Name: Karen Zacarías
Hometown: Washington, DC
Affiliations: Founders Circle of Latina/o Theatre Commons, Founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater, First Resident Playwright of the Mellon Foundation, Arena Stage
Q: How do you self-identify?
Q: Tell me about Destiny of Desire, Native Gardens, and Into the Beautiful North.
A: Destiny of Desire: A Brechtian Telenovela
This is a subversive comedy with songs and music that celebrates and tests the genre of the telenovela. I wrote this because I was frustrated by how many critics use the word “telenovela” to dismiss serious dramatic work by Latina writers/actors and thought I would educate them on the requirements of the genre by writing the most theatrical telenovela I could think of, and pack in a year of plot in 2 hours. The play had it’s world Premiere as the Season opener on the mainstage of Arena Stage, with a full Latino cast of 11, and a design team that was almost entirely Latin-American. Jose Luis Valenzuela directed. Destiny of Desire will be produced next year at The Goodman and South Coast Rep with Jose Luis Valenzuela at the helm…and many of the actors and designers from the world premiere.
A comedy about taste, ageism, class, race, border disputes and white privilege. When Tania and Pablo del Valle move into a fixer-upper in a stately DC neighborhood, Tania’s ideas of gardening run contrary to that of her friendly older neighbors Virginia and Frank Butley. The 90 minute play was a surprise hit on the mainstage of Cincy Playhouse and will have productions at The Guthrie and Victory Gardens next year.
Into the Beautiful North
Adapted from the novel by Luis Alberto Urra
A heart-breaking comedy about a young Mexican woman, her goth best friend, and her gay boss- who, inspired by the movie The Magnificent Seven, decide to go to the United States to bring back seven men to protect their hometown from bandits and narcos. An Immigration narrative we have not seen on the stage …a Latino Wizard of OZ. The play just finished its run at Milagro Stage in Portland and will have 3 more productions at San Diego Rep, Central Works in Berkeley, and 16th Street Theater in Chicago as part of the National New Play Network rolling world premiere.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Plus two musicals for kids’ OLIVERIO: A Brazilian Twist, an adaptation of The Oliver Twist story in contemporary Brazil at the Kennedy Center. And ELLA Enchanted at First Stage.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
- Being part of the Hispanic Playwright’s Project at South Coast Rep and getting to know amazing Juliette Carrillo. Lisa Portes, Carlos Murrillo, Kris Diaz, Quiara Hudes, Caridad Svich, Cusi Cram, Michael Garces…and last but not least Luis Alfaro.
- Being part of Women’s Festival in Seattle and becoming friends with Sarah Ruhl, Julia Cho, and Kathleen Tolan.
- Being part of the O’Neill Festival and getting to know Julie Dubiner, Deborah Zoe Laufer, Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, James Still, Blake Robison.
- Being part of the New Vison New Voices Festival with Debbie Wicks La Puma.
- Being part of the Arena Playwright Residency and becoming family.
- Starting the Latina/o Theatre Commons with HowlRound and becoming friends and collaborators with people I have long admired.
- Every artist that has helped make a play go from an idea to a production.
- It’s all about the people. It’s all about feeling part of the community.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Henry Godinez, Jose Luis Valenzuela, Evelina Ferdnandez, Juliette Carrillo, Lisa Portes, Jose Carrasquillo, Molly Smith, Blake Robison, Nick Olcott, and Jennifer Nelson.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: No one can write the plays that you can write. See a lot of work. Be open to opportunities. Try different genres. Learn to be open to the world, and listen to who you are becoming. You’ve picked the hardest profession in the world…so find the joy of the craft and the connection to the community.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I have 3 young kids and 2 dogs. I’m not a great cook but I make a really good mole. I speak Spanish, Danish, and French. And I have a lot left to learn in theater.
***For more on Karen Zacarías, see:
- Karen Zacarías’s Personal Website
- NEA Interview with Karen Zacarías
- “A Playwright’s Destiny: Karen Zacarías” – Linda Lombardi (Arena Stage Blog)
- Karen Zacarías’s plays at Dramatic Publishing
- Karen Zacarías at New Play Exchange
- Follow Karen Zacarías on Twitter