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NoPassport is my favorite conference because it's not corporate in any way. We come together out of love and camaraderie, out of curiosity and loyalty, out of friendship and respect. The presentations run far afield (another good thing) and incorporate everyone -- researchers and performance artists, playwrights and dancers. This year Baton Rouge and LSU served as the perfect host (thanks Eric Mayer-Garcia). I send out abrazos to my fellow panelists -- Joann Yarrow, Christopher Oscar Pena, Giovanni Ortega and Lynn Manning -- who really rocked the house and (to use Lynn's definition of the word) were jazzed to be there. In the end, we all know that Caridad is the heart and soul of it all, our den mother, Mama Bear, and champion of the artist and her/his unadulterated voice. Viva NoPassport! Can't wait to see y'all next year.

Oliver Mayer
playwright
 
 

Quiara Alegria Hudes' Opening Remarks for 30/30/1

Welcome remarks by Quiara Alegría Hudes
for 30/30/1 in Philadelphia, March 22, 2014
 
[In collaboration with NoPassport and Dominic D'Andrea, 30/30/1 was presented in Philadelphia, PA on March 22, 2014 by Plays and Players, Directors Gathering, Power Street Theatre, Philadelphia New Play Initiative and Tamanya Garza. 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport is a national reading festival celebrating new American plays. The remarks were delivered at the 30/30/1 event on Ms. Hudes' behalf by Gabriela Sanchez.]
 
A day celebrating Latino playwrights? Yeah, right. Ha ha. Very funny. Though today
does not appear to be April 1... Hm. And these flyers are pretty slick and well designed.
If someone wanted to prank me they really went out of their way to do so. Hm.
Do we get the entire twenty four hours? Or do they just give us like from noon to four
and then kick us out? Oh, hold on. “They” donʼt give “us” anything? We made the day
ourselves? And invited whoever was game to join in the fun? And people who werenʼt
Latino actually came? Holy shit, thatʼs amazing! Oops. I probably shouldnʼt curse on
Latino playwrights day. If I act too crazy theyʼll make sure this shit never happens again.
Theyʼll be like, “You give ʻem a day and see what happens?”
 
Iʼm just kidding. Obviously Iʼm giddy by the whole notion of this, this raucously exciting
gathering of true believers, of rabble rousers, of artistic mischief makers, of all of us.
So what exactly is a Latino playwright? Can you spot her in a crowded room? Is she a
new phenomenon or an endangered species? Does she write with an accent? Is she a
Latina by choice? A playwright by necessity? Does she require nontraditional casting or
is she casting a new mold? If a Latina writes a play in an empty forest and no one is
there to listen does she make a sound? Is she allowed to be ordinary not just
extraordinary? Is she Mr. Miyagi or the Karate Kid? Is she a grateful guest at someone
elseʼs table? Or is she a carpenter building a new damn table from scratch? And will you
come to her table when she invites you? Are Latino playwrights a “they” or a “we”?
 
Sometimes I brew my coffee, sit at my writing desk, and every fiber in my body quivers
for delight: hot damn, Iʼm a Latina playwright! Other mornings I sit at my writing desk
and the thought of any sort of label being put on me--by myself or anyone else--feels
like duct tape slapped over my lips. At times being a Latina playwright has felt
exhilarating, alive, pulsing, gritty, mischievous, furious, ferocious, unapologetic, and
limitless. Other times being a Latina playwright has felt humiliating, alienating, hopeless,
lonely, burdensome.
 
But today, oh 30/30 sisters and brothers, today, here, before you, using the wondrous
word “us,” it feels alive.
 
In the words of playwright Nilo Cruz, from Anna in the Tropics, “Everything in life
dreams. A bicycle dreams of becoming a boy, an umbrella dreams of becoming the rain,
a pearl dreams of becoming a woman, and a chair dreams of becoming a gazelle and
running back into the forest.”
 
My fellow Latino playwrights, we are the dreamers and the agitated nightmares. The
insomnia and the spa. Irrational bewitchers. Deserts who brew tropical storms. We use
words like cop cars use sirens. We use our pencil strokes to steer great ships through
agitated seas. We eat trash and shit gold. We are the word stupid misspelled s-t-o-o-p-id.
We stand in our ancestral kitchen, stirring the magma. We are hackers of the status
quo. Saturation bursters. We show up to the water balloon toss but our latex is filled
with honey and mud. Syncopators. Sixty niners. Smut mouthed cala lilies. Unhappy
prisoners, jilted strivers, we fall off the edge of the cliff and as we plummet we happen to
crack open a Neruda poem or hit play on a Lila Downs song and our landing is
cushioned. We repair our broken ankles and climb the cliff again. Every day in the
rehearsal room, at the writing desk--cliff climbers, we, with no ropes or rigging to shield
us from gravity. We are glass paneled walls facing the sea. Glass bottomed boats that
reveal cumulus clouds. We are the ninety nine percent of the forty seven percent of the
whole damn caramel flan. We are the edible desert, a mouthful of sand. We are the rot
that bears the ripest fruit. We are the canaries in the cage in our tiaʼs dark living room.
The sun-faded flags dangling from papiʼs rearview mirror. We are machos weeping for
wont of love. Cancer patients who are belly laughing for joy. We are montunos
possessed by Baptist gospel chords. Chopin nocturnes that are thunderstruck by
Chango. We are the hump-backed abuela who lifts the car with one finger. We are
lickable lightning.
 
We pledge allegiance. We pledge civil disobedience. Today, we pledge dramatic action.

JARMAN (ALL THIS MADDENING BEAUTY) Now on Sale!

JARMAN (ALL THIS MADDENING BEAUTY) Now on Sale! 

jarmanpostcard (2)

April 17-27, 2014

“This young company will be a force in our theatre community for years to come” – DC Metro Theatre Arts
“force/collision strikingly fulfills its mission to create new performance works” – The Washington Blade
“The sheer visual theatricality of the young company is impressive” – DC Theatre Scene

From the company that created the world premieres “Shape” and “The Nautical Yards” comes a brave, new performance inspired by the life and work of filmmaker Derek Jarman (“Caravaggio”, “The Tempest”). Jarman (all this maddening beauty) will feature an invigorating mash-up of video projections and live performance with a text from OBIE Lifetime Achievement Award-winning playwright Caridad Svich. These performances will kick off its US and UK tour.

More information on force/collision can be found at force-collision.org

Tickets:
General: $20
Student with ID: $10

Performances:
PWYC Preview: April 17 at 8:00 pm
Opening Night: April 18 at 8:00 pm
PWYC Industry Night: April 21 at 7:30 pm

April 19 at 8:00 pm
April 20 at 4:00 pm
April 23 at 8:00 pm
April 24 at 8:00 pm
April 25 at 8:00 pm
April 26 at 8:00 pm
April 27 at 4:00 pm

Get Tickets to Jarman (all this maddening beauty).

Martin Zimmerman: On Intimacy and Liveness for NoPassport’s 30/30

[Martin Zimmerman’s play Stranger is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

CARIDAD SVICH: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

MARTIN ZIMMERMAN: I don't know that I do anything consciously. I work in different ways, so that might be one small way I combat this false divide. There is obviously the "solo" writing I do (which is often heavily informed by research--no one just comes up with all this stuff, every writer is really a skilled re-arranger). But I also co-write certain projects with Rebecca Stevens. So I think by showing that someone can both be a "solo" writer as well as someone who writes collaboratively, I can help in small ways to tear down the false divide that his been erected between devising and text-making.

CS: how do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?

MZ: Hmmm. I'm not sure that I consciously negotiate these dividing lines. I think I just try to take on a wide variety of characters, worlds, and topics in my writing. I also love to write very physical, muscular work. So I think the fact that a lot of my work incorporates dance and very demanding physicality is a way of bridging divides between genres. That might be one way in which I try to consciously bridge divides with my work.

CS: as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)? and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists? and are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

MZ: I am constantly thinking about my process. During the latter half of my Jerome Fellowship year at The Playwrights' Center, I took a lot of time to think about how I work, and how I could tweak my process to work more effectively. I think one of the biggest shifts in my process is in terms of how I've chosen to feel about how a certain project is progressing. Previously I used to race to a deadline, and worry about my progress until I'd met that deadline. Now, I'm much more focused on writing as a daily and weekly practice. I put in my required number of hours and I trust that doing so will make me as productive as I need to be. And that approach has actually made me more productive.

In terms of how I wish to live as an artist with engagement in local and global dialogue, I feel like how I engage locally and globally has as much to do with the subject matter I choose to write about as it does anything else. I've noticed in myself a tendency to take on subject matter, worlds, and characters that are far outside of my own experience. It's pretty a terrifying thing to do, but I try to embrace that terror, and let it fuel a rigorous research process. I feel like I use the process of my art-making in order to investigate the world around me, and grow more compassionate as a human being.

CS: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of? what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

MZ: I think of so many things. I guess I think of people who have some cultural or ethnic link to Latin America through their families. I also think of some relationship to the Spanish language as being something that unifies many US Latin@s (though certainly not all). But I feel like my definition of Latin@ is something I'm forced to reconsider on a regular basis. We are such a large and increasingly diverse community.

In terms of how I reckon with my Latinidad in my art-making, I think a lot about telling Latin@ stories and also about telling multi-ethnic stories. I think doing both of these things is important not only in terms of representation but also as far as providing employment for Latin@ theater artists and other theater artists of color. I also grew up in a multi-ethnic home (my father is German-American) and grew up in a very ethnically diverse area, yet I feel like I don't see a lot of theater that reflects that reality--a reality that is increasingly common in the 21st Century US. 

One other thing that I do in my writing to reckon with my own identity is to create larger than life, epic roles that can be played by actors from diverse ethnic backgrounds. I do this because I think it's important for actors of color to be able to play roles where a character's identity is not defined primarily by her or his ethnicity. I know many actors of color tire of playing roles where the only thing about that character that seems to matter to the larger story is that she or he is Cuban, Argentine, Mexican-American, Asian-American, the ethnic "other" in some way. However, I know there's a danger that, when I create these kinds of epic roles, the actors that will be cast in these roles will be exclusively White. So I've drawn up (with the help of my wonderful partner, Kelly Howe) language that makes it clear I want the cast to be ethnically diverse. I've found casting directors and directors are very responsive to this language in my character breakdowns.

CS: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

MZ: Hmm. I don't know that I'm per se calling into question the nature of these things. But I think a lot about the relationship between speech and movement. I'm also obsessed with ritual, and the physicality of it. I also think a lot about the long-term consequences our environments have on our bodies. 

CS: what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?'

MZ: I don't know that I have a good answer to this question. I feel like I typically hear this response after it's too late to even say anything because they've already selected their season months ago and the artistic director is apologizing for not choosing my play when I wasn't even aware it was under consideration.

CS: what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

MZ: There is that language I mentioned that I use in my character breakdowns of my plays in which characters' ethnicities aren't specified. It's language that gets them thinking about the importance of a diverse cast, and about the fact that there is no such thing as "blind" casting--that casting actors of certain ethnicities in certain roles will profoundly effect how the audience receives the story. We need to be aware of how our casting decisions can shape our audience's perceptions for either good or ill.

 CS: it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how?

MZ: Absolutely. I think one way is that we need to destabilize audience's expectation that English is the norm. Something that Luis Alfaro does at his plays that I find wonderful is that all the pre-show announcements are primarily in Spanish. There is enough English in them and the rhythm is familiar enough that non-Spanish speakers can understand them. But it sets the tone early on that people shouldn't just automatically expect they are in an English-only or even English-first environment. 

CS: and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all? 

MZ: Certainly much of my work is multi-lingual, but even more than that I try to draw on a lot of visual and physical metaphor, and create work that is highly physical in a way that is more common in work outside the US. 

CS: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

MZ: The most thrilling thing about it is how little resources we have to make it relative to so many other forms. I'm a huge believer in brushing up against constraints as a way of sparking creativity. The metaphorical ways theater forces us to render certain worlds and moments tend to be far more arresting and memorable than the realistic ways in which we see those world and moments rendered on film. 

CS:   what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

MZ: I guess I go back to two things: 1) Intimacy and 2) Liveness. The theater work that seems to cultivate new audiences is the work in which performers seem to make an intimate and personal connection with the audience. It seems to me that people will spend money they don't have to see that kind of work (much like they spend money they don't have to go to sporting events). But also, we are in a world where more and more content is digitized. Theater is one of the few things that by definition must be live. The work that most successfully capitalizes on that liveness has no trouble drawing audiences, as liveness is increasingly rare in the 21st Century US.

CS: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?

MZ: What inspires me: That humanity has been making theater for so long and yet we're still finding ways to make it surprising and arresting. That we have a chance to be an oasis of liveness in a digital desert.

What troubles me: The continued dearth of roles for Latin@ actors. If theaters aren't producing plays with roles for Latin@ actors how will those actors not become discouraged and drop out of the acting pool by the time they are in their early 30s? It only feeds the vicious cycle of theaters claiming they can't cast plays with Latin@ roles. We have to find a way to stop that cycle. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irma Mayorga talks 3030

Irma Mayorga for 30/30

[Irma Mayorga’s play Cascarones is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.] 

CARIDAD SVICH: A false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. this divide or, shall we call it a "gap?," has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. in effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. how do you deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

IRMA MAYORGA: I started writing plays and directing after first earning my living as a theater designer. So, I’ve always been prone to techniques more common to devising:  the non-verbal, improvisation, a sharp consciousness of space’s import, color’s import, the power of non-verbal gesture, and how visual significations work on the stage because it’s my designer brain who first tackles a play – totally implicit on my part. When I started writing plays with Chicana playwright Cherríe Moraga, who teaches playwriting through the extremely sensory and visual techniques of Fornes, it fortified the designer who sat down to write words and “devise” scenarios, which led to text, characters, more visual ideas, and needs spoken aloud. The way I see it, sooner or later most who consider themselves solely devisers have to come to words as well, create text, even if it’s minimal. So for me it’s about what approach serves you best to create theater and performance work. Even as someone who goes by the nomenclature “playwright,” I devise. Even those who are devisers end up writing text, if only to somehow archive their work or offer an outline to work from. I also dramaturg works, which I think of as a sort of deviser in the room as well, be it with a playwright or an ensemble of actors seeking to stage an idea. I think this positioning of oppositions, redeployment of labels, is perhaps just the zeitgeist of an era, a new keyword. I wonder does using the word “devise” gain you more access to resources ($$) for your work (grants)? Is it a sexier label that draws attention and reaps benefits? Does calling yourself a playwright shut down possibilities? As you put it, does it read as “old fashioned” in this particular moment? Thinking ahead, what will the next moment fancy? I think here of a pendulum swinging – as it does with fashions in, say, the debates regarding education. At the end of the day, I just want both approaches to produce theater that provokes my aliveness.

 

CS: How do you negotiate the very real dividing lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?

 

IM: First, I arm myself – literally – with the good facts and figures from the studies that have been conducted about the impact of the arts in people’s lives and communities. I find that people who I might fence with about the role of the arts (sometimes communities, sometimes students, sometimes administrations/ers) often respond to numbers as opposed to less concrete arguments – again, a consequence of our era and its penchant for “feedback, feedback, feedback,” be it in education (testing), the service sector (rating employees’ service for doling out “performance based” earnings), or comment sections online (cringe).

 

Recently, I agreed to be on the Board of Directors for a newly established children’s theater company. Their shows employ the “Story Theater” techniques of Paul Sills and Viola Spolin (who I’d consider devisers exemplar!) to create original plays for children and youth, 1-15 years old. What I have found most interesting is the work the company has to do to inform parents about the importance of the arts in early childhood education and development (and, of course, throughout one’s life). Disseminating data has served to sway and point up the finer cognitive and personhood benefits their children gain in participating in theater, in either theater-based classes or as audience members. Once, it’s pointed out, of course, parents want to impart these benefits to their children. It points up that, in many senses, we live in an age increasingly shaped and determined by data. However, without this knowledge, parents might believe only team sports, or sports in general, impart things like team-building, collaboration, self-confidence, decision-making skills, leadership skills, or cooperation. They especially don’t know the deep ways in which the arts develop the intellect and, equally as important, our emotional intelligence and social skills.

 

These children and their young parents are our future audiences – so why wouldn’t we seek to inform them, sway them, pursue them, grab hold of them, with any and all tools possible? Of course, I think theater artists know about the theater’s ability to promote public discussion, help us witness our lives and create a space for reflection, provoke questions, and wonder. But we do a poor job in educating future and more established audiences about what theater does/can do: we are often scrambling to rehearse and refine, get out the press releases, organize ticket sales, and finally waiting by the door with baited breath to see if our audience will come. But why should they when they know neither to what end or, equally important, if they perceive that what lies inside has no relationship to them? This, I believe, is often the case with potential people of color audiences in particular. Here rises the need to rethink who’s making theater and how it’s made.

 

As a theater artist who faces the tide of possibilities that audiences can choose, I find it imperative to be as articulate and knowledgeable as possible to meet theater’s detractors; I’ve made theater my life’s pursuit, how could I be anything less than astute and articulate in defending its import?

 

CS: As a playwright, how do you devise your own process? Dramatic project (life goals as artist)?

 

IM: I am visually orientated – so I often receive images of a stage picture before words/narrative arrive. I’ve heard others say they “hear” characters talking and then start from there – so it’s a character driven process. I tend to “see” people in action in my mind’s eye...image: someone stealing copper wire from atop a telephone pole to sell it for cash; image: school children facing corporal punishment in 1920s Texas for speaking Spanish; image: a diabetic injecting insulin into her abdomen. These types of images tend to linger with me and eventually develop into scenarios, then characters, then words come, then I let the images find their story, the story eventually develops a path of some sort. I’m not a fast writer in terms of writing plays; I ruminate, gestate thoughts. I’m always conscious of a stage picture as I develop work.

 

Life goals as an artist: gather the temerity to know that what I have to say to the world is important, that what I think about or have observed matters. This is really hard as a Mexican American woman from Texas, you know? You’re working against cultural constraints, upbringing that doesn’t foreground this in how you think of yourself in the world. Keep trying to write, even when some days everything conspires against that desire. I’m not the best advocate of my own work (I’m not a natural salesperson, in fact, I’m terrible at it on my own behalf) – I’ve been lucky to intersect with marvelous others who’ve advocated on the work’s behalf for me.

CS: And how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists?

 

IM: I tend to write about problems that concern me – I tend to collect nuggets of stories that yield characters or thoughts. These tend to have deep roots in historical circumstances of some sort – usually connected to injustices. I remain voraciously curious, socially conscientious, and keenly aware of my local community and its shifting currents. When I used to live in Latina/o populated places, my awareness was finer in its detail. Now, with a move to New England, I have to reach out very consciously, which requires vigilance and a more absorbing energy. With the Internet, a global observation point is increasingly part of my attention as opposed to trying to connect with the minutiae of places I consider my local, namely Texas. Persistence on my part is required.

 

CS: And are there lessons you’ve learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? Or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

 

IM: I recently published a book with a long-time collaborator, Virginia Grise: The Panza Monologues, Second Edition. For the second edition, after writing, producing, filming, and touring our play of the same title for six years, we had a whole lotta advice to pass forward, including thoughts about Latinas and women of color making theater. And, we penned a manifesto – a sort of hope list of things, as we see it, that need attention in terms of women of color and U.S. American theater. Dare I say, you gotta get the book...it’s all in there. See the book’s page on the University of Texas Press website here.

 

A take away nugget for this forum would be:  women need more involvement, representation, responsibilities, and room in U.S. American theater. We especially need women of color: their administrative skills, their artistic skills (beyond acting), their dramaturgical skills, their connections to communities, and the stories about their experiences as told, directed, and designed by them for the stage.  

 

CS: When you see/hear/read the phrase “US Latin@,” what does it make you think of? What is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

 

IM: For me “US Latin@” tries to describe the heterogeneity of Latina/os with one very unwieldy label. And, I’m one who very much likes the frisky font play of the @ symbol to wrestle with the gender dynamics of the straight up “o” ending. I don’t often use it, but I appreciate it nonetheless – if you have to trick out the word to get across the inclusion, then so be it. “Latina/o” tries to describe a multiplicity of national origins, racial identities, historical legacies, and cultural specificities. Spanish can or cannot function as a common denominator for Latina/os depending on immigration generation and class. Therefore, for me, the term tries to gesture towards variances even as it attempts to coalesce similarity by collecting together once native peoples connected by, at the end of the day, a shared autochthony to the Americás and/or a shared history of Spanish conquest, which includes those who identify as Afro-Latina/os. So, this one word is attempting to do a lot of work. It’s problematic, but in my book, it’s infinitely better than terms such as Hispanic (thanks U.S. government) or Latin (do you live in Rome, speak Latin?).

 

When I teach Latina/o theater as a genre, I am very sure to teach a wide variety of Latina/o ethnic identities in my curriculum. It’s not all Valdez or Mexican American centered for example, despite the fact that Mexican Americans make up 66% of the “Latina/o” population in the U.S. I try to portray the vast heterogeneity as one of the leading components of Latina/o identity in the U.S., upend entrenched stereotypes.

 

In terms of my artistic work, I am Mexican American and not so much Latina. I always say I never realized how very Mexican American I was until I moved to the East Coast. I try to be as specific as I can to my Mexican American origin and history and then to my Chicana feminist politic.

 

If I am specific and you are specific, maybe we can get the stories that need to be told to be clear, unique, and illuminating. I cannot speak for other experiences of Latina/o identity with the level of intricacy that I can concerning the people and regions of Mexican heritage.

 

Yes, my racial/ethnic identity impacts my ability to work, especially if my work comes in contact with mainstream producers. Often my cultural symbols, theatrical images, and my languages of Spanish and English will deter producers from “seeing” the work—they have to labor to understand a new iconography, language, spirituality, emotional indexes, or cultural signifiers. I don’t believe in many universals. I’ve had to learn all the Anglo, Euroamerican symbols (thanks Greeks, Shakespeare, other leading white playwrights). I’ve been fed them since I was a child in theater. But, when others have to do some work to see mine (gasp!)...it definitely impacts my opportunities of production. And, here I’m not even addressing the particulars of being a female playwright inside of racial/ethnic particulars; that’s another layer.

 

And, if we (Latina/o theater makers) refuse to “translate” the work’s intricacies (language or aesthetics) for others? Then, you can really count your work out of the mix.  

 

CS: As a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

 

IM: As I said above, I think and write beginning with images. When I direct, I begin with images as well. The set designer “me” and the wordsmith “me” are always in conversation as I work. This manifests in my care for the power of theatricality, of creating striking visual images or aural soundscapes that work in tandem with or against the reliance on embodied speech for the stage. What can I say? I’m a fan of Brecht and Robert Wilson, the audacious imaginations of Paula Vogel, Naomi Wallace.

 

CS: Casting is a tough and thorny aspect of our art and business. I think we all know plenty of terrific actors who wait and wait for that one or two gigs every year that ask for their “type” to be cast. I am personally of the mind that the more expansive casting can be, especially in theatre, which is, after all, not a photographically representational art form but an abstract one in its essence, the richer an audience’s understanding of the form can be. But I know that this may not be everyone’s pov. Understandably. What do you do when someone says to you “we don’t have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can’t even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?’

 

IM: I think that first I have to address levels of “the business.” I’ve done quite a lot of work “in community” as a theater artist, as community activists tend to say. I usually have worked successfully with any and all that stand up, come forward, and say they will be in a show, participate in some aspect of putting up a production, or those whose arms I’ve (gently) bent for their aid. In those circumstances, you work with all comers:  the work is with the community, their involvement is an aspect of production/the purpose. So, casting issues always already mark a place of privilege for any theater artist who wrestles with that beastly process. Wow! Congratulations on those achievements playwrights! Cherish it.

 

That said, for those achieving this level of privilege in U.S. American theater as a playwright AND as an artist of color, there are issues to sort out.

 

Like it or not, bodies are racially marked. And, in colorblind casting, the default mode for the spectrum on the stage always defaults to white modes of the body, deportment. “Color” is more often than not treated as a surface, not a way of being. That’s a problem for me.

 

I am adamant in casting Latina/o actors in my plays, which are usually all filled with Latina/o characters. I don’t want white actors to portray Latina/o characters – there is more to a racial identity – and portraying a racial identity - than skin color or “a look.” Affect plays a role in how the character is embodied – in what comes across at the end of the day in the production. Without talented Latina/o actors, my plays aren’t fully realized. If white actors portray my Latina/o characters, my plays aren’t fully realized. So this leads me to wonder, are we to put up the play at any cost? Is it just about the play being produced? I’d rather put pressure on institutions – why aren’t there more Latina/o actors in your casting pool? What structural circumstances are preventing this? What work needs to be done?

 

But there’s another side to this issue that is connected to the heterogeneity of Latinidad. I think the best story to describe this is the one concerning casting for my play Cascarones at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference in 2003.

 

First, I want to be very clear: I am grateful for the opportunity to develop work at the O’Neill. It was an honor, a dream.

 

So, to cast my show, the O’Neill used a NYC casting agent, as it did for all the shows by the playwrights in my cohort. But, unlike the other shows (by both white and one African American playwright), the casting agent couldn’t find a plethora of Latina/o actors in NYC...it was a terribly disappointing process for me as the agent suggested Latina/o actors that one could clearly see from headshots, did not meet the needs of a character (age, type). To the agent, it seemed that they were all “Latina/os,” so why couldn’t they do? I strongly believe this would never have occurred if we were casting Anglo characters, moreover, of course, the pool of possibilities in the agent’s database would have been infinite. I had to call across the country to seek references and feed the casting director suggestions. I functioned as the casting agent alongside the agent. I don’t believe others in my cohort had this dilemma.

 

I suggested they needed to pull viable actors from L.A. – but that was beyond the scope of the agent. They didn’t have connections in L.A., only New York. Basically, out goes an entire acting pool of Mexican American actors for my Mexican American character populated play.

 

But there’s one more twist, Cascarones is set in Texas, and that cadence of English has a very particular patois. It’s just entirely different than what you hear on the East Coast. And often, if you haven’t been to Mexican Texas, you’ve probably never heard it, Latina/o or not. In the end, we cast fine Latina/o actors – but I didn’t really “hear” my play. The wide variety of Latina/o actors eventually contracted, it seemed, had every sort of ethnic specific accent that might be found in NYC, but none sounded like Tejana/os. The cadence I had written the play in depended upon a certain way of speaking English distinctive to how Tejana/os speak English in Texas. Like other dialects, it’s a product of a very specific history – there’s nothing universal about it. 

 

The result was brown bodies on stage in a play authored by a Mexican American woman, but it wasn’t the play I had written, that I heard in my mind, or with others reading the roles when I was writing it.

 

I believe Cherríe Moraga has spoken or written about this phenomenon, where Latina/o actors can gain very advanced acting training...for Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov...but for Latina/o authored plays about Latina/o communities? They founder; they wrestle with their identity, their whole careers in some cases. They’ve been encouraged to suppress or toss aside mannerisms, ways of speaking, or affectations that make them read or be heard as racialized bodies. So, as a playwright, you’re not only trying to get a play up on its feet, refine it, but you also end up negotiating an actor’s very personal identity crisis that the play might trigger. That’s a lot.

 

As Latina/os, we have a very complicated relationship to whiteness, which at the end of the day, I see manifest in the material reality of trying to find professional Latina/o actors, which we all want to work with to see the fullest incarnation of our work.

 

I’ve had the best casting experiences or reading experiences in Los Angeles, which has an extremely talented pool of Latina/o actors, and LOADS of talented, transplanted Tejana/os!

 

CS:  It goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. Do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? If so, how?

 

IM: I think we need as many good plays as possible from as many identities (ethnic, racial, gendered, sexual, differently abled, or class-based) as possible for the U.S. American stage. 2040, the marker year for race in the U.S. But truth be told, right now is 2040 in so many places in the U.S.  Theater remains to me a forum to wonder together, to serve as witnesses for the lives of others, to develop our emotional intelligence, to push at our complicated problems, to ask tough questions about ourselves as individuals, as communities, as a national body.

 

If you are a theater company, outreach is absolutely necessary – outreach to find an audience AND to develop new theater makers. It’s hard, unglamorous work, but you cannot wait at the door to your theater and expect audiences to find you no matter how wonderful or sophisticated or important your productions are. I don’t believe outreach works that way anymore. I would even question subscriber bases. If you want new audiences, you have to think in new ways, and it most likely entails a new approach for each production you offer. We need smart, talented people on stage as well as off stage making sure the production is promoted in local communities.

 

If theaters only do one show a year by a producer of color – don’t expect to grow a following. And, please don’t congratulate yourself.   

 

CS: And in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all?

 

IM: Most of my works reflect the manipulations and patois of English that I hear in South Texas. The characters speak in cadences and registers that are prevalent in the region. Some speak without mixing English and Spanish. Other characters often mix English and Spanish. I try to be true to the characters’ choices and their social-historical conditions, which often yield those choices. In the end, most of my plays are about 95% English. But it’s still odd to see people’s responses to that 5% of Spanish included. That mere 5% can be problematic.

 

In terms of aesthetics, I’m using hybrid aesthetics all time. I’m borrowing, stealing, and manipulating from the vast archive of theater history for my storytelling. From things that move me, from images that are of many cultures, many peoples, from my own cultural stimuli to that of the African American diaspora or European and Euroamerican traditions in theater, visual art, song, and movement. As a theater artist I’m syncretizing; it’s always a matter of creativity, imagination, and influence. It’s always a matter of what serves the story – a story told through a live medium. Why wouldn’t I; this is my lived condition. I’ve been taught Euroamerican stories since my childhood – through public education and mainstream culture, I’ve had to ingest and become familiar with them, “the canon,” to participate, to survive. I also carry with me as resource my Mexican cultural traditions – learned from my family. I’m always thinking about my indigenous heritage, that which has been lost in the deracination of colonialism or imperialism. This is my history, my legacy. How could I not pull from everything that has been bequeathed to me in this immense historical legacy? It’s now all part of my intellectual, imaginative, and creative inheritance.

 

CS: As a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form – this old weird creaky thing we call theatre – and why?

 

IM: Finally, a question that feels a bit less thorny! Liveness, plain and simple. People gathered in a space together watching another human being(s) create a story or experience for them to witness and respond to. I love sitting in the back of a house and watching the audience, feeling their engagement, observing the minutia of their responses. I still find it thrilling to be surprised and enchanted by the way in which a story is told through the devices of live theater. I love theatricality, so anything that elucidates, unfolds itself with unanticipated audacity – even though that may hinge on blatant illusions of the cleverest sort -  still thrills me.

 

CS: Much is made at theatre conferences (esp) about where and how will we find the new audiences for the work. I think I have been hearing this for about 20 years now. And every year new marketing approaches are discussed and studies are done and surveys get passed around and so forth. Lots of data gets crunched. But there is a bottom line, I think, and you may disagree, but what I see as the bottom line is: if you change the programming, lower ticket prices, do work for free even (see Mixed Blood’s radical hospitality model), move out of the building(s), maybe just maybe that elusive “new” audience may be nurtured. But it ain’t gonna happen sitting inside the building thinking about it or tweeting about it either. Okay. Wee rant over. But seriously, what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

 

IM: See! data, yet again!

 

I agree with most ideas you state above: you have to move out of the building, you have to lower prices, change the programming most especially, rethink the model that served a 19th century audience and 19th century technologies. In this, you then have to rethink the institutional models we currently have. It’s funny, people usually begin theater companies to make their work, right? But the models that I like best stem from thinking about the audience first – who is your potential audience? How do you connect with them? And, then finally, what kind of work will speak to this audience? And, it’s not “what do they want...,” I think that’s pandering. You have to care about the lives of the people who will be your potential audience – hold that as a tenet in what you want to create at the end of the day. You have to spend years nurturing an audience. It’s bottom up, not top down work .  

 

So, over the course of my career, I’ve worked with many types of theater companies or closely observed many in action. I would say that the ones with the best audiences have been those that are deeply connected to their communities, that have employed innovative thinkers in marketing who are also connected to the community (i.e., not professional marketers). They use person-to-person marketing + social media (my communities often don’t have access to what many would consider ubiquitous forms of technology). The play isn’t often the event, but the excuse for an event, the kernel inside a larger coming together that has free food, music, more a festival type setting around the performance. In the best cases, there’s dancing afterwards. It’s outside a formal theater building. Backyards, bars, or community centers. The event’s shape (and success) borrows from the protocols of youth culture, not regional theaters. The event’s shape borrows from the protocols of the community’s culture. If the overall goal is for theater to be ubiquitous in people’s lives, then I would argue it has to be ubiquitous in their communities. And that means we might have to let go of certain things theater has become right now in many communities – a building, over there, outside the community, on the other side of town, across the river, not near a bus or train line, in the hipper part of town, in a new “hot” neighborhood.

 

In East L.A., when my collaborator Virginia Grise and I set about filming our play The Panza Monologues, we had the good help of someone dedicated solely to getting the word out by going bar to bar, door to door, store to store, meeting to meeting to spread the word about the taping/performance. She saturated the community around the community center we taped in with handbills and posters. She cajoled others in the community to help her, and they did because the show, I like to think, was pertinent to the community. These community marketers talked to people person-by-person, god bless them for their help because we were busy putting together the show. Of course, we used usual outlets like radio and newspapers to advertise the show – but altogether it was a multi-directional, micro to macro, approach. And frankly, a persistent daily effort in the three months leading up to the night of the performance. At 7:30PM on the day of the taping, a line snaked around the building. At 8:00PM, we were still trying to stuff people in (but couldn’t, fire codes). Instead, so we hear, people were trying to sneak in the building because it was a one night only type of deal for taping, and we had to close the doors on our full house.

 

CS: What’s inspiring you these days? And/or what’s troubling you these days?

 

IM: I’m taking this question from a theatrical point of view, considering the context of this conversation. I am truly excited by the emerging body of work currently being generated by a new generation of Latina playwrights. Here, I mean both those who are younger (in terms of age) and those who are emerging but not young adults (in terms of age). Many Latinas are experiencing the worthy fruits of long careers (finally, public notice in both Latina/o and Euroamerican communities). And, when the work speaks to the heterogeneity of Latinidad, I am even more excited to see these voices emerge. Here, work that explores complex notions of identity such as class, national origin, region, sexuality, language, and diaspora is most welcome as it broadens the purview of social political issues that suffuse Latina/os’ lives across the U.S. even as it broadens what the term “Latina/o” enfolds: geographically, in terms of national origin, and in terms of racial composition. I am also always excited to witness new kinds of theatrical aesthetics that challenge realism or melodramatic models of theatrical form. Therefore, site-specific work and movement work is also truly exciting to me at this moment because it pushes at realism.

 

Even as I’m excited by the new and exciting work of Latina playwrights, I still believe we need to nurture and help train more Latina administrators, directors, and dramaturgs in theater (mainstream and community-based) who are interested in making theater by, for, and about issues and stories that speak to Latina/os. Latina/os’ participation as theater artists or administrators is a tricky topic, but I am distressed that Latinas are drastically underrepresented as creative leaders (artistic directors, directors, designers, dramaturgs, playwrights, administrators in the arts) as compared to the number of male participants: Latino, white, or from other racial origins. I want to see Latina leadership emerge in key areas of theatrical production; it will change the texture of our theater (aesthetics) as well as its content (themes and topics). Of course, national numbers and surveys have proven that theater production by women across the board(s) is sorely lacking. But for Latinas, the situation is even more alarming. Therefore, if I could change one thing, it would be care about nurturing future Latina leaders who are interested in Latina/o Theater by, for, and about Latina/os. (Numbers alone do not equal the creation of theatrical stories pertinent to future Latina/o audiences.) Here, I am looking at themes and stories, not just racial demographics (the number of) Latinas working in/making theater.

 

 

 

Tatiana Suarez-Pico talks 3030 with NoPassport

Tatiana Suarez-Pico talks 3030 with NoPassport

[Tatiana Suarez-Pico’s play Profit is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

Caridad Svich: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. this divide or, shall we call it a "gap?," has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. in effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other.

 

  1. how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: As humans we are always attempting to find a way to categorize ourselves, our experiences, etc. It helps us process what’s going on around us, but these categorizations are sometimes very narrow and only appropriate under certain circumstances. Devised vs. Text-driven, Latino writer vs. Writer, Woman writer vs. Writer—shouldn’t serve as a definition of the work itself; they barely define what we’re really doing when we make theater, when we write. How I deal with it depends on the context. I will push to be called a writer over a “female writer” most of the time, but context as well as intention is something I care about and always take into consideration. In short, I pick my battles.

 

CS: how do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: It’s hard to negotiate divides you didn’t create; in other words, it’s hard to play by someone else’s rules. How I negotiate with those divides is by staying true to what I want to say and subsequently being really deliberate about the way I want to communicate it. I go back to picking and choosing my battles— which divides are really having a creative/tangible impact on the work, and which are so arbitrary and ridiculous that there is no need to focus on them.

 

CS: as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: I could write about process forever, but it all just comes down to where I am, what my priorities are, in my personal life at the moment. I do spend a great deal of time thinking about my next piece of work before I delve into it, sometimes years.

 

CS: and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: It’s easy to be engaged in dialogue with my local community; it’s in my face, I can’t ignore it. The global community is the one that takes a bit more effort. I actually wish there were more avenues for artistic exchange across continents- we’d be better off as people, and far more understanding. I am constantly engaged with the world around me, but do a great deal of reading and watching to create cultural bridges with the rest of the world.

 

CS: and are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere?

or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: Remain open.

 

CS: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: community, and a word that can often seem like a mountain you have climb to get over to some, very elusive, other side.

 

CS: what is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: It’s good to go to a play labeled as a “Latino work” and be able to get the nuances of the work, to get all of the secrets—It’s wonderful to be a part of that community. However, when I write I don’t write with a “US Latin@” hat on; I write with my very human experiences in tow which are not always in relation to the place where I was born or where the census places me ethnically. That’s an incredibly and terribly narrow way of viewing any artistic endeavor, by any artist, of any ethnicity. And this is where the labels start to feel like walls closing in. We exist in a larger context.

 

CS: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: I think of all my work as a way of challenging or calling into question a series of actions. Most of the time this entails challenging myself to investigate communication as a whole.

 

CS: what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?'

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: If someone “deeply admires” the work, and they mean that, they’ll put the work on stage. I write plays with a multicultural cast in mind because that’s the world I live in. Some roles I write with a specific ethnicity in mind, and I do so deliberately. As someone who has worked as an actor for many years, putting on stage a multicultural representation of the world, is a very important and personal goal of mine. I’ve gone to the auditions, I’ve acted the plays, I’ve seen the other side and know that if a  writer does not specify  that a certain role can be of “X” ethnicity, many theaters just won’t consider that ethnicity at all for that role. And that’s the world we live in right now.

 

Some work doesn’t require culturally specific actors, and if I’ve noted that in my play, and yet a theater or producing organization tells me that they need “cultural specific actors” for those roles, it’s their own bias speaking not my play.

 

CS: what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: Cast the play the way our world is: multicultural, accented, different. And, please read my “Character Description” page.

 

CS: it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: Yes, of course, theater should reflect this. Whether it is via the inclusion of other languages in the text or allowing a variety of accents to come to play on stage, it’s up to the writer. But should theater reflect our environment, local and global? Yes, of course!

 

CS: and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all? 

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: I write about it. I write about characters who are multilingual, bilingual, with a variety of accents, and whose self-identification may be in transition. That may not be what the play is about, but it certainly comes into play when I create a character as those subtleties are what inspire me and inform me (as someone who is writing/creating a world).

 

CS: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: As an audience member: when something I see on stage takes my heart from my chest, unraveling deep-seated fears, and forcing me to reflect about something, in me or outside of me. I don’t even know what it is about theater; perhaps it isn’t that we are just self-involved and are quickly drawn to self-identification, but that we are thrilled by the truth, we are addicted to seeing something real that makes us incredibly uncomfortable… Maybe that just what thrills me about theater.

 

As an actor— acting has always made me a better person, less judgmental, more understanding. I always feel alive when I’m acting.

 

As a writer—the thrill of it for me, is when I can get someone to give a shit about someone else or something else. When I see people edging to their seats, dazzled by a story, and for those minutes forgetting all the really stupid divides we have created for ourselves; for a moment we are just humans trying to make it to the next day.

 

CS: what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: It depends on the audience I am trying to reach. If it’s a younger audience, then I think about what’s really making waves with that particular group of people, videos? Instagram? Blogging? A daily picture with a funny message? Everything seems cyclical and everything seems to have a tipping point, at least to me, social media included. A lot of the “how-tos” of communicating with an audience come from what the play/theater piece is about, and from the characters I’ve put in the piece. What I’ve said, how I’ve said, is directly related to how I “market” or present the invitation to an audience. Of course, the economy of it all also plays a huge role in how an audience is reached.

 

CS: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?

 

TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: Inspiring: Honesty. Travel. Multiculturalism. Playfulness. Especially playfulness. Troubling: Those biases that block our ways into bigger theater houses, TV shows, and movies. Those terrible biases that so many people before us have fought against, that still play in the background, making a quiet raucous behind the scenes—and really, still closing doors for many of us. The truth is that we are still fighting a quiet and not-so-quiet battle against the over-simplification of human identity, and humans in general… You know, how easy it is to stick a label on someone and say “not them, we don’t want them.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Possible
a poem for Randy Gener
on January 25, 2014
 
by Caridad Svich
 
make sexy, he said
in the birthday hallo
 
make love, he said
about theatre dreamt of
 
on the subway train we rode
some years ago
back from BAM
we got lost
stopped at the wrong stop
worried
but kept going
 
we laughed
and started to really talk
about art and life
after years of being fans
across the aisle
 
often separated: critic and writer
but no need for the separation
 
as we spoke of
people we loved
teachers we admired
the importance of mentors
and poetry
 
I write too, he said
not just essays and things
wink.
 
many nights later
on a night of hibernating rattlesnakes
daring the dare
at the nuyorican poets cafe
haunted by the ghosts of losaida
 
there was writing, yes
and talk of Genet
and such words
divine incandescence
blush/smile
crackling intelligence
 
ha, you are a poet, i said
but no, no, the reply,
just writing some things when i have the time
when i am not wearing other hats
 
impassioned hats
for Belarus Free Theatre, Maria Irene Fornes,
artists on and under the radar
in New York City and other cities and countries
everywhere, everywhere
 
the world is ours. we must write it.
 
at the Players Club
the kind words that flowed
unexpected
because the passion was real
and the depth of it felt
and never knew, never
he'd been reading/watching/caring
all this time
like this
wink
 
yes, there was that drink,
that long drink
when we first met
at a conference
a crash of heys and hallos and sudden long conversation
a real conversation midst the floating cups
and shallow talk
 
finally, kindred spirit
smile blush
 
at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center and New Dramatists
the raising of glasses
for words in print
daring the dare again
for an endeavor
not meant to last
 
just a dare, you know
to see if a wee dent could be made in the field
because so much work
too much work
still unread/unknown
shame
it cannot be
and he said, yes,
let's dream the yes
 
and through it all -
 
bitter tears,
rage, hurt
and joy
crazy ecstatic
 
webster hall
loud clapping hands 
there in the front row
up high the hands
let them take the photo, he said
and i, what?
blink
 
and after, after
the place down the way
where everyone else would be,
over drinks and too much calamari
a long night of raising glasses
and wondering
what a beautiful yes could be
 
 
here's to the bristling mind
open, curious
 
the playfulness
and show and tell of self
 
but always, there
the possible
 
 
i sing a song of the possible
a song of yeses
for the one who
winks the dream
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Carmen Pelaez talks art and life for NoPassport’s 3030 scheme

 

[Carmen Pelaez’s play Fake is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme by Caridad Svich.]

 

Caridad Svich: a false (i think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called "devised" work and "text-based or text-driven" work. this divide or, shall we call it a "gap?," has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. in effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I don't.  I just write. Trends are completely uninteresting to me.  I don't want my work to be the fluorescent paint splattered sweatshirt of American theater.  I want it to be the classic and timeless crisp white button down. I will say that I write what I would want to act and thankfully my writer and actor instincts let me procedurally have my cake and eat it too.  But as far as and strategy is concerned, I write what compels me to take time out of my life to sit down and write. I know it will find an audience because thankfully, it always does.  But trends are disposable and if I were to write to a trend, my work would be disposable too.

 

CS: how do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?

 

Carmen Pelaez: You want to know a people look at its art.  We've got the Biebs and reality TV.  Modern day American culture does not value art.  It values hustlers and rewards mediocrity.  Its why it's so easy to fail upwards as a writer.  Of course there are some exceptions but en masse- it's flash and money making trash. If you get stuck looking at those lines-you may get work-but you probably won't make art.  HOWEVER my Cuban culture has taught me that you can get everything taken away from you except the art you experience.  That in the end-art is all we have it's the only thing that really transcends.  So I look at those lines the same way I do as if I was driving. When you're driving-you're not supposed to look at the center line in the road cause you will steer the car into the wrong lane.  You've got to look at the line that's on your side alternating with taking a glances at the horizon.  That's how you get there.  And that's the 'there' I want to get to.

 

CS: as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I only put out work that I would want to see or act in.  I'm not prolific.  I let things write themselves in my head sometimes for years and then when I'm forced by deadline or compulsion, I sit down and write.  I throw away more pages than I put out.  But I'm really proud of what I've put out.  I learned early on that you must be able to live with your work.  And fortunately, I happily can.

 

My life goals as an artists is for people to see their own humanity in my work.  That would be the greatest thing I could hope for.

 

CS: how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists?

 

Carmen Pelaez: For me it's about the purity of your intention. The authenticity of the voice is the only thing that will really moves people.  When I was younger, I had several opportunities to cash in, in a major way, if I were willing to write apologetically.  To write the Cuban girl that 'they' wanted to see. But it was never a viable option. And believe me-it hurt to turn down some of these career launching opportunities but I was never even tempted.  My family, my history, our experiences, our truth--that wasn't and isn't for sale. Plus they were just asking me to make bad art and who wants to do that?  Bad art leads to idiot circles.  It's through my true blue Cuban lens that I've had the opportunity to interact with a quality of global artists and citizens that has enriched my life exponentially and I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.

 

CS: are there lessons you've learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I think the greatest lesson I've learned is to make a LIFE for myself.  My art is the starting point, but not the end.  To think BIG.  To think bigger than that commission or that submission.  I would say cultivate the ability to compartmentalize.  We all know the business side of what we do is a ridiculous lottery.  So don't let that dictate the art you make or the person you are.  Be BIGGER. Be GENEROUS. Remember we're all in it together and that life is long and hard.  Be KIND.  Let your curiosities and your empathy be your guide--not only ambition.  Of course, look for opportunities-but treat them as the salt at the table not the dish. 

 

CS: when you see/hear/read the phrase "US Latin@," what does it make you think of?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I have a love hate relationship with that term. I'm from Miami.  The 'other'  were and are 'los Americanos'.  I heard 'el pobre-dejalo-es Americano' so much growing up that I had NO idea how maligned Latin@s were in the US. It wasn't until I got to New York that I began to understand how racist and ugly ese 'pobre Americano' can be. I realized how important it is politically to stand together. Many Latin@ groups of which I am a member do phenomenal work to not only promote art, but human rights and civil liberties.  BUT standing together should not mean to let ourselves lose our individuality.  I think sometimes we can get so desperate for opportunities that we allow ourselves to be lumped into the same corral in hopes of getting seen. In turn it makes us feel that we can only break out of that pen one at a time and its just not true.  So the few of us that get hand picked start to think they must be different right-cause they were hand picked and it leads to a mental servitude that I'm not comfortable with. 

 

CS: What is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I don't think of Fornes as a Latin@ wrier.  I don't thing of Picasso as a Spanish artist.  I think WRITER and ARTIST.  We don't hear the term US European.  Or European-American theater.  US Latin@ denotes that 'other' which specializes and at once sterilizes us.  It creates a tokenism that is very dangerous to us as a community. We're giving our individual power over to a few that have no understanding of who we are. We're allowing ourselves to be chosen, it's passive and it's not working.  We need to start deciding who we want to gift our perspective to and go for it.  Our being Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Dominican makes us fresh!  Its fertile ground.  Productions at INTAR last year got far better reviews in the New York Times than many productions at other non for profits.  In Miami you rarely if ever see a writer pointed out as a Latin@ writer. They're just artists.  We just need to be artists first and trust that our cultural heitages will give us a fresh perspective to explore.  I really believe if we individually stop expecting and settling for the slot we're allocated--collectively we will jump leaps and bounds.  I don't want to be a big fish in a small pond. I don't want to be the diversity hire. I want to be a whale in an ocean.  The writer that earned the job cause I lit their minds on fire not because I'm a Cuban (insert name of famous playwright).

 

CS: as a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I'm kind of a traditionalist.  My strength isn't pushing the form.  For me its about using everything at my disposal to push the perception.

 

 

CS: what do you do when someone says to you "we don't have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can't even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?'

 

Carmen Pelaez: I tell them that color blind casting is the easiest way to show the author and the audience that you respect them.  Challenge your actors and your casting office and we will all be the better for it.

 

CS: what do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I want the best actor for the job. Period.

 

CS: it goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? if so, how?

 

Carmen Pelaez: I just spent a month in Miami and if I spoke English three times-it's a lot.  Down there-if you tell somebody you don't speak Spanish you might as well say that monkeys fly out of your ears at night. Our reality is multilingual-if our theater wants to stay vital-of course it should reflect our reality.  All of my plays which have Hispanic characters have Spanish in them.  Language is such a huge part of our essence.  Denying it is denying part of ourselves, denying our intimacy. We've got to ignore the fear of language and lead by example.  Heighten the stakes.

 

CS: in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all? 

 

Carmen Pelaez: I only use Spanish when the word or phrase in English doesn't communicate what I need it to emotionally.  I'm also particularly adept at translating the musicality of Spanish for my characters that would only speak Spanish but are part of telling the story in English without sounding hokey.  I bled to become good at this-so I'm proud of my ability and consider it another tool in my virtual shed.

 

CS: as a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form - this old weird creaky thing we call theatre - and why?

 

Carmen Pelaez; The immediacy of live theater is fantastic.  I act in all of my work-so hearing people laugh, sob, sigh, seeing them move forward in their seats...its wonderful and like nothing else.

 

CS: much is made at theatre conferences (esp) about where and how will we find the new audiences for the work. i think i have been hearing this for about 20 years now. and every year new marketing approaches are discussed and studies are done and surveys get passed around and so forth. lots of data gets crunched. but there is a bottom line, I think, and you may disagree, but what I see as the bottom line is: if you change the programming, lower ticket prices, do work for free even (see Mixed Blood's radical hospitality model), move out of the building(s), maybe just maybe that elusive "new" audience may be nurtured. but it ain't gonna happen sitting inside the building thinking about it or tweeting about it either. okay. wee rant over.

 

Carmen Pelaez: Want a new audience--make better theater.  Our business model gives us the audience we deserve. We gotta drown our grant babies and theater darlings and make it a meritocracy. If I had a dollar for every time somebody at the top said to me 'oh yeah-their work is terrible-but you know-they're known quantity so we have to produce them/give them the grant' I could self produce.  I say blind submissions across the board!  I'm up for it.  Audiences are bored with the same 4 voices telling the same stories.  And why shouldn't they be? Also artists, we need to raise our own bar.  Stop being coy if the system is working for you personally and consider how much great work we're losing because of our industry's m.o. Enough with the low hanging fruit.  If we want to save this art form-we need to hold our work to a higher standard and not support bad work because somebody is connected. We need to start telling ourselves and each other the truth. Might hurt at first but my God--can you imagine the work that would come out of it!

 

CS: what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?

 

Carmen Pelaez: On social media and blogs I like to talk about what inspired the story.  What painting or moment moved me. What piece of music I had in my head.  

 

CS: what's inspiring you these days? and/or what's troubling you these days?

 

Carmen Pelaez: Lately I've been looking at a lot of Chinese contemporary art. INK ART at the Met and 28 CHINESE ARTISTS at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami were particularly stunning exhibits.  They working on all cylinders.  Also a new exhibit of my great aunt's work AMELIA PELAEZ THE CRAFT OF MODERNITY at PAMM in Miami was amazing--its always great to discover new pieces in her oeuvre and her life and tradition is a constant source of inspirtation. Performance wise the incredible MARIE ANTOINETTE by David Adjmi--is just on another plane and Rosie Herrera's dance piece DINNER PARTY was fantastic. I'm moved by work that has a huge and specific point of view without losing the ability to surprise you.  One that challenges the expectations of an audience or viewer.  All of this work found a place in my body when I saw it.  I love when art grabs you by the throat like that.

 

What's troubling me these days is the complete lack of self awareness among artists.  They put so much effort into the game that they substitute their own hype for the work which leads to bad, or worse, boring theater limiting all of our possibilities.  It's a privilege to be an artist-honor it above all else and we will all be the better for it.

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