Name: Tanya Saracho
Hometown: (is hometown where you were born or where you left your heart?) Born in Los Mochis, Sinaloa but I left my heart in Chicago, IL.
Current Town: Ugh. Los Angeles. (I ugh because I haven’t figured it out yet. I haven’t quite latched on.)
Affiliations: I founded ALTA: Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists and co-founded a theatre a long time ago, Teatro Luna. But I’m no longer affiliated. Currently I’ve got no theatre affiliations. Wait, that’s really sad… sniff.
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: I’m Mexican. A Mexican national. But I guess if we’re speaking culturally, I am an acculturated, Americanized Mexican who also identifies as Latina.
Q: Tell me about FADE.
A: FADE is about to get a second production at Primary Stages in January. It is a two-hander which was commissioned by Denver Theatre Center where it premiered this Winter (2016). I guess, I could say it was inspired by my first year as a TV writer. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it autobiographical, but I won’t deny that it served as therapy to be able to write it as I was processing my first year on the job. I wrote it within the safety of the Center Theatre Group’s Writer’s Workshop where, every Wednesday I’d be running late from said TV job at Disney and show up with no pages and a bunch of excuses. I was supposed to be writing a musical about Lupe Velez for Denver Theatre Center, but instead I would just complain and moan about how homesick I was for Chicago and how horrible my TV life was at work. Finally, Matt Gould, one of the other playwrights, read-me-to-filth and said, “why don’t just write about that already?” I think they’d all had enough of me whining, which was understandable. I gave him my most “doh!” face and had a light bulb moment and did just that – “wrote about it.”
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I’m supposed to be working on two commissions. One for the lovely Two River Theatre about the influx of Latinx in Red Bank, NJ., and the other for the wonderful South Coast Rep, about domestic workers in the O.C. I have a lot of guilt about not yet finishing these projects. (Omaiga, there go my sweaty palms and hives again…) In my defense I was working on back to back, demanding TV shows and I had no time or brain space to create outside of what was due for work. (excuses…excuses) But I WILL finish the commissioned scripts – and hopefully they won’t suck.
Oh, right. I’m also developing for Television, which is another thing that has taken up time and space. (more excuses, Saracho) Right now I’m working on Pour Vida along with another project which hasn’t yet been announced.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: Well, first and foremost, studying with Maria Irene Fornes. That just cracked it all open for me. Then starting Teatro Luna when I moved to Chicago and building work with that ensemble. And after, when the Goodman Theatre gave me my first commission, the Ofner Prize—I think this sort of legitimized me. It gave me the stamp of approval necessary for other theatres to say “ok, she doesn’t just devise work with her ensemble. She’s an actual playwright. Let’s take a look at her stuff. Let’s meet with her.” I do think that because of that, a Steppenwolf SYA commission came along and readings in NY… and I was considered “a playwright.”
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Well, Maria Irene, of course. And Caroline Eves, a British Director who was my professor while I was at Boston University. Her brand of feminism and the way she believed in me gave me a big engine. Also (and he might know it or not) but Luis Alfaro was another mentor/hero, even though I never studied with him. I did one of his plays at the Goodman as an actor, and I learned everything about being a playwright of color and nurturing new work in the Regional theatre system from that experience—it was a sobering crash course. And because he’s a mensch, he was the one who told the Literary Manager that I wrote plays and that he must read my work. There’s a direct correlation between that action and me getting the Ofner Prize. As a playwright in the periphery, sometimes you don’t have access to these bigger houses but because Alfaro gave me an ‘in’ to the Goodman as a playwright… I got a commission. I do think there’s a cause and effect equation there. I mean, when else was that going to happen with no connections? Maybe never. But he made it possible, so he’s very important to me.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Don’t be afraid to write shitty plays. Just keep writing. Don’t ever stop the writing. Judge the shit later. After. When you’ve written. And even then, don’t be so hard on yourself that it paralyzes you to keep going. (I should give myself this pep talk right now) And be loud about it. That means, always having something to submit to festivals and reading series. Until people understand who you are. Be known for your work, not your persona. Don’t be all talk, do the work. It’ll pay off later, I promise.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I have crushing anxiety about my playwriting career and I think I might be on the way out. I have to keep voicing this anxiety so I can look at it in the face and see how much merit it possesses. #impostorsyndrome
***For more on Tanya Saracho, see:
- “An Interview: Tanya in TV-Land” – P. Carl (Café Onda/HowlRound)
- “I Interview Playwrights Part 202: Tanya Saracho” – Adam Szymkowicz
- “HBO’s ‘Looking’ Writer Tanya Saracho on Creating Latina Roles and Taking on Twitter Haters” – Vanessa Erazo
- “Tanya Saracho Has No Plans to ‘Fade’ Away” – Rob Weinert-Kendt (American Theatre)
- “Starz Taps Tanya Saracho As ‘Pour Vida’ Showrunner” – Denise Petski (Deadline.com)
- “Gina Rodriguez Shines Light on Latina Playwright Tanya Saracho” – Milly Contreras (Latin Post)
- Tanya Saracho’s plays at New Play Exchange