Name: Isaac Gomez
Hometown: El Paso, Texas / Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
When you live in a border city, both sister cities are your home.
Current Town: Chicago, IL
Affiliations: I’m a Resident Playwright with Chicago Dramatists (which is super exciting to have a home where I can focus specifically on writing without the pressures of producing), one of the 2016-17 Freshness Initiative playwrights with Sideshow Theater Company (where I’m developing a new play based on my mother’s relationship with Walmart), an artistic associate with Teatro Vista (one of the first companies that gave me a home), an artistic associate with Pivot Arts (the first organization to give me time and space to workshop my own plays), one of the creative directors for the Alliance of Latinx Theater Artists (ALTA) Chicago where I founded and write for El Semillero (a collective of Latinx identified playwrights developing new plays over the course of a year), and a steering committee member with the national Latina/o Theatre Commons.
Oh–and I teach civic dramaturgy at the Theater School at DePaul University. OH, and I’m the director of new play development at Victory Gardens Theater (which is less of a creative/artistic home and more of a home to cultivate my leadership skills, which has also been great.)
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Latino (of Mexi-can descent)
Q: Tell me about PerKup Elkhorn.
A: PerKup Elkhorn is probably the scariest, hardest play I’ve written to date. Long story short, I completed a writing residency through SWARM this summer in East Troy, WI. I needed access to Wi-Fi to turn in a short play I owed Pivot Arts, and the closest coffee shop with Wi-Fi was a little spot called PerKup Elkhorn. I had to think for a minute just now about the name of the place, as the whole experience still feels totally fictional to me–like if it were all a dream, or something. Anyway. It was there I met the owner (a woman named Lori) and the citizens of Elkhorn who frequented this spot. And it was here where I experienced some really aversive racism. Like. In your face racism. It was as if this was the first time a brown person came into this coffee shop to get some work done and these people didn’t know what to do with me. And without going into it too much, I ended up spending three days in this little town, getting to know the people here and why they carry such fear or skepticism about people of color.
I’m also deeply bothered and curious by whiteness in America these days. I spend a lot of time (probably to detract from micro aggressions I experience fairly regularly) thinking about the white people in my lives and around me wondering what they think, how they feel, and where their place is at in conversations around race. And then I get back and jealous (not because I wish I were white, necessarily, but because it just isn’t fair. Being given access to resources and opportunities based on the color of your skin. Unconsciously or not. It just is. And that infuriates me.)
So I wrote this play as my way of trying to understand whiteness through the people who live in Elkhorn, WI. And how this small community is a large reflection of many communities in this country. And it’s probably the only play I’ll ever write that has a mostly white cast. And it’s, ironically, probably the most personal thing I’ve ever written.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I’ve got a couple of projects in my pipeline that I’m constantly working on. My sister plays centering on the missing and murdered women of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico (La Ruta and The Way She Spoke: A docu-mythologia.)
My fucked up horror gentrification play The Displaced, which is about to have a huge developmental workshop with Chicago Dramatists and American Theater Company (October 2016.)
A commission with Sideshow Theater Company called Wally World that’s my homage to my mother, a woman who worked her way up Walmart’s corporate latter and is probably the only store manager without a college degree.
And I’m in the pre-meditative stages of writing a screenplay based on homeless youth in Texas who hop trains, and a web series I’m developing with my muse and collaborator Karen Rodriguez about our lives in Chicago. Think Broad City but in the Windy City and VERY Mexican.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: I still feel very nascent in my journey as a playwright, but I would have to say it’s moments where I’m solicited and nourished not by my work as a dramaturg or new play developer or producer but as a writer, an artist, a creator that have really shaped my journey. So for me, that’d have to be my first workshop in Chicago with Julieanne Ehre and Pivot Arts–it was a cold February but they are such a great organization; my workshop of La Ruta at Oregon Shakespeare Festival with Laurie Woolery and the Latinas in the company; my workshop of the same play at the Goodman Theatre working with Jo Cattell. I have to say, Tanya Palmer and her team at the Goodman have always been such an advocate for me & my work and I’m so thankful and appreciative of those folx; my initial interview with Meghan Beals and Chicago Dramatists where she said to me, “Isaac. We don’t want or expect anything from you other than to write. So write!” My very first Chicago production for the Greenhouse Theater Company’s inaugural producing season of my play The Way She Spoke was also pretty defining. Jacob Harvey (the artistic director) had just moved to Chicago and took a big chance that paid off in really amazing ways and that production was so defining and special–I’ll never forget it.
But probably more importantly: it’s the million little private readings I have of my work around a conference table, in random spaces, my apartment living room, empty theaters, working with brilliant collaborators like Monty Cole and Jonathan Green and Jo Cattell and Karen Rodriguez and Laura Baker and Rebecca Adelsheim and Polly Hubbard and a million more that are such defining moments for me as a playwright. I know it probably sounds stupid but when you spend most of your days helping other playwrights develop their own works, you can feel disheartened and lonely and super depressed fairly easily. But when you’ve got amazing people in your corner saying, “Yes, you ARE a writer, I BELIEVE in you” it really changes things. It’s almost like I don’t feel the need to be “legitimized” by larger institutions because it’s only up until recent that I’ve finally legitimized myself to myself. Which is the hardest thing a writer can do.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: Oh gosh, so many. SO SO SO many.
Playwrights whom I never studied under or with but who greatly shape my thinking as a playwright and person: Tanya Saracho, Luis Alfaro, and Marcus Gardley (OH MY GOD, Marquitos Gardley) are some of the first to believe in my abilities as a playwright and who push me to keep going. I owe a lot to them. Whether they know it or not, they’re my heroes in this work and in this field. They lift me up.
Other playwrights who inspire me greatly include Elaine Romero, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Karen Hartman, Andrew Hinderaker, Abe Koogler, Chay Yew, Kristiana Rae Colón, my writing group El Semillero who inspire me every freaking day, and so many others.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Keep writing. Tell someone you’re a writer. Keep telling people until they believe you. Or (probably more importantly), until you believe it yourself.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I’m a Taurus. I love Buffalo wings. I used to drive for Uber. I only eat Hot Cheetos if they’re in the black bag (XXTRA Hot). Selena is my everything.
***For more on Isaac Gomez, see:
- “From the Stage to the Streets: Chicago Artists and Activists Respond to “We Must Breathe” – Isaac Gomez (HowlRound)
- “A Snapshot of Latina/o Theatre in Chicago” – Isaac Gomez (Café Onda/HowlRound)
- Isaac Gomez’s writing on HowlRound
- Isaac Gomez’s Personal Website
- Isaac Gomez Bio
- Isaac Gomez Profile – University of Texas at Austin, College of Fine Arts