Quiara Alegría Hudes

Name: Quiara Alegría HudesHeadshot Quiara Alegria Hudes

Hometown: Philadelphia

Current Town: NYC

Affiliations: Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater at Wesleyan University, Playwright-in-Residence at Signature Theatre.

Q: How do you self-identify?

A: Feminist muckracker. Boricua.

Q: Tell me about Miss You Like Hell.

A: Miss You Like Hell is a new original musical, written with composer and co-lyricist Erin McKeown, that opens at La Jolla Playhouse in fall 2016. It is about an estranged mother and teenaged daughter. The daughter is a citizen, the mother is not (Her undocumented status is how the mom lost custody when she separated from the father.). Mom and daughter reunite for the seven days leading up to the final immigration hearing. We’ve had the honor of working with Daphne Rubin-Vega as we’ve developed the piece. What I’m particularly excited about is one of the smaller plot threads: how a mother and daughter can have distinct, in some ways opposing, cultural identities. As Erin McKeown and I wrote the piece we kept feeling like—maybe it will be irrelevant by the time we’re done. Unfortunately, that has proven far from the case. Families are being separated left and right, kids left without parents, people without spouses and partners, because of our country’s immigration laws.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I am writing a memoir in which I chronicle the intersection of the War on Drugs and the Iraq War as two important influences on the Puerto Rican community in Philadelphia from 1990 to today. No title as of yet.

Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?

A: I have been quite blessed in this lifetime with honors and productions. You stand on a pedestal and see those who are nowhere close to it, though, those who you love who remain huddled in the shadows. From our common background of the Perez women, astonishingly brave matriarchs, my cousins and I have walked many paths and had divergent outcomes. There’s me, the writer who “made good.” There’s Elliot, who enlisted and served our nation and inspired a coming-of-age trilogy. There’s another cousin, who I won’t name, who nearly drowned under the weight of addiction and spent the following decades of her life cleaning up her act and putting together the pieces—extremely hard work for very little glory—a journey I continue to admire. There’s another cousin, again unnamed, who I visited yesterday in prison who is looking towards turning 30, being released, and the complicated hope of getting his life back, of picking up the pieces and avoiding the “streets” as he calls it. He wrote two novels in longhand behind bars. These are cousins I grew up with who I love. In some ways, I feel that they are me. My cousin, my witness.

The matriarchs were brave because they left one kind of poverty (agricultural poverty in Puerto Rico) for another kind of poverty (urban poverty in Philadelphia). It was a very bold gamble on their part. The matriarchs continued their bravery in Philly as tireless, often unpaid community advocates at a time when police “sweeps” were rampant and infant mortality was through the roof. The Perez matriarchs worked very hard to better the community.

I grew up at combustible, pivotal moment in American history. The War on Drugs was ravaging our neighborhood—it was really a war on those already destroyed by drugs. Then AIDS hit us unexpectedly, we fell from that too. The early legislation leading to mass incarceration was being strategized and passed. How can one community come back from these things? Plus, there was the cultural war where artists who were putting their finger on these various injustices, where they were being silenced by an NEA who was forced, by Congress, to stop funding individual artists. So rebel voices were being silenced, along with entire communities, as mega corporations were growing. Even rebellion became a mass commodity, and there was less room for rebel voices to speak truth to power.

The times and people of my life have defined my journey.

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?

A: I’ve been thinking about the Leslie Marmon Silko novel Ceremony. My senior year at Yale, professor Jace Weaver assigned it in his Native American Fiction course. Silko begins her novel:

I will tell you something about stories

[he said]

They aren’t just entertainment.

Don’t be fooled.

They are all we have, you see,

all we have to fight off

illness and death.

 

You don’t have anything

if you don’t have the stories.

I believe that is closest I’ve come to encountering a directive, which I took literally, and continue to pursue. Three years prior, in my freshman English class, I was assigned for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf… Shange ends her choreopoem with a passage that annihilated my spirit, a spiritual shattering, and made me pay close attention as I reassembled myself. She says, “i was missing somethin / somethin promised / somethin free / a layin’ on of hands” and then continues to these final words:

i found god in myself

& i loved her / i loved her fiercely

These two pieces of literature were a north and south pole for me. I started with an ending my freshman year, I ended with a beginning my senior year. To me, storytelling is a cleansing ceremony (cleansing by truth-speaking), where one must find the divinity within and honor the human spirit’s vast complications.

Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?

A: Know why you want to do this. When you get stuck, when you’re confused, remind yourself why you want to do this. Also SAVOR the writing time. I know it can be painful at times, but mostly writing is a profoundly blessed way to spend one’s days, and one’s life! Be less involved in the outcome, try to ignore the career and industry stuff as much as possible (the highs and the lows), and just love the writing, the process, the rending and making.

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: My name means “Beloved Happiness.”

***For more on Quiara Alegría Hudes, see:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tanya Saracho

Name: Tanya SarachoHeadshot Tanya Saracho

Hometown: (is hometown where you were born or where you left your heart?) Born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa but I left my heart in Chicago, IL.

Current Town: Ugh. Los Angeles. (I ugh because I haven’t figured it out yet. I haven’t quite latched on.)

Affiliations: I founded ALTA: Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists and co-founded a theatre a long time ago, Teatro Luna. But I’m no longer affiliated. Currently I’ve got no theatre affiliations. Wait, that’s really sad… sniff.

Q: How do you self-identify?

A: I’m Mexican. A Mexican national. But I guess if we’re speaking culturally, I am an acculturated, Americanized Mexican who also identifies as Latina.

Q: Tell me about FADE.

A: FADE is about to get a second production at Primary Stages in January. It is a two-hander which was commissioned by Denver Theatre Center where it premiered this Winter (2016). I guess, I could say it was inspired by my first year as a TV writer. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it autobiographical, but I won’t deny that it served as therapy to be able to write it as I was processing my first year on the job. I wrote it within the safety of the Center Theatre Group’s Writer’s Workshop where, every Wednesday I’d be running late from said TV job at Disney and show up with no pages and a bunch of excuses. I was supposed to be writing a musical about Lupe Velez for Denver Theatre Center, but instead I would just complain and moan about how homesick I was for Chicago and how horrible my TV life was at work. Finally, Matt Gould, one of the other playwrights, read-me-to-filth and said, “why don’t just write about that already?” I think they’d all had enough of me whining, which was understandable. I gave him my most “doh!” face and had a light bulb moment and did just that – “wrote about it.”

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I’m supposed to be working on two commissions. One for the lovely Two River Theatre about the influx of Latinx in Red Bank, NJ., and the other for the wonderful South Coast Rep, about domestic workers in the O.C. I have a lot of guilt about not yet finishing these projects. (Omaiga, there go my sweaty palms and hives again…) In my defense I was working on back to back, demanding TV shows and I had no time or brain space to create outside of what was due for work. (excuses…excuses) But I WILL finish the commissioned scripts – and hopefully they won’t suck.

Oh, right. I’m also developing for Television, which is another thing that has taken up time and space. (more excuses, Saracho) Right now I’m working on Pour Vida  along with another project which hasn’t yet been announced.

Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?

A: Well, first and foremost, studying with Maria Irene Fornes. That just cracked it all open for me. Then starting Teatro Luna when I moved to Chicago and building work with that ensemble. And after, when the Goodman Theatre gave me my first commission, the Ofner Prize—I think this sort of legitimized me. It gave me the stamp of approval necessary for other theatres to say “ok, she doesn’t just devise work with her ensemble. She’s an actual playwright. Let’s take a look at her stuff. Let’s meet with her.” I do think that because of that, a Steppenwolf SYA commission came along and readings in NY… and I was considered “a playwright.”

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?

A: Well, Maria Irene, of course. And Caroline Eves, a British Director who was my professor while I was at Boston University. Her brand of feminism and the way she believed in me gave me a big engine. Also (and he might know it or not) but Luis Alfaro was another mentor/hero, even though I never studied with him. I did one of his plays at the Goodman as an actor, and I learned everything about being a playwright of color and nurturing new work in the Regional theatre system from that experience—it was a sobering crash course. And because he’s a mensch, he was the one who told the Literary Manager that I wrote plays and that he must read my work. There’s a direct correlation between that action and me getting the Ofner Prize. As a playwright in the periphery, sometimes you don’t have access to these bigger houses but because Alfaro gave me an ‘in’ to the Goodman as a playwright… I got a commission. I do think there’s a cause and effect equation there. I mean, when else was that going to happen with no connections? Maybe never. But he made it possible, so he’s very important to me.

Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?

A: Don’t be afraid to write shitty plays. Just keep writing. Don’t ever stop the writing. Judge the shit later. After. When you’ve written. And even then, don’t be so hard on yourself that it paralyzes you to keep going. (I should give myself this pep talk right now) And be loud about it. That means, always having something to submit to festivals and reading series.  Until people understand who you are. Be known for your work, not your persona. Don’t be all talk, do the work. It’ll pay off later, I promise.

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: I have crushing anxiety about my playwriting career and I think I might be on the way out. I have to keep voicing this anxiety so I can look at it in the face and see how much merit it possesses. #impostorsyndrome

***For more on Tanya Saracho, see:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Miryam Madrigal

Name: Miryam MadrigalHeadshot Miyram Madrigal

Hometown: Encino, CA and East Cleveland, OH

Current town: Baltimore, MD

Affiliations: Dramatists Guild (member); Association for Jewish Theater (member); 24/6 Theater Company (NYC); Artist Residency: Art Kibbutz (Governor’s Island, NYC); Baltimore Playwrights group; Jewish Women Artists of Baltimore (Artist Way Collective).

MFA from Tisch School of the Arts Dramatic Writing Program.

Q: How do you identify?

A: Over the years, I have called myself different things: Mexican, Latina, Latinx, Mexican-American, Jewish, Sephardic, Jexican, observant Jew. It depends on the context. Most days, I’m Mexican with Jewish lenses.

Q: Tell me about your Never Mess with a Mexican Girl.

A: Never Mess with a Mexican Girl (Orgullo Festival, Theatre Nuevo St Louis, MO) is a saucy twist on The Little Red Riding Hood fable. Little Roja is sent on a mission to cross El Rio Grande to deliver food to her abuelita who cannot get out to do her marketing. On her way there, she meets a rock star, El Gran Lobo. All the sexually hungry wolf wants is to take a bite out of her! He meets up with her at abuelita’s house only to find that Little Roja is smarter than he presumed. To save her life, she blasts him away with her diamond studded gun because she’s a real chingona! I had to cut out the woodsman role because who needs a man to save the girl?  

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: The Artist’s Way. I do my morning pages every single day. It’s the best way to gain clarity.

Marrying In  is a play about a Jewish interracial ( black/white) couple living in an insular Orthodox community, taking place post Baltimore riots. Their place in the community is called into question when a racist incident prompts them to question where they belong. This play has received two “closed readings” at 24/6 Theatre company.  A scene from this play was in the showcase for Association for Jewish Theater (St. Louis, MO).

Mentl (yes, the “a” is missing) is a short play about a young Jewish girl that gets labeled as “problematic” in her Orthodox school when she draws an abstract, nude portrait of her mother for her Mother’s day project. Her parents place her on medication and send her to therapy for being too hyper, rebellious, and different from the “other girls.”

A Girl Named Mari is a children’s story about being the only Mexican girl in a majority white school. It’s written in rhyme. I’m really obsessing over this story at this very moment.  My children really liked it and I’m so close to the conclusion.

A Year in Jerusalem. I recently found two volumes of my diaries that I kept in Jerusalem while I lived there for a year, between two intifadas. I’m wondering if I will turn them into anything different than what they are—simple journal entries. Editing is in order for sure! I edited one entry and was pleased with the results.

Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?

A: There have been many moments but I’ll share three:

1) Seeing two plays—Simply Maria, or the American Dream by Josefina López and How do I know I’m supposed to be alive by Evelina Fernandez—changed the course of my life. After I saw those shows, I walked out of the theatre knowing I would not go to law school and that I would put my efforts into playwriting.

2) My first production of Kosher with Salsa was very well received in Baltimore. When I saw the line going out the door of Fells Point Corner theatre and 70 people had to be turned away on closing night, I knew that I was onto something. I received a beautiful fan letter telling me that they would pay for tickets to see it again.

3) I recently saw Centerstage’s production of Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morisseau. I went home so electrified I couldn’t sleep! Isn’t that what playwriting should be?

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors?

A: I haven’t had a mentor (as in the verb). I have had several mentors (as in the noun): Susan Birkenhead (lyricist for Jelly’s Last Jam, Triumph of Love); Yoni Oppenheim (Artistic Director of 24/6 Theater Company); Jesse Freedman; Nahma Sandrow.

I had terrific teachers along the way. Luis Alfaro, Julie Jensen and Ellen Byron were among my first teachers of playwriting. They wrote letters of recommendation for Tisch School of the Arts and soon I was on my way. One way ticket to NYC! While there,  David Ives, Gary Garrison, Shirley Lauro were among my favorite teachers. A super special thanks to Gary Garrison who DID NOT  let me become a part time student.  I graduated on time.  I just wish that I hadn’t been so introverted. If I were to go back in time and have the opportunity to redo it, I would have been more assertive. I may have sought out more Latin@ theatre makers earlier on in my career. Perhaps I suffered from “graduation on the brain”  and future job prospects. How to make a living occupied a lot of my head space. I promised I would never teach children again, but somehow I found myself in special ed.

Q: Who have been my playwriting heroes?

A: People I admire: The people on this website ! Susan Birkenhead, Luis Alfaro, Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Evelina Fernandez, Ariel Dorfman, Josefina López, Luis Valdez, David Henry Hwang.

Q: What advice would you give Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?

A: I’m also at the beginning of my career!

If you don’t have time to read my ten pieces of advice, read the last sentence of this section.

This is not in order of importance.

1) Don’t do it for the money or the fame! (I’m almost finished paying off my graduate student loans.)

2) Don’t be discouraged by the inevitable disappointments.

3) Do not be dissuaded by people who may not understand you.

4) Count yourself as blessed if people like your work.

5) Write work that you are willing to champion for years, decades.

6) On most days, inspiration doesn’t come knocking on the door holding a bouquet.

7) Keep on writing even if you only get a couple of good sentences in a day.

8) Sleep well, eat well, pamper yourself.

9) Stay away from crazy makers. (This term is used in the book, The Artist’s Way)

10) Live your original life!

Cuidate! Nadie te va a consentir! ( I wish!) Translation: Take care of yourself. No one is going to pamper you.

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: I have four children, three boys and a girl. I did not write a sentence for ANY play for over 12 years.  I did complain a lot to my diary. Dear G-d, what has happened to my writing? The sink overflows with dishes. The kitchen floor crunches beneath my feet. I can’t keep up with the spilled cheerios on the floor! These kids take all my energy. I wish for a housekeeper I can’t afford. When will I ever write again?

Those years were so lonely and physically grueling, especially because I was nursing one child, keeping another one out of danger, and driving carpools. Eventually, the words started to bubble upwards from who knows where. Maybe I became a better listener? Finally, after many years, I began to write again.

I learned that with great difficulty comes transformation and transcendence. Use your suffering, trauma, tragedies, sorrows, joys in your writing! As my mentor Susan Birkenhead told me: “Use all of who you are to write your plays.”

I feared having a bunch of children would be my artist’s death sentence. The opposite was true.  They are the wellspring of inspiration and blessing. Most importantly, I developed a heart of understanding.

I look forward to the future. One by one my children are leaving the house. This coming year, I will be down to one! And, I’ll be spending more time in Chicago. Yippee!

***For more on Miryam Madrigal, see:

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment