Name: Virginia Grise
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Current Town: Bronx, NY
Affiliations: Independent Artist
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: I am an artist, a Chinese-Mexican, a Marxist, a dyke.
Q: Tell me about Your Healing is Killing Me.
A: I call it a performance manifesto. The piece is my reflection on living with post-traumatic stress disorder, ansia, and eczema in the new age of trigger warnings, the master cleanse, and Kickstarter-funded self-care. It’s based on lessons learned in San Antonio free health clinics and New York acupuncture schools; from the treatments and consejos of curanderas, abortion doctors, Marxist artists, community health workers, and bourgie dermatologists. Your Healing is Killing Me seeks to replace individual self-care with collective self-defense because capitalism is toxic and The Revolution is not in your body butter.
I’ve been having a whole lotta fun with Emily Mendelsohn who is directing the show. She makes me do Mao’s 4 minute exercise routine (including jumping jacks) every day. Between that and dance routines to Michael Jackson—this piece is quite the aerobic accomplishment for a big girl. We will premiere the performance manifesto March 4th & 5th at MECA in Houston, Texas. More info about Your Healing is Killing Me here.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I am also working on a theatrical adaptation of Helena Maria Viramontes’ brilliant and heartbreaking novel Their Dogs Came With Them, a commissioned project with the National New Play Network and Borderlands Theater.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: In previous interviews, I have talked a lot about how I became an artist because it’s an important part of my genealogy. It was hard for me to say I was an artist initially and a lot of my early work was in the service of political organizations and movements—street theater, guerilla performances in city council chambers, poems for labor organizers and protest marches. When I went to Cuba for a street theater encuentro, I was told to perform my “political work.” Instead I performed a piece about my grandmother. To me that was no less political. The rest of the trip, people in Cuba wanted to talk to me about whether I dreamt in English or Spanish. I began finding value in my own stories.
My choice to go to school was an important shift in my work. I had reached the point where I knew I needed more theatrical training, and though getting an MFA was never on my radar, I didn’t know where else I could really focus on my craft as a writer. In school, I was sort of forced to become a playwright and (while I didn’t understand it then) I feel that the training I received as a playwright at CalArts has laid the foundation for the career I have today. As a queer brown woman from a working class family, making a living as an artist was an important goal for me to accomplish. In addition to being very determined, I have also been very fortunate. I got a couple of important awards right out of school that helped launch my career, including a Jerome Fellowship, a Princess Grace Award in theatre directing, the Yale Drama Series Award, and a Whiting Writers’ Award.
I am an anxious person by nature, full of fear and insecurities. Those early years of figuring out how to make a living in theatre are hard and while my anxieties, fear and insecurities have not gone away, I proved to myself that I could make a living as an artist. Now I want to learn how to be a good artist, a really fucking good artist. I have eliminated transactional relationships in my life; I have started directing more; I am making theatre (performance and site specific work) not just writing plays; and I am actively investing in spaces and communities to make work that is important to me, work that is not easy or safe, with people I respect and value who push me to be a better artist. There is a difference between making a living and making a life. This is the first time I feel like I am making a life as an artist (on my terms, without compromise, and nothing to prove) a life that supports my work as opposed to work that supports my life.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I wouldn’t be an artist if it weren’t for Sharon Bridgorth. I call her my Art Pa. I think most theatres are really inaccessible to new artists so I am also incredibly grateful to the late Raul Salinas and Resistencia Bookstore, ALLGO (a queer organization in Texas), and the Austin Project produced by Omi Oshun because these were artistic homes for me long before I achieved any sort of success in the theatre (in fact, long before I even identified as a theatre artist). I was incredibly fortunate to be mentored by interdisciplinary artist Carl Hancock Rux at CalArts. My MFA was in Writing for Performance which meant that I was introduced to both traditional and nontraditional approaches to making theatre. In addition to these mentors, some playwrights whose work have impacted the way I think about theatre include: Adrienne Kennedy, Ricardo A. Bracho, Olga Mukhina, Reza Abdoh, Migdalia Cruz, and Cherríe Moraga.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Don’t wait for someone to produce you. Write. Find your voice (what makes you unique as an artist) and your community (people you trust that will kick your ass). Seek out opportunities and experiences that make you a better artist. Do the work and have fun doing it.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I like to sit by the ocean and stare at the sky. I can’t eat tomatoes or carrots. I am always late and always lost. These things will never change.
***For More on Virginia Grise, see:
- The Panza Monologues Blog
- The Panza Monologues Website
- “My Body, My Words” – Virginia Grise (HowlRound)
- “Pedagogy Notebook: From Panza to Las Hociconas: Performance Pedagogy in the Chicana/o Studies Classroom” – Magda Garcia (Cafe Onda/HowlRound)
- “Que Onda? with Virginia Grise” – Jennifer Ponce de León (Cafe Onda/HowlRound)
- Barrio Stories Interview
- “Virginia Grise Looking Up at the Sky: blu” – tatiana de la tierra (La Bloga)
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I love the honesty and directness of this interview. Virginia, I am so happy to hear you give honor to Raul R. Salinas. He is deeply missed-he and Fred Ho were my on the road compañeros-both a tremendous loss to countless people. As one who has lived and had to seek balance in life with PTSD and ansia, I understand profoundly the courage and persistence your journey has taken. Wishing you continued, fulfilling, ansia reducing joyous successes. Doing away with “transactional relationships” is hard core liberation-may many readers see this and be inspired to do the same. ¡BRAVA!
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Magdalena – I just saw your comment. Thank you for responding. I remember when you and Raul were on the road together. I was living in Austin at the time. Both Raul and Fred had an incredible impact on my life and I miss them deeply though I am ever grateful for the time I had to spend with them.
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I understand. I miss them too. I am happy for you and for them that you all got to know each other. Fred told me how much he admired your work.
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