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Jun 27, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 202: Tanya Saracho

Tanya Saracho


This is a tough one. In my heart; in my tongue; and when it comes to those memory clips in my head (which are now starting to skip because I play them so much) my hometown is Los Mochis, Sinaloa in the Northwest of Mexico. Los Mochis means land of the terrestrial turtles. I don’t remember seeing many turtles in Mochis but I’ve always imagined turtles when I think of that place…(ok, my eyes just started watering which is telling me I need to go home and see my grandparents who are not doing so well. I am having the silliest reaction answering this notion of “home.”) When I am in Mexico, I claim my Sinaloense identiy, even though I left there very young. (The Sinaloense Spanish/Dialecto (indigenous) mix is still in my tongue so I claim it. Words like “huachapori,” (pot sticker) “bitachi” (wasp), “tatahuila” (to go around in circles/dizzy) and plebe (kid)) So, Los Mochis is my hometown.

But my home would maybe be the border town of McAllen, TX, my gateway to the United States and everything that entailed: Pop culture, otherness, English, Mexican-Americans who didn’t speak Spanish, the Border Patrol, twizzlers (yuck), Garbage Pail Kids, Ralph Macchio (my first obsession)… My mother still lives there, so that is home. Home is where my mother is. Home is where we gather for Christmas. Home is where we perform our old and new rituals as the clock turns on the New Year. That’s home. And I don’t go back enough. I’m a bad daughter. (Ok, here come the tears again. Why is this first, seemingly simple question so hard for me to answer right now?)

Enough of “home.”

Current Town:

Chicity. Mycity.

Studs’ city.

Capone’s city.

Cisnero’s Mango Street City.

The Jungle, that city.

The 1968 Democratic convention city.

The city of iconic truants like Ferris and the Cooley High kids.

Michael Jordan city.

Oprah city /strike that/ Oprah land.

Second City city.

Kanye’s and Common’s city.

Lupe Fiasco’s city.

Chicity. Mycity.

I have never lived longer anywhere in the world than I have lived in Chicago, Illinois. Same apartment I moved into the weekend I moved to Chicago 12 years ago. Roscoe Village Represent! (Ok, if you know anything about Roscoe Village, you will know why that is the silliest thing to say.)

Q:  Tell me about your play coming up at the Goodman.

A:  It’s called “El Nogalar” a play inspired –you know, loosely based on— Chejov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” I’ve taken most of the dudes away (we had to keep that one guy who buys the orchard, but trust me, I tried to get rid of him too) and I focus on the women of the Cherry Orchard, which have stayed with me since I first encountered the play. So it’s a five person version…ah, version sounds too much like an adaptation, no…it’s a five person interpretation? I don’t know…I don’t want to commit to these terms. It’s a five person cast, four females, one male. It takes place in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon in a finca called Los Nogales which contains a nogalar or pecan orchard….grove. Pecan grove. I’m not good about talking about my plays. Sorry.

It touches on what’s going on in that northern state in relation to the United States. You know, narcotrafico, loss of land, of culture, shifting identities. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking and it doesn’t deal with all that yet (I’m still in the middle of rewrites) but that’s what I want it to deal with. Oh, and ex-pats. And class. Big time. How could I forget “class,” that’s what attracted me to Chekov in the first place!

This play was a Teatro Vista commission, the first for the company so I better get it right. I adore this company, they have not only watched me grow as an artist but they have had a big part in that growth and I have written “El Nogalar” thinking of some of the actresses in this awesome group. Kris Diaz and I are resident playwrights at Vista and I think you’re going to see some cool stuff coming from us, with this ensemble in mind. Oh, and the Goodman production is a collaboration between the two companies. Kind of a dream situation if you ask me.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  Well, instead of answering these questions I’m SUPPOSED to be working on my Steppenwolf commission which is due in days. I can’t talk about it, not because I’m being coy or trying to seem mysterious, I just mean I am incapable of talking about it because I have no idea what I’m doing. Don’t mistake that for me NOT knowing what I’m doing. I just can’t describe it at this point. I’m just swimming in a vat of lips and assholes right now and I can’t seem to start making a cylinder shape.

Ok, that hotdog analogy was the worst analogy I have ever come up with. (I don’t even eat meat!) I don’t even know how we ended up there but I’m going to go with it, because I that’s obviously how I’m feeling.

Ok. So there’s the vat of flesh I’m currently swimming in and this project in the horizon with Aboutface Theater titled “The Good Private,” about Albert Cashier (could we Wikipedia him on here so you see the photos? He’s my obsession!) who was a transgendered civil war soldier who served the northern army for 2 years and was even a POW who escaped and continued to live his life as an upstanding citizen of central Illinois society until his death. Cashier was born Jennie Hodges, a poor Irish immigrant to America. I’m obsessed with Cashier right now. I’m a little scared because I’ve never done a historical drama before, but hey, before Mango Street I’d never adapted a musical version of the biggest American Latino classic either, so I guess I’ll learn as I go once again, you now?

(And what do these two projects have to do with Latinidad? Nothing! That’s why am I SOOO SCARED of them. But I kept saying I didn’t just want to be viewed as a LATINA playwright, didn’t I? Well, there you go. Now I gotta put out and shut up.)

Q:  Who are your favorite Chicago artists and teatristas?

A:  Right now for me the people make the institutions so I’ll answer you initial question this way.

Well, right now I am in awe of the talented writers who make up the No Name Ladies’ Playwriting Group Laura: Jacqmin, Dana Fromby, Sarah Gubbins, Marisa Wegrzyn and Emily Schwartz, this group is going to be written about as definitive of Chicago Theater. You’ll see.

Oh, I was just at TCG and I attended a panel of Chicago playwrights: Tracy Letts, Rebecca Gilman and Lydia Diamond (not alphabetical order, just the order they were seated) and it blew my mind. Not just their collective resumes or their aesthetic but just for how fiercely they rock Chicago and the Chicago vibe. And of course, come on, their work is genius.

My girls Nambi Kelley and J. Nicole Brooks; they’re important voices in this city. Actors make the best playwrights sometimes. Just a theory.

Josh Rollis, Andrew Hinderaker: hotness.

The one whose trail of crumbs I’m trying to follow, Brett Nevue (ok, I know he’s got a 902something zip code right now, but he’ll forever remain a 606 to me)

Ok, so I’m being totally playwrightcentric right now.

Sean Graney is not just a brilliant director but dude can write too. (see, still with the playwrights…)

Lady Kimberly Senior. She’s gravy.

Mr. Derrick Sanders.

Ann Filmer is building an empire. You’ll watch, she’s going to take over. She’s got that combination that is so seldom seen in the theater, amazing artistry coupled with business savvy.

Mica Cole, she will run Chicago Theater one day, just you wait.

Tony Adams, another good business man who is a terrific artist and thinker. I mean, this dude is a thinker. In fact, this is a whole ‘nother category, the “thinker-artist” joining Adams you got the whole 2am crew- Nick Keenan, Dan Granata and all those guys making noise on Twitter. Throwing big ideas out for the world to catch at 2am.

Oh, and to expand on the definition of theater into performance, Chris Piatt and his Paper Machete Saturdays. Oooh, that’s the hotness. Is there a smarter brain in this city? I’m in love with that brain.

And of course there’s the actors, Cliff Chamberlain, Jon Hill and James Vincent Meredith are a trio of favorites. I could go on and on about that triumvirate. Oh, and the majestic Alana Arenas. Fierce. Phillip James Brannon is takin’ over the city. Usman Ally and Desmond Borges, you want those two dudes in your play, they got the midas touch! Oooh, you know who we have to watch out for? Christina Nieves. Mark my words. I think she’s going to cross barriers. Oh, my god Karen Aldridge; royalty. The “Sandras” Delgado and Marquez who are beyond gifted, I could write for them all day long.

Ok, this list has gotten a little crazy. But I got love for my city and if you would catch me on another day, I might have a slightly different list bubble up. I love Chicago artists. That’s all I got to say.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Oh, come on, this is such a huge question. This is a monolith of a question. I’m not a thinker like that, I can’t answer this Goliath question.


Opportunity for those on the margins.

Multiple voices and perspectives.


Respect for our complex identities.

We are no longer a singular nation. (Shoot, we’ve never been that nation, we just got spoon fed the notion) We don’t have that black and white, Ed Sullivan show point of view anymore so why does so much of our theater reflect that antiquated singular voice? And why is it so male? This is not me griping or just quoting Rebeck to quote Rebeck. Seriously. Why is it so male, even when it’s female?

But again. I’m not a thinker so…

Oh, wait! Yes. I know what’s missing in the American Theater!

Nudity. Not enough nudity!

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Mr. Farr, my high school drama teacher. A kind of abusive tyrant monarch who gave me the thick skin I wear around today. Dude was a jerk, but he gave me my work ethic. He was violently murdered a couple of years ago and I wish I would have gotten a chance to say “thanks.”

Caroline Eves. She gave me courage. Maria Irene Fornes, my first real playwriting teacher; changed my life. Luis Alfaro, he made me actually think I could do this whole theatre-making thing. Martha Lavey, have you seen her in action? Fierce. I’ve seen her in a conference room. Fierce fierce fierce.

That’s on the micro.

On the macro: Milcha Sanchez-Scott, Sabina Berman, Cherrie Moraga, Caryl Churchill, Jose Rivera, Migdalia Cruz, Tony Kushner, Moises Kaufman, Anna Deveare Smith, Nilo Cruz, Danny Hoch, Lynn Nottage, the luminous Terrell Mccraney, Tennessee Williams, and Chekov. Each one formative in his/her own way part of my make up.

Oh, and big and little brothers I look up to: Kris Diaz and Jorge Ignacio Cortinas

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love when I leave the theater shaking. When the lights come up and you realize that you are somehow dented by the experience, changed. I watched “Angels in America” at a formative time, both episodes on the same day, and it left me dented. I was trembling like a leaf. I’m sure I didn’t understand what I was watching but it reconfigured me and that part I still understand. “I Am My Own Wife” left me a hot mess too. Injured. So did “Ruined.” It left me a little…well, ruined. Those are all views from the margins, but told in a visceral, real sort of way. Folks on the perimeter, looking in; I like that kind of theater. Show me what’s off center. And devastate me. I can take it.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  If you build it, they will come. Just put it up, however you have to. If it’s worth seeing, they will come. Oh, and create a supportive community for yourself, a network, a fertile ground encased in safety made up of colleagues and friends whom you trust. And when the “big voices” start coming at you like missiles, go back to your community, to your circle, your cipher and listen to them. They will have or back.

Q:  Plugs, please:

Reading of “El Nogalar” at the Goodman Latino Theater Festival, July 17th at 2pm http://www.goodmantheatre.org/season/10latinofest.aspx

And two readings of “Mala Hierba” (I’ve never been this excited about a play I’ve written!) in Chicago and NYC, August 2010. I’ll tell you a little bit more about those when they send out the press release.

“El Nogalar” at the Goodman Theatre in coproduction with Teatro Vista, directed by Cecilie Keenan, Spring of 2010


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