Name: Ricardo A. Bracho
Hometown: To Live and Die in LA
Current Town: See above
Affiliations: My affiliations are sexual-political-textual-communal and somewhat ephemeral not institutional-theatrical-structural-organizational and external.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Primarily, as a Marxist. Also, as a creative intellectual of urban homosexual acts and melodramatics. An LA Mexican writer who writes plays and essays and posts and sex site flirtations from a bottom perspective informed by gay liberation and anticolonialism. Antirealist, antizionist, caribbeanist, europeanist, indianist.
Q: Tell me about Been to the Moon.
A: Been to the Moon, which had been titled Whitey Ain’t On This Moon (but nobody seemed to get the reference to Gil Scott heron’s “Whitey on the Moon”, so I am now going with this crib from the lovely new track by Corinne Bailey Rae) is less a play than a staged essay, or form, involving characters, dialogue, movement, singing and readings from the works of Octavia Butler, Akilah Nayo Oliver, Wanda Coleman and Robert Duncan. Like a previous work, Puto, this is a sci-fi play. Been to the Moon follows Mack and Elias, a black-brown gay couple, postnegro philosophy grad student and barrio botanist-herbalist as they travel in their spacecraft, Ovum-1 to Galaxy 1B, where Mack dissertates while Eli grows weed. Galaxy 1B turns out to be a lunar rather than solar system with 5 to 7 moons and so much gravity that thing get deep. Fast. Think of it as a queer Cheech n Chong in Space with a score of LA avant jazz great Horace Tapscott, guitarist John Fahey’s The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites , 90s house classics and Linda Rondstadt belting her brownest blues while running around coked up with a bunch of whiteboys. In essence, black and brown LA has already Been to the Moon and I’m just bringing back the good and bad word.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I am excited to head up north this week to see a workshop production at Stanford University of Cherríe Moraga’s The Mathematics of Love, which holds within it characters, dialogue and scenes from my short play Ni Madre, or Malinxe Takes a Vacation. Both works emerged from a commission/anthology stage project, Amor Eterno, conceived of by producer Diane Rodriguez at CTG. And, Rose Portillo, whose work I adore, speaks lines I wrote! Also, I am dramaturg on my girl Virginia Grise’s ‘translation’ of my enemy Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well for this cray experiment being run out of OSF. Vicki’s is for a cast of black and brown actresses and keyed towards an audience of teenagers. As I hate Shakespeare but love black and brown women and teencentric tv like Pretty Little Liars and Recovery Road, I feel ideally suited for this dramaturgical task. I am also completing a manuscript, Puto: The Selected Plays of Ricardo A. Bracho with a critical intro by one of my favorite poets, scholars and gigglers, Ricky Rodríguez; a superfun interview with my leader in all things left, latin american and LA Mexican, scholar and sour thing eater Jennifer Ponce de León and hopefully an afterword by my femme kaleidoscopic sister-mirror, Juana María Rodríguez.
I think of myself as semi-retired as a playwright, though should anyone want to give me a commission, a production contract with dates and, most importantly, a check, I would gladly begin and/or finish two puppet plays for young audiences, one al estilo pan y puppet sobre the Cherokee leader Sequoia, bilingualism, environmental racism and queer parenting entitled, Sequoia: The Man Who Would Be Trees. The other, Where Lizards Lie, involves LA huckster history, Chumash-Chicano skater punk puppets, racialized shame and the courtyard and genealogy room of LA’s Central Public Library. Also, for the grown folks, a revision of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Tres Flores, rekeyed to be a story of Latino class ascendance, a bear-cub erotic comedy and the third act fire transforming into student riots. Adaptations of Brecht’s The Measures Taken, as The Trial of Trials, for an Asian American cast of actors playing the imprisoned leadership of the anti-imperialist German urban guerrilla Red Army Facktion (popularly referred to as the Baader-Meinhof) and his Joan of the Stockyards set during the recent Chicago teacher’s strike and centering on a first year teacher, Juanita of the Schoolyards with Rahm Emmanuel most definitely as the villain, would round out these series of reworkings and perhaps a second book. And I am in the earliest throes of a non-theatrical writing, an art historical study and possible curriculum and coffee table art book on the California Mission System, entitled Land/Art/War: The California Mission System and its Artistic Opposition.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: I feel most marked by the racism and homophobia within American Theater, which I guess has partially to do with why I have quit this shit. Though, the establishment of the establishment-centered Latina/o Theatre Commons, which is in fact an anti-commons in its creation of a caste of exclusive brown theatrical “elite servants to elites” (the phrase is feminist visual artists Marilyn Minter’s definition of her class of collected and galleried New York cohort) motored my leave-taking from both the form of writing and the careerist sham of this game of playwriting. So to return to those defining moments: in my 25 year career as a theater artist, white set designers have always tried to represent the Mexican home or domestic sphere as a place of dirt, filth and mess; each and every one, each and every time. Have any of them been in a Mexican home in the US?! The time a white casting director asked me what, not who mind you, was a Black Samoan. The time a latino gay literary manager suggested I turn the lead gay couple in a play into a heterosexual one. The obvious homophobic self-loathing isn’t what got to me, more so the misogyny of it: that a female subjectivity and womanly sensibility could emerge from a mere name replacement across the text. The many times I have been asked by producers to write positive white characters, though I have only ever written two white characters and write negatively about racism far more than I do whiteness. The fact that almost all of my works for the stage have been for polyracial, multisexual subjects and subjectivities and yet I am always invited through the ‘brown door’ of major white institutions. That while I have been teaching theater to and making theater with youth of various ‘high risk’ status since I was one, I have been rather unsubtly told that my persona and writing are inappropriate and adult (meaning: too radically political and hypersexual) for TYA audiences and commissions. This not only denigrates me in its return to the adult male homosexual = child rapist/predator equation but also the intellectual capabilities of the children who might see and/or perform in my work. The fact that in these decades of making plays and teaching playwriting only Pier Carlo Talenti, who just left CTG’s lit dept, and Naomi Iizuka when she ran UCSB’s Summer Theater Lab have ever invited me in through the front door as a playwright, first and foremost, no racialized or sexualized descriptor, adjective or stinking badges needed.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I don’t limit my writerly training to the genre of playwriting and I think in terms of teachers and leadership, not heroes and mentors, and I have been wonderfully fortunate in this regard. My parents, Martha X. Abreu and the late and loved Humberto H. Bracho, taught me to read, my multiplication tables and the states and their capitals as well as how to effectively organize against racism, sexism and capitalist exploitation. From grades 1-6 at Stoner Avenue Elementary School, I was taught with traditional colored discipline and rigor by black and Asian American women, including Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Futa, Mrs. Vivens and Mrs, Johnson, who built me from the ground up as a brown sissyboy scholar. The feminist and leftist Connie Barrett as my high school drama and American lit teacher at Venice High School fine-tuned my writing and reading. At Berkeley, whoa, I got to study with Chicana extraordinaire Cherrie Moraga, the independentista/feminist/comunista/first female chair of any Chicano Studies Dept/la puertorriqueña Myrtha Chabrán and the late and so so stylish and great black feminist/literary critic Barbara Christian. There have never been better writing and reading and thinking and politicking instructors.
But to speak a bit on playwrights/poets/performers who model greatness, I have loved the work of Caryl Churchill, Sam Shepard, Ntozake Shange, Adrienne Kennedy, Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, Cherríe Moraga, María Irene Fornés, Miguel Piñero, Pedro Pietri, Brian Bauman, Sigrid Gilmer, Donald Jolly, Jerome Parker, Robert Sanchez, Tony Breen, Ryan Pavelchik, Sibyl O’Malley, Lisa Ramirez, Milta Ortiz, Xavi Moreno, Virginia Grise and Carmelita Tropicana (Alina Troyano) from first exposure. TV producer (and, yo, 2 time Emmy Winner) Rachelle Mendez is my actress, filmmaker and funstarter Ela Troyano my director and HERO theater founder and producer Elisa Bocanegra my grilled cheese.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Don’t do it, lol. Nah, but for reals, I do agree with what Sam Shepard recently told the New York Times, that he doesn’t think of theater as a career and that it is foolish to do so. For me, it has been an expensive hobby mostly, as Marxist economist and visual artist Hans Abbing points out in his book Why Are Artists Poor: The Exceptional Economy of the Arts, a secondary or tertiary job that other employment covers. The other work I have done includes both academic appointments as a visiting artist, public health direct services/research and policy for high risk populations (queers, iv drug users, the incarcerated, youth), running around the country doing gigs at high-end and mightily white universities, dog walking for Upper West Side and East Side elites of Manhattan, nannying for my mother of color homies. I love what I currently do: edit, proof and index the publications of some of this country’s universities hottest and flyest and fine-mindedest black-brown-feminist-queer-leftist scholars: Deb Vargas, Nicole Fleetwood, Erica Edwards, Karen Jaime, Roy Pérez, Lisa Thompson, Leticia Alvarado, Samantha Sheppard and on. So, playwright to be, hone other skills, develop a parallel track career which you find fulfilling, find homies who got your financial back and be ready to wipe asses and scoop up dog poop.
From my chosen outsiderly position, it would seem the most effective way to rise to the top as a Latino is to do it like a white person: attend an elite undergraduate university (public, ivy or boutique liberal arts college) and then a superstar MFA program (these days: Brown, Northwestern, Brooklyn College, Julliard). The most successful latino playwrights also seemed to have married very well: so get you a doctor or lawyer wifey or hubby. If you are a Latino playwright who is also trans or queer it would seem from the producing history of American theater and its subset of Latino theater, that while our identities and flair and flourish of selves and wit are fine to stage, it is best to avoid depictions of anal sex, cunnilingus, rimming and their deep significance in our lives. To date, I can think of no queer brown play by a queer brown playwright staged at any of the big houses that portrays our embodied intimacies beyond the relatively innocuous safety of mouth to mouth action. And, dang, not even any tongue.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I am a really good cook.
***For more on Ricardo Bracho, see:
- “Huevos de Oro: On Passion and Privilege” – Ricardo Bracho (Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater)
- “PUTO: The Almost Naked, Almost Communist Play” – Interview with Marc David Pinate
- “Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricard0 Bracho’s The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs)” – José Esteban Muñoz (Theatre Journal)
- Ricardo Bracho Bio