Ryan Oliveira

Name: Ryan OliveiraRyan Oliveira

Hometown: Miami, FL

Current Town: Chicago, IL (but who knows?)

Affiliations: I’m just a wandering bearded bard.  But I’ve been best associated with The New Colony, The University of Iowa…almost any home that’ll have me.

Q: How do you self-identify?

A: Latino thanks to my Brazilian immigrant parents.  Though you wouldn’t know it looking at me.  (Or maybe you would?  I’m no Adriana Lima, that’s for sure.)

Q: Tell me about Desire in a Tinier House.

A: Talk about the play I never meant to write.  (Laughs.  Maybe crickets.)

It started with a prompt by Migdalia Cruz in the Fornes Workshop last year that I’ll butcher right now: Think of someone you desired and who didn’t desire you back.  That you’re with them.  And then think about someone else you desired and didn’t desire you back walking in on you and your #1 desire.  And now these two undesiring people now desire each other in front of you.  Write.  (Or in my case, cry and get a little turned on and then write.)

It started with a scene between two men where one was seducing the other with grapes through a car window.  And then I handwrote the rest of the play in England, where it evolved into exploring the sexual and romantic relationship between these two men in the outskirts of America through trios of time (three minutes, three weeks, three millennia, even) in their space-pod trailer home.  Desire asks whether a gay relationship can survive their cabin fever composed of psychological trauma, persecution, and destruction in America.  And the play is unafraid to explore their survival in terms of erotics—from the grapes they tease to the sex they make.  It’s sexy.  It’s cerebral.  It’s brutal.  It’s heartbreaking.  It’s…did I mention sexy?  It even tries to make Darwin sexy.  That’s how sexy it is.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: All the elses!  Desire in a Tinier House is part of a queer tetralogy I worked on all of last fall.  I wrote four plays in succession—handwritten, then transcribed.  The four deal with queer erotics in dangerous spaces in response to the attack at Pulse Nightclub.  We thought we were post-gay, that blatant homophobia was no longer the murderous massacre.  Pulse not only showed us where the lie was, but how entrenched it was in family, among lovers, in our nation, and across the globe.  In Brazil, a queer person is killed every day.  The killers go unpunished; in fact, it’s sometimes their own family members that do it, without remorse and with complete Evangelical-political backing.  And thus, the tetralogy was born and its plays are currently enrolled in various editing schools.

Since I can’t sit still, I’d like to return to what the University of Iowa sometimes loved and dreaded about me: Epic Plays!  Specifically, I’m starting research for a play that aims to humanize global climate change for an audience through a great flood.  And I’m also looking for collaborators on an original pop-rap-rock musical about an Alex & Sierra-like duo, both of whom first-generation Americans trying to navigate belonging and succeeding in America as legitimate music icons.  And maybe one or two more ideas.  I seem to be averaging three new plays a year on top of dramaturgical and occasional teaching gigs.  Can’t stop, won’t stop, I guess.

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

A: When the Universe offers spiritual gems.  Two strike me right now, somewhat related.

The first was when I attended the Disquiet Literary Conference and participated in the Camino de Lisboa class headed by Moez Surani.  We basically hiked a portion of the Santiago de Compostela hike from Lisbon and it opened up my horizons.  After the Conference, I decided, what the heck—let’s hike up the western coast of Portugal on our own!  Needless to say, I didn’t get very far from Cascais.  But when I returned to the hotel, I met the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean and meditated about my playwriting and my place in the world.  I ended up writing two full-length plays and four songs that evening, which led me to discover that I do my best writing losing myself in nature hikes—whether it’s up Portugal or meandering Edale.  It’s important to lose myself in the writing as much as I lose myself in the world.

The second is…well, many of them I attribute to Dare Clubb.  After what I considered a miserable script-showing of Below the Pacific at the University of Iowa, I was unable to function.  And Dare takes me into his office, sits me down, hears my impostor symptoms, my inadequacies as a playwright turned up to full blast, I’m a failure, I’m a failure—and you know what he does?  He says (to paraphrase), “Well.  Throughout Beckett’s writing, he always sought yugen – that Japanese ethereal beauty.  But he never succeeded.  And yet, he is the most lauded playwright we have short of Shakespeare.  He failed every time.  And if he succeeded in achieving yugen in his work, would we really need to stage Waiting for Godot?  Would we really need to seek Beckett’s questions and stage-answers?”  And I’ve kept that persistence in searching to answer the impossible questions in my work—to embrace the beautiful and the imperfect.

Oh, and Dare often asked me why I kept writing sad images.  Because Grad School.

(I’m working on it, Dare!  I swear!)

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?

A: To be honest, I don’t know if I have playwriting mentors or heroes, necessarily.  I have playwrights that I geek out over.  Paula Vogel never steers me wrong.  I could devour Steve Yockey’s work like an octopus any damn day of the week.  Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is the most perfect play in the world and don’t you tell me otherwise.  It has EVERYTHING!  Maria Irene Fornes’ techniques have opened my playwriting to vivacious and visceral rooms.  And studying Lorca with Tlaloc Rivas unlocked new levels of looking at playwriting through poetry and music and eros—all with which I aim to imbue every work.

My mentors run the gamut.  Sara Warner is the professor I’d want to be years from now—unabashedly queer, insatiably curious, unbelievably supportive, and mistress of moderating discussions.  Dare Clubb, Lisa Schlesinger, and Megan Gogerty have been my dramaturgical rocks since leaving Iowa; they haunt me in my sleep and blurt out my mouth in guiding other playwrights or straightening my own shit out.  And let it be known: I’m only in theatre because it’s Daphnie Sicre’s fault.  She literally sat through one horrible scene of mine in a Driver’s Ed/Intro to Drama class in high school, pointed at me and said, “Why are you not in my Advanced Class?”  She got me playwriting.  She punched me in the shoulder when I revealed I could sing right as I was leaving high school.  She still advises me on matters of artist-teaching and gives me all sorts of shit when I don’t get nominated for things and I’ll be damned if I ever find a teacher as dedicated and passionate and dorky as her.

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

A: It’s tough because in many ways, I still feel inside the beginning of my career.  And I’m thirty!  I just stopped taking my shirt off for free in performance!  (Okay…maybe I haven’t.)

Probably the best advice I can give is to show up and show out.  Every opportunity I’ve had thus far has been…not expecting anything, but just enjoying myself in the moment.  Being open to the experience, whether it be in Sewanee or at an opening night party for Disgraced at the Goodman.  Your collaborators come from the most unexpected connections.  I don’t actively find…but I allow others to find me.  I play myself at my most honest and free-form at all times.  And this all sounds hippy-dippy…but I’ve become a big believer in the Universe providing.

And keep writing.

Why are you still reading what I have to say?  GET.  WRITING.

And stop giving a damn about where your plays will go and how they’ll get there.  They will get somewhere somehow.  These art-children you’ve birthed may go emo and decide to visit My Chemical Romance for a bit.  They may get accepted into Yale.  They may run away to join the circus.  (Awesome!  More circus plays for everyone!)  But let your children develop how they want to, much like you let your characters speak how they need to.

See plays, but read books.  Try your hands in other media.  Nerd out somewhere that isn’t Netflix for a change.

And this, I tell you, filho/a/x:

Get a Twitter account.  Because Marisela Treviño Orta told me to and I’ve received some of the strangest invitations because I’ve showed up there.  And earned some great connections in the process!

Q: What else should we know about you?

A:  I’ll plug that a new work of mine will be workshopped via Commission Theatre Company in April, so check it out if you’re in Chicago!  Could be Desire!  Could be a play about strangers stuck in a Norwegian winterland trying to escape monsters and military personnel hunting them!  Either way, it’ll be new, it’ll be imperfect, and it’ll be something to behold!

I’m also a pretty open book—I like books!  So feel free to contact me.  I’m always on the lookout for collaborators and projects and new friends.  I may have an addiction to extroversion.

I wonder how I get anything done at all…but here we are, miracle that I am.

I’m also a total Aquarius.  And yet, I’m an emotional sap.  I blame my love of Pixar and Celine Dion.

And with that, I’m off to save the universe one idea at a time.  Later!

(Total nerd.  Whatever.  Embracing it.)

***For more on Ryan Oliveira, see:

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Milta Ortiz

Name: Milta OrtizMilta Ortiz

Hometown: I’m from various places. Usually say the Bay Area, and sometimes I claim Oakland because that’s where I came of age.

Current Town: Tucson, AZ

Affiliations: Borderlands Theater, Northwestern University, San Francisco State University.

Q: How do you self-identify?

A: My academic answer is 1.5 generation Salvadoran-American. My go to used to be Chicana because it has the political connotations I’m looking for and most people are familiar with the term. But Salvi maybe a better fit since I’m Salvadoran. It’s complicated.

Q: Tell me about Más.

A: Más focuses on the people in the movement to save Mexican American Studies (MAS) in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD.) The MAS curriculum centered around reclaimed Indigenous epistemology. Más uses this epistemology as the device of the play. The play is set in a sweat lodge and takes place in the collective unconscious of the characters involved in the MAS movement. Audience members enter the theater as they would a sweat lodge and are smudged with sage on the way in (if they choose and if possible). The play consists of four rounds that are marked by four energies of the Mayan cosmology, played by dancers who accentuate some of the scenes in the play. The dancers mark the four rounds with short solos that end in the pouring of water over the book-stones. The book-stones are the original seven books banned by TUSD.

Más was developed through a National New Play Network (NNPN) playwright residency at Borderlands Theater. The end of Más was devised with the original cast for the world premiere under the direction of Borderlands artistic director Marc David Pinate. He’s my partner and Más was originally his idea that I took on and we developed as a team. We had tried different things in previous readings but hadn’t quite found it. The Borderlands Theater world premiere was an immersive and authentic experience in the ways of the Chicanx. Más premiered to sold-out houses, with long wait lists. If I thought I knew the importance of reflecting communities back to themselves, I really saw it in action with Más. The interviewees that saw the play, even some of the initially skeptical people, were grateful that the play validated their experience and portrayed their story in their own words.

Shortly after the world premiere, Más was co- produced by a diverse group of folks at Laney College and Ubuntu Theater Project in Oakland with two separate runs. What I love most about those productions was that the cast and crew became familiar with what it means to be Chicanx. Some college students drove an hour and a half from the South Bay and San Francisco to see the play. My favorite comment during the talkback was, “We get to see intelligent and college educated Latinos on stage.”

Borderlands Theater’s production is on an Arizona university tour. Más is being produced at Su Teatro in Denver this March. Tony Garcia directs!

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I’m playwright/director on Solving for X, a devised play with the Working Classroom. The Working Classroom’s method of creating is ensemble based. Mostly made up of youth who are accustomed to devising. I’ve been involved since June 2016. I came out to facilitate a couple of two- week workshops leading up to the play that I am writing based on the devising. As playwright, I provide exercises to create material. I observe and take notes. Then I keep what resonates with most of us and shape into a script. As director, I create the map for the ensemble to play within and in some cases edit the play as we go along. My job is to create the vision for the cohesive piece.

Working on a devised piece reminds me of the movement exercise: Leader, Neutral, Follower. The exercise is about following the flow, organically and continuously switching between the three while working together. Devising is about knowing when to step up and step down for all involved. I’ve found that communication is key in figuring out the personality of the group. And that’s when the magic happens.

I’m really excited about the work we’ve created. We’ve created an image driven, movement based, flash vignette play that is audience interactive. The set is made up of minimal parts that are moving props; choreographed transitions that sometimes involve desks and blackboards. The play wrestles with the education system, the commodification of students, inequality and agency. Solving for X previews February 16th at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque!

I’m also working on Sanctuary, a play about a Salvadoran woman with ganas, who ends up being the catalyst for the 1980’s Sanctuary movement. Based on real events, the play is my take on how this true-life movement took shape under the leadership of lawyer, Margo Cowan, her partner and historian Lupe Castillo, reverend John Fife of Southside Presbyterian Church and Quaker Jim Corbitt. It’s about a group of everyday folks who choose between the law of men and the law of God. The play’s first scene is based on a newspaper article I found while researching. Twenty-six middle class Salvadorans attempted to cross the border in the worst stretch of desert, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The women were in makeup, silk stockings and heels. The photos in the article haunted me. One of them shows a young woman, dark, with Mayan features, high cheek bones and deep set eyes, the suffering worn on her face, yet still attractive with this determined survivor’s edge about her. She was one of the thirteen that survived. She’s the inspiration for Yolanda in the play.

I learned about the 1980’s Sanctuary movement from Lupe Castillo. As I interviewed her for Más I was immediately hooked and the play idea marinated for a couple of years. Then Marc David Pinate and I had a conversation regarding the play idea and the play was conceived, much the same way Más was conceived. After researching and interviewing, the play began to reveal itself further. I’m working to finish the first messy draft. This play about compassion is even more relevant in the current political climate.

I have a father/daughter play that I want to get to but it scares me a bit, so I’m slowly marinating on it. Sometimes I hear characters talking and I take notes. Who knows if I’ll find the notes later but it helps the marinating process.

Good thing I have a month long residency at The Djerassi Program!

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

A: Watching John Leguizamo live circa 2001, made a career in theater seem possible to me. Reading about Anna Deavere Smith and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. I hunted down a copy of Twilight: Los Angeles HBO special vhs that I still have! I’d mostly written fiction up to that point and started experimenting with Ntozake Shange’s style of choreopoem and writing monologue style spoken word pieces. Teatro Vision’s Teatro week intensive workshop made a huge impact. We were housed in San Jose and made theater all day. Immersed in learning and practicing in the style of Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino, Augusto Boal and Theatre of the Oppressed. As someone who dabbled in dance, I fell in love with Image Theater and telling a story non-verbally. My mind was open to all kinds of possibilities. I wrote, produced, and performed a one-woman show, Scatter My Red Underwear, and toured it around the Bay Area. I learned while doing. My solo show incorporated text, video, movement, and music. I was very influenced by the hybrid theater movement going on in the Bay Area especially by Campo Santo, Erika Chong Shuch, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, CounterPulse. Devising with the HyPE theater troupe and Las Manas Tres. Performance art/movement workshops with Violeta Luna and Sarah Shelton Mann. Collaborating with artists in the Bay. Getting my MFA at Northwestern University refined my craft in playwriting and gave me the opportunity to explore and understand other mediums.

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?

A: As a young woman it was Shakespeare. Ntozake Shange and Luis Valdez. Solo performers John Leguizamo, Anna Deavere Smith, Danny Hoch, and Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Cherríe Moraga, Octavio Solis, Suzan-Lori Parks, August Wilson, Caryll Churchill, Sarah Kane, Adrienne Kennedy, Sam Shephard, Tom Stoppard, PJ Paparelli, Migdalia Cruz, Josefina López, and K J Sanchez. Rebecca Gilman, Thomas Bradshaw, Dave Tolchinsky, Zayd Dorn, Mary Zimmerman, and Culture Clash. I’m inspired by playwrights/writers who make a living from their craft. Friends like Ricardo BrachoVirginia Grise, and Elaine Romero. All of us doing our thing in theater. It sure ain’t easy and there’s nothing else I’d wake up for.

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

A: Try new things. Collaborate and Devise. It opens your mind. Figure out what works for you. Work on your craft. As a working mom I struggle with this and make it happen. Sometimes I take a break from writing for a couple of months or so because I have to focus on running a theater and taking care of my child. And that’s okay. Having a baby changes things. It’s not impossible but know that you will produce less for a few years. It helped that I had things going on so it was necessary to jump back in. Keep doing your thing. Go into theater knowing that you most likely won’t make a lot of money, so make sure it’s rewarding or paying off somehow. And/or you can always marry well. But seriously, how do we change this?

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: I have a half-finished pilot, a dramedy I started in grad school that I used to think about finishing sometimes. It follows the lives of four women bartenders at an Oakland bar. The main character is trying to reconnect with the father she never met. It’s fun, sexy, and soapy and uses hip hop/R&B and the Oakland vibe as a backdrop. (I wrote it before Empire. They could be distant cousins.) I have a female lead coming-of-age screenplay set in the 90’s that may be fun to revisit.

I’ve been through some ish. Experienced interesting places and re-invented myself a few times over. Maybe someday I’ll write a memoir titled Salvi. I wrote a solo play in grad school about the selves I’ve been, like consumer me, party girl me, militant me…. It’s about reconciling my bi-cultural reality and coming to terms with the real me. It’s easy to wander around lost when you’ve been transplanted and your roots don’t quite take hold.

Pitching Más to Borderlands Theater’s founder Barclay Goldsmith lead to my partner Marc David Pinate and I inheriting Borderlands Theater. You never know where a project can take you. I hadn’t considered running a theater. And I feel like everything I’ve done has prepared me. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve done, requires the most work and discipline, and we believe in what we do.

*For more on Milta Ortiz, see:

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Dane Figueroa Edidi

Name: Dane Figueroa EdidiDane Figueroa Edidi

Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland

Current Town: Washington DC

Q: How do you self-identify?

A: Black, Cuban, Indigenous, Nigerian, American Trans Priestess, Goddess, Healer…

My father is a Muslim immigrant from Nigeria, my mama is Cuban and Indigenous. I come from a family of very powerful women and nearly everyone has an artistic gift. Because my grandfather played guitar he made sure my mother, aunts and uncle had some form of musicality. The women in my family can sang. Both myself and my sister Lovey are also writers, and my Aunt Liz was an incredible jazz singer and academic, she wrote often.

Q: Tell me about Hierodule.

A: My new play Hierodule is based on a short story called The Witches Grey, which is a prelude to an upcoming epic novel of mine called the The Anthems Of Trees. It is about three sisters whose mother was an infamous medium and sex worker. They return to their ancestral home to perform a ritual, figure out if they want to sell it, and lay to rest their grievances.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: My 8th book, The Blood of A Thousand Roots was just published which has been like unto a healing balm for me while writing it. A great chunk of the book is about the relationships between myself and the women in my family.

I am also working on the third book in the Ghetto Goddess Trilogy about a teenage Trans Witch from Baltimore and her mother. I am so excited for people to finally get to see what happens to this Coven of powerful women.

On the 20th of February, I am performing a cabaret called Nocturnal Nuance. We are living in a time where the veil has been removed and we are gaining greater clarity. It is the last breath of white supremacy and the Patriarchy. Tyrants are falling. Systems of Oppression are trembling at the shout of Liberation. One of the ways I facilitate healing, one of the ways I protest the evils of this regime is through my art. It will be a night of poetry, song, and revolution. Plus my mom and I are gonna sing a duet.

I am working on a book of poetry called FOR BLACK TRANS GIRLS WHO GOTTA CUSS A MOTHERFUCKER OUT WHEN SNATCHING AN EDGE AIN’T ENOUGH: A Choreo Drama which can also be utilized as a script.

Oh, I am also working on libretto for an opera called Savannah with composer/performer Will Shish who I have co-written a few songs with before.

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

A: Writing my first play. I was literally a child, but it felt amazing to look at those pages and think, “I birthed this, a little ole trans girl from Baltimore City gave birth to this.”

Finding a composer (Andrew Morrissey) for Roaring the Musical, which is a musical I began writing the book for in 2001 about a Trans star and her family in the 1920s. We have since done readings in DC and NYC.

My one woman show Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem being produced at WoW Theater Cafe in New York mainly because Cee Cee Azure was one of the producers. It was an example of Black Trans Women pouring into the lives and work of Black Trans Women.

Another moment was having Absalom be a part of the Theater Alliance HotHouse Festival because it had a reading at the Kennedy Center as part of the Prelude Festival. I had dreamt about that when I was younger and it had come to be.

And so many more…

Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?

A:Trans Artist of color who are giving birth to/cultivating/curating incredible art inspires me. Artist like Chema Pineda-Fernández, Venus Selenite, Kokomo, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Ryka Aoki, Goddess X, just to name a few.

I grew up reading playwrights like Shakespeare, Euripides, August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry. The work of dancers like Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, Orisha dance, Styles like Kabuki theater, and Noh, the stories of Ancestral Gods were in many ways mentors for the way I engage storytelling. Classical text and the work of Black poets were so important to shaping the way I experience language.

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

A: Never forget your life is essential, your work is important.

Q: What else should we know about you?

A: Buying copies of my books is a way of pouring into my life and my work. I am also working now on a Patreon. I have so many more ideas, thoughts and dreams I want to manifest but I also require more coin to make some of them come into being.

***For more on Dane Figueroa Edidi, see:

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