Name: Migdalia Cruz
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Current Town: Irvington, NY
Affiliations: New Dramatists (1987-1994) Alumna, Fornés Hispanic-Playwrights-in Residence Laboratory (1984-1991) @ INTAR, Writer-in–residence @Latino Chicago Theater Company (1991-1998); MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts. I’ve taught at many universities but none at present… Will teach a weeklong master class summer of 2016 in Chicago for Notre Dame University with Prof. Anne Garcia-Romero.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: That depends on when I’m asked, and who’s asking, and why, but generally I’d identify as a Nuyorican (Puerto Rican born in the Bronx of parents from the island and raised in the Bronx.)
Q: Tell me about Never Moscow.
A: It’s a play about Chekhov, his courtship & marriage to Olga Knipper, while he’s dying of consumption as he avoids gong to Moscow because it means he’d have to marry Olga; and writes Three Sisters about longing for the freedom of Moscow & The Cherry Orchard about how some things die so that others can grow. Both of the plays have deep resonance with my main themes of love, mourning & the redemptive power of Art. In it, Chekhov seeks advice from some of his favorite characters—the servants of both plays and Masha & Lopakhin—the ones who like to give opinions about everything. I like the idea of a body dying but a body of work living forever. Maybe because I’m getting older…
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I am part of OSF”s “Play On!” Project which has commissioned 36 playwrights to take on each of Shakespeare’s plays (some lucky folks get more than 1, he wrote 39, I think) translating them into a modern (perhaps more American) English while trying to retain the poetry and beauty of the original. Quite a daunting task! I am tackling Macbeth. Very exciting—and timely. The corruption of power & duty will slay us all, no?
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: I think there have been many but I will just name three (because it’s a good number): first, having Maria Irene Fornés as my teacher and mentor was a great blessing—she taught me how to tell the truth and appreciate my history and understand that I needed to look back with clarity to move forward as an artist; second, being accepted as a New Dramatists when I was a young dramatist was a great privilege because it helped the theater community view me a serious writer; and third, finding my theater home in Latino Chicago Theater Company where I was able to find my voice in a supportive and nurturing environment—it was a place where I could fail safely and succeed among my theater family, a theater composed of Latinos from different ethnicities but all of us united in our theater, training others within our community to excel as artists.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Maria Irene Fornés is the main person who helped me find my voice—but there have been others who helped me on my path. Ruth Maleczech of Mabou Mines who taught me by example how to be a dedicated artist and a loving mother. Juan A. Ramirez of Latino Chicago Theater Company who took me and my plays on an unforgettable/irreplaceable journey, allowing my voice to speak on an actual stage in a community that became family. Bernard Beckerman, chairman of the Theater Department at Columbia University when I was a student there, who taught me to trust my voice and encouraged all my strange early explorations of writing even when he didn’t always understand what I was trying to say, he made a safe space for me to say it.
There are others who pushed and prodded and critiqued and criticized and ultimately, helped me on my way. The heroes include all the above plus: My sister Nancy who gave me a love of books. My father, Pedro, who gave me an appreciation of music as he played his Spanish guitar.
Fran Xavier Kroetz who taught me how good it can be to write about the poor. Jean Genet who taught me about the freaky-deeky life of the transient sexual. Then there’s Matisse, Van Gogh, Euripides, Petronius, Fellini, Truffaut, Borges, Beckett, O’Neill, O’Connor, Bishop, Olds, and, of course, Raul Julia & Miriam Colon who taught me that Puerto Ricans were and are a vibrant & vital part of the theater and entitled to Art.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: For any playwright, I would say make sure you are doing this for love and feel you’d die without it. It’s not about money or fame, but about finding and sharing your voice that is unique and a necessary piece of the fabric of humanity. Specifically for Latina/os I’d say that it’s important to keep our unique cultures and voices alive and keep telling our own stories or someone else will and they will do it badly and without respect for our ancestors—without the essential truths that will keep us vibrant.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: Hmmm…I think I’ve pretty much said too much…
I have two productions coming up in 2016: In March/April, FUR will be produced at the Venus Theatre in D. C. and, also read at Festival Irene (a celebration of the work of my mentor Maria Irene Fornés and her students) @Hero Theatre in L.A. in April; and in June/July, my play Lolita de Lares about Lolita Lebron, the Puerto Rican Independence heroine, will be presented by the Urban Theater Company in Chicago.
***For more on Migdalia Cruz, see:
- Migdalia Cruz’s Personal Website
- Migdalia Cruz Overview
- New Play Exchange
- Migdalia Cruz Research Guide
- “Latins in La-La Land at the Freedlander Theatre” by Melissa Huerta (Café Onda/HowlRound)
- “Showcase of the New American Theatre: Latina/o Theatre Commons’ Carnaval 2015” by Tiffany Ana López (Café Onda/HowlRound)