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1100 Playwright Interviews

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Sep 11, 2023

I Interview Playwrights Part 1117: Paola Alexandra Soto

Paola Alexandra Soto


I was born in and grew up in an impoverished community in Santo Domingo the capital of the Dominican Republic. Although at the time I did not realize how poverty stricken the community I lived in was because my family gave me all that I needed. Though I must admit that recently I have become preoccupied with how I was potty trained when the shack I lived in had no indoor plumbing and only had access to one dilapidated wooden outhouse that we shared with another dozen or so families. This was in the 80s and 90s when the internet existed.

Current Town:

When I was about seven years old my mother brought me to the US. When I arrived and saw the NYC skyline I thought this was a land of giants. We settled us down in Harlem, which is one of the best choices that she could have made. If for no other reason than within walking distance I had access to both a large Dominican population a few blocks north in Washington Heights. I was also within walking distance of 125th street and access to one of the most beautiful and historic neighborhoods in the city. Filled with people that looked just like me but spoke a different language, but once I learned English, as they say, “it was on, like Donkey Kong”.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Right now I’m working on what I hope will be my first full length play, La Sosa Sisters, which was a semifinalist for the National Black Theatre Playwriting Fellowship. It is a play about two sisters who are mourning the death of their mother. In the process of burying they uncover the secrets that their mother had been keeping from them. The play is about how death changes a person and transforms relationships. I am currently in the middle of rewrites. Every time I think that I know where the play is going I am surprised by a new turn, a new development that leads down a completely different path. I find myself in this state of start/stop, with the whiplash effect of when one is learning to drive a car. The more I write the less I know. As much as I love playwriting I am in that stretch of time where I’m struggling as a playwright. After spending so much time and money it seems that all that I learned is that I have so much to figure out. The irony of this paradox is not lost on me.

It seems that for many the pandemic was inspirational and they were able to start and finish projects with ease. For me I found it to be incredibly harmful to my process. Playwriting is an isolating endeavor but COVID-19 really took it to another level. A very sad and depressing level.

I think that finally I’ve cracked the structure of the play and now have the difficult work of figuring out the new flow of the story. The play is about two sisters who have lost their mother to cancer and unearth the secrets that their mother hid while in the process of burying her.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  When I was a toddler, my mother left me in the Dominican Republic while she came to New York City in the hopes of finding employment. Before she left I remember we were in one of the rooms in my aunt’s two room concrete shack, it was a sunny day, with the sun’s rays bouncing off the aqua blue walls. My aunt was painting my nails to distract me as my mom left for the airport. One minute I was with my mother trying to paint her nails, and the next minute she was gone. I didn’t see her for another three years. The loss and pain I felt when I realized that she wasn’t coming back, the thought that I would never see her again, I broke down, I started crying and in a way, it’s like I never stopped. I think in a way that experience has defined both my way of being in this world and the work that I do. That’s why I’m fascinated with telling stories about the mother and daughter dynamic.

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

A:  Theater is a healing process, or at least for me when it’s done well the experience can be cathartic. It’s a space that has great potential to help entire groups and communities heal. More and more theater is starting to feel like a commodity as its primary function rather than the artistic journey that it is. It feels more and more like a product instead of the communal process that it is. I think it’s time to decolonize theater. Time to center the artists, workers, and audience. To create a more holistic path it is essential and timely to engage with indigenous and BIPOC communities. Who better to address theater’s flaws, than those that have been overlooked and ignored for far too long.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  There’s so many people that I can list that I look up to and have loved their theatrical career Lynn Nottage, August Wilson, David Henry Hwang, Chuck Mee, Lorraine Hansbury, Carmen Rivera, Joe Papp, James Houghton, Paula Vogel, Katori Hall, Emilio Sosa, Danny Hoch, Kamilah Forbes, and Maria Irene Fornes. I know there’s so many that I’m forgetting.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  For me the most exciting theater is when it’s a small intimate space and it’s really about the story that the characters are telling. Of course a reveal or theatrical revelation is always so much fun. I think one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time was the theatrical effects in Fat Ham. A great song and dance is pure joy and a great fight or physical sequence is truly exciting. One of my favorite part of watching a play is sitting in a dark room. There's a surprising moment where folks gasp, or laugh, or when we applaud after a particularly wonderful section that communal experience is the reason I go to see plays. Flex is a great example, there are moments where I’m not sure if I was watching a play or a basketball game.

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

A:  I would say the same thing that my mentors and professors told me: go to see and read plays to really get an understanding of the work that is being done and the legacy that you’re inheriting as a theater maker. Go to the theater in your community or the one that you love and find a way to work there. This is also a great way to get to see plays. Make sure to take care of your physical and mental health.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  On September 15, 2023 I will have a reading of my play La Sosa Sisters at the NoMAA Studies located in the United Palace in Washington Heights. I am one of Oye Group’s Resident Artists for 2023-2024 where I will be developing two of my plays, Lucha Libre and D’Carnaval.

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