Name: Charise Castro Smith
Hometown: Miami, FL
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Affiliations: Yale School of Drama, MFA
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: Cuban American
Q: Tell me about El Huracán.
A: The first act of El Huracán takes place in Miami before and during Hurricane Andrew (1992). The second act picks up twenty-seven years later (2019) after another, fictional hurricane. It’s the play that’s taken me the longest to write- partially because I started working in television a couple of years ago, but also because it’s my most personal play so far. When I was in grad school, my grandmother was living with Alzheimer’s. My parents took care of her, and watching my grandmother progress through the disease was heartbreaking, confusing, scary, weird, sad, frustrating and at odd times even kind of funny. I have so much respect for both my parents for being her caretakers- it’s an exhausting job and they did it with such love. The last play I wrote, Feathers and Teeth, is a revenge tragedy. This time I wanted to write a play about the difficulty and the necessity of forgiveness. I’m often inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and this time I was thinking about The Tempest—how he wrote the play near the end of his life, and how focused all his romances seem to be on complex characters seeking grace after seemingly unforgivable acts. And then, of course, The Tempest is also about a storm, which exists in the world of my play as a metaphor for the illness but also as a harbinger of climate change. This play has unfortunately been kind of prescient in that way.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I just finished writing for Season One of a new Netflix show called The Haunting of Hill House which starts streaming in October 2018. I’ve got a few play commissions in the works, as well as some TV development projects. I feel very fortunate to be able to work in both mediums.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: I came to playwriting in a pretty roundabout way. I wrote my first play Estrella Cruz [The Junkyard Queen] based on a dream I’d had on New Year’s Day 2007. Later that year I started grad school at the Yale School of Drama as an actor. There was a theater there called the Yale Cabaret where anyone could choose to put on a play and I produced Estrella Cruz there, never thinking that it would lead to a career as a writer. Paula Vogel (who was the head of playwriting at Yale during that time), took me under her wing. She gave me a copy of The Dramatists Sourcebook, told me I was a writer and urged me to submit my play Boomcracklefly to be produced. I took her advice, mailed my play to a few theaters thinking that there was no chance it was going to work, but that’s how I got my first professional production. After graduation, I was living in NYC, acting and writing plays and was awarded a Van Lier Fellowship at New Dramatists, which was what made me really start to take myself more seriously as a writer.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: There is no way I would be who I am or where I am without the support of many mentors and guardian angels. Paula Vogel and James Bundy were among the first. Kris Diaz was my mentor at New Dramatists and has been such a huge support and champion of mine. Tanya Saracho and Rolin Jones welcomed me into the strange and wonderful world of television. When I was 14 years old I read Marisol—José Rivera made me change the way I thought about plays and actually provided me with invaluable feedback on El Huracán. This list is only just scratching the surface.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Read and watch everything you can get your hands on. Write faster and wilder than your inner critic can scream—there is always time for rewrites later. Usually when I have the thought- that’s too much, I probably shouldn’t go there- that’s exactly where I need to go. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire for advice. Take risks, try not to get too discouraged by what you perceive as failure or rejection. Listen to your crazy little voice inside and try to do right by it. Be bold, tell your truth.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: I love to cook (but hate cleaning up after).
***For more on Charise Castro Smith, see:
- Read Charise Castro Smith’s work at New Play Exchange
- Follow Charise Castro Smith on Twitter
- “From Hamlet to El Huracán: An Interview with Charise Castro Smith” – Trevor Boffone (The Theatre Times)
- “A Conversation with Feathers and Teeth Playwright Charise Castro Smith” – Neena Arndt (On Stage)