Ren Dara Santiago

Name: Ren Dara Santiago

Hometown: Yonkers and Harlem, New York

Current Town: Harlem

Affiliations: Middle Voice Theater Company and teaching artist at the National Theater Institute of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Friend/Alumna of: SPACE on Ryder Farm, Clubbed Thumb, Gingold Theatrical Group, Cherry Lane Theatre, MCC and MCC Youth Company, Ojai Playwrights Conference, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Labyrinth Theater.

Q: How do you self-identify? 

A: NuYoFilaRican

Q: Tell me about God Play.

A: I tried to write this play 3 years ago. In honor of Kalief Browder, many New Yorkers were motivated to push the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2017 into law. It passed, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I’ve lived next to a halfway house for 15 years. When I was in high school, a friend told me she saw an angel on the train that everyone else thought was a dirty, crazy homeless man. She said people acted like he smelled, but she looked at his feet and they were not dirty. He sat across from her and looked at her and she knew he was an angel. My play is about these two things.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I’ve got this dream project I’m still trying to conceptualize. It’s called Mixed Kids; Our Inherent Multiplicity. My dream is to gather an intergenerational group of citizens of multiple racial identities or ethnicities and to examine how that perspective engages with our communities, how multiplicity inherently aides out processes. I started doing this last year. I’m finding that I may need to make some gender-specific groups first, if my rooms are going to be so large and time so limited, or to hold them multiple times per week to promote its accessibility. I am actively seeking people outside of the theater community, as spaces like these are most accessible to us. If this interests you, please contact me at rendsanti@gmail.com. I’m also applying for certificate programs within grad schools for playwriting. Also, The Siblings Play is being translated into Italian for En Scena! in Rome this Spring. I’m excited by the cultural lessons this will have for me.

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

A: That’s interesting… Serving as part of the artistic leadership for Middle Voice at Rattlestick for three years. It’s given me everything. I was invited to make decisions and speak on behalf of my company; a company of artists I’ve known since adolescence and I love and respect more than anyone except my grandmas. Because I’m not built for administrative work- in fact, I think if I were alone in this, everything would’ve gone down in flames- my leadership partners, Victor Cervantes Jr and Jaime Jaget, handled all of the logistics; macro and micro and trusted me mainly as the heartbeat. That trust made me solid in all the places I’d always felt hazy before. Everyone has intuition, mine is mainly directed towards helping others, and it had become incredibly loud under this service. Because I listened to the private dreams and woes of my company members, I was able to pull out a greater purpose in company residency; the mission project. Every company member’s residency will culminate in a public event or mainstage show. The mission project does not have to be a play. It can be a panel, an organization, a new company, an educational program; whatever the young dream may be, so long as it responds to a community or conversation significant to the artist. Because Middle Voice is a theater company grounded in the necessity of intersectional community, their missions are their own to make. The mission project allows members to make more informed choices on how they spend their time in the company; experimenting with the community and conversations they want to address.

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?

A: Lucy Thurber is everything to me; sister, mama, leader, friend, teacher, idol. I want to listen to others as well as she does and I know if I keep working hard like I do, time will give me the confidence to answer others like she does. I love that woman. I also love Adam Bock, who has been a friend and great guide to me. He’s very generous with his knowledge and fascinations and he’s passionate about imbuing playwrights with the tools to make this thing an actual career. Victor Cervantes Jr is my hero. David Zheng is my idol. Alexander Lambie is my idol. Carrie Azano is my shero! Director of education at MCC. Jenna Worsham is truly a theater Goddess and the truest fucking theater justice warrior director and my best friend and she thinks she’s sneaky about it but totally guides me in the right direction all the time.

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

A: Finding collaborators who will advocate for your perspective are necessary. They will not always come in the forms your expect, so keep your eyes peeled. Remember who you are writing for. Remember who you are writing for. Remember who you are writing for! When you get those public readings, when you get those rejection emails, when you get those crazy productions. Remember who you are writing this for. Remember that you are the successor of a rich and magnificent culture, that your inheritance is unique to you and the world will only benefit from the work that you pour into her. Every success and every failure; your plays are always a gift, weighted with the knowledge, culture, and love you inherited.

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: I’m a big foodie. I’m a big sister. I got a reading with my best friend Tuesday, October 9th, 7PM at iRT. I should have a reading of my new play, EVE ANGEL, this winter with Gingold Theatrical Group. I’m half Filipina and that play addresses what’s going on economically and socially in a way that resonates with our regime over here.

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