Name: Magdalena Gómez
Hometown: Bronx, N.Y.
Current Town: Springfield, MA
Affiliations: Co-founder and Artistic Director, Teatro V!da Springfield, MA.; Founding and Master Teaching Artist with SmART Schools Network since 1999, specialty: integration of theater arts across the curriculum.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: I am a Borikua/Gitana by parentage, a citizen of the world by choice, and an exile from all things status quo/assimilationist/and accomodationist by sideglance, libel, economic censure and bochinche. In short, I belong nowhere, but feel at home everywhere. My sexual orientation is X2. Politically and biologically speaking, there is no short answer to the question of identity.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: My most recent play The Urn, explores a relationship among death, unconditional love, eroticism, and the healing power of grieving with abandon. It features roles for four women and one male. I’m finishing up a book on creative education and feeling excited regarding my upcoming work on college and university campuses. Teatro V!da is increasingly in the capable hands of young artists and thinkers, which was my intention since I co-founded it.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: In 1977, my beloved theater mentor, Albert Bermel, released the immortal book, Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty. Reading Al’s book was the first time I felt understood as a playwright. It was the book that liberated me from creative loneliness. (The following sentence is an homage to another influence, Henry Miller) Six years prior, as a student at Lehman College, following my scrotum grabbing improvisations in a production of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera (I played Jenny) directed by Bing D. Bills, “Dr. Bermel” as I had always called him, (he didn’t have a PhD) took my face into his hands and said: “You, my dear, were born for the theater.” Few people in my life have ever made me feel that way again. Right birth, wrong country, and yet I have chosen to remain here, with regular excursions abroad.
My (creative) life has been a series of inner “callings.” All of my work, whether playwriting, poetry, storytelling, teaching, chaplaincy, producing, volunteering in prisons and hospitals, and so much more, is interconnected and of singular intent: providing venue and content for collective liberation from emotional and political tyranny. For the most part, with occasional egocentric fumbling, intuition and not ambition has guided my choices. Since I have little to regret in life, I trust I have chosen well. Productions (beyond what I self-produce) have been few, but the experiences always sublime.
I had the great honor of speaking at Albert Bermel’s Memorial Tribute on January 9, 2014. I cannot write about playwriting in my life (there is no “my life as playwright”) without putting Al at the forefront. His raw encouragement, along with my other loyal friends and collegues, have kept me going. To the very moment I am writing this I can feel Mi Profesor still embodying the etymology of encouragement: “to give another heart.”
Inspiration often arises from chance encounters with strangers, or the Pandora’s Box of memory. I’ve written entire plays based around a single image. For example, my play, begun in 1999, The Language of Stars, was inspired by a man pushing a cart full of empty flip top cans. He carried himself with regal dignity despite his threadbare coat. His cart was decorated with strands of holiday lights, plastic poinsettias, the Puerto Rican and U.S. flags. It was a simple glance as I drove by him. I went home and started to write. He now lives across the street from me.
The writers and artists who have inspired me are too numerous to mention here, but a litany and stories will be forthcoming in my book on education, since everything I do eventually circles back to expressive education for liberation.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Be a passionate student of life. Read plays and books from all continents; study physics; eat diverse foods from many cultures; find different ways to sit in a chair; embrace genuine love no matter the body in which it arrives; don’t just write—dance, paint, experiment with musical instruments, grow gardens, blow soap bubbles, snap your gum like a champ, ride buses and trains, study a martial art and travel as much as you can. Embrace the deeper reality that no one is a stranger. If you need a drink to dance, stop drinking and dare yourself to dance anyway. Don’t get McDonaldized or Star-Bucked. Be wary of too much drama off the stage and avoid being sucked into the dysfunctional theatricalities of everything feeling like an emergency while in rehearsal and production. Being “too busy” all the time doesn’t make us more important, it just makes us poor time managers. Celebrate the success of others. Do not give power over your worth and work to gatekeepers, or anyone for that matter, regardless of their ethnicities. The soul rotting colonialism of Whiteness and Eurocentricity can be found even among those with whom we grow older defining as “our own.” Choose your tribe. Choose your family. Choose and Create your own path. Do everything within your power to align yourself with theater artists you respect, and produce work together in reciprocity and unconditional love. Don’t long for the audiences to love you – go out there and love them. As for the critics—blow them kisses no matter what they write. And try really, really hard to not be jealous of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Oh, and yes, don’t allow anyone to take away your sense of humor.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: Since December, I’ve been recovering from a serious accident related head injury. Suddenly time folded into an origami crane suspended just beyond my reach. My life and pace have changed. What I can and cannot do as a writer, performer, teacher, speaker, activist, and daily human engagement, all by turn, expand and contract. Some days, both happen at once. It will continue to be a long process of healing from the cognitve and gross motor damage. I embrace this experience as an adventure, as I journey more deeply into what is possible when we are forced to challenge ourselves into a deeper knowing of our will and tenacity. I am clear and honest about what I can and can’t do in any given situation, so no one has to worry or guess. Writing this interview has been a welcome but painstaking process. I’m grateful to you, Trevor, for how patient you’ve been regarding all my revisions.
I believe my life span is extended every time I receive a handwritten card, letter, or creative work. My plan is to make it to age 104 with all my faculties intact. As I’ve been writing this, mi esposo Jim and I been invited to have lunch and hold hands with one of our favorite painters. Every moment of life is infused with “a love supreme.”
Write to me:
P.O. Box 80836
Springfield, MA 01138
For more on Magdalena Gómez, see:
- Magdalena Gómez’s Personal Website
- Shameless Woman by Magdalena Gómez
- “Cafecito: Magdalena Gómez” – Trevor Boffone (Café Onda/HowlRound)
- A Fierce Performer: The Magdalena Gómez Papers Collection (1979-2012)
- “Decolonizing Teachers: A Conversation with Magdalena Gomez” –
Adam Kirk Edgerton
- “Divorce Your (Bad) Mother: How to Love Her and Still Be Free” – Lisa Aronson Fontes
- New Play Exchange