing home, her creative spirit. mischievousness, and sensitivity to life are still so present. I never stop learning from her. Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, Migdalia Cruz, Emily Morse, Deb Margolin, Jose Rivera...these and many more are also heroes of mine, as theater artists and as human beings.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that doesn't just let us stay in our heads, removed, comfortable sitting on our asses (either metaphorically or literally) and which instead affects us viscerally or opens up our emotional and sensory receptors, and connects us more deeply to our whole selves -- which reminds us that we're part of a human community too. Sometimes we need to be surprised into this, to take a ride off the logical path and to have to trust other ways of making sense of things. Like how satire uses laughter to get us to open up on a gut level, so we're more receptive to the suckerpunch of the truth.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Just MAKE SHIT! Nourish your relationships with collaborators and create your own work together. Don't just send your plays off to people you've never met and wait for someone to produce you. The best theater education I ever got was running our tiny theater with 4 friends in San Francisco: we each took turns writing or creating the next show, and the rest helped make that person's vision a reality. We did everything from cleaning toilets to building sets out of cast-off construction palettes to acting to writing. We had to have a new play up almost every month in order to pay the rent on the space, and we gave each other complete freedom to make whatever kind of play we wanted -- the rest of us would help. We were very broke and all working other jobs, but in 5 years we created 22 original pieces, grew a wonderful community, and learned the stuff you only learn when an audience is showing up in 5 days and you're still trying to finish the play. This is how I started playwriting (I had been an actor mostly). This was back in the late 90's...13P has done something similar more recently here, which also was a great model. Like them, we decided to end it when we were done and go out with a bang. So please, please, keep making stuff!
Q: Plugs, please:
A: My play PINKOLANDIA is currently playing at INTAR Theatre (through May 26), directed by José Zayas. It's about 2 young sisters, daughters of Chilean exiles, who are growing up in 1980's Wisconsin and who create fantastical worlds to make sense of their parents' experiences and figure out their own story. There are talking bears, Nazis and satirical takes on political figures like Reagan and Kissinger. They just added a special matinee on Saturday May 25 at 3pm, for which all tickets are just $15!
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