Name: Oscar Aaron Lee Cabrera
Hometown: Plainview, Texas
Current Town: New York, NY
Affiliations: The Public Theater, INTAR Theater
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: My dad is Mexican and my mom is Irish. I’ve lived my whole life balancing on a fence between what felt like two worlds. My entire life I’ve been put places by other people. Because I’m “racially ambiguous,” it’s a navigation that I’ve never fully seemed to understand or been completely aware of. I think if there were something all-encompassing that I feel I identify with the most, it would be Guilt. I have had my fair share of intolerance, from the personal because of my background/last name to microaggressions from intolerant Texans growing up in the panhandle. But also, my family is extremely diverse, so I’ve spent a great deal of the privilege people have entitled me with defending my family against people who didn’t know I had a Mexican dad. But my experience is nowhere near my cousins. I saw it in the schools I grew up in. I saw it in the places we would hang out in. I saw it in the interactions with cops in my town. I always felt guilty to complain about anything I went through because you can experience a lot worse. The intersectionality has really shaped me. But Guilt isn’t on the census so I put Latino.
Q: Tell me about “Maybe You Should Just Date White Girls…”
A: So I’m currently in a two-year Artist Residency with The Public Theater as a member of their Emerging Writer Group. Over the next year and a half, I’m commissioned to write a new play. Currently, I’m about 40-pages into my thoughts on white passing Latino privilege. I’m tired of plays that shape the conversation on race for white audiences. And while I’m conscious of the fact that if I write a play about my Latinidad it doesn’t mean it has to be a “race play,” I think a lot can be done in talking about the issue to get at a greater conversation of what bias is in this modern age of American Citizenship. And specifically, how the mantle of privilege can shape the legacy our children grow up in. So this is more a play about a mental issue than about physical race. I write a lot about mental health issues. It’s something that is near and dear to me. The play that got me into EWG, Through Andrew’s Eyes, is about Autism and Texas healthcare. I started off wanting to put Autism on a stage truthfully and theatrically the way I saw it. I was tired of plays that just made people like my brother an obstacle for normal able-bodied people to “deal” with. But more importantly, it turned into this play about the mental health of a family that’s just stuck in this limbo we as a country have created.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I just accepted another residency that hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t really say much except that I’m super excited to flex and work a very specific muscle in front of an audience. In terms of my writing, I have a friend who is a German National and she went to Julliard. She has been out for about a year now and her visa is about to expire. I’m writing a pilot for her to act in hopefully as a form of successful activism. I’ve written a couple of ten minutes and short plays since January so the jury isn’t out yet about those opportunities. Also actively submitting my play about the legislation that affects those with Alzheimer’s disease, Bonnet Blues, for workshops and residencies so I can work on it more. Finding a world premiere for Through Andrew’s Eyes. And in terms of acting, auditioning with my awesome agent Michael Rodriguez at The Roster Agency who has been so supportive of me as I knock out these pages and opportunities. Just booked a show at Rattlestick Theater called St. Vincent’s. In terms of my activism, Guadalís Del Carmen and I have started a Latinx Playwriting Circle. We have partnered up with LaTea Theater, Primary Stages, Cherry Lane, INTAR, and my access to The Public Theater’s conference room to give free space for playwrights to work.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: Jeremy Torres. In my last semester in college, I had to take his directing class. I had taken on so much but there was a light about him and I just had to. The whole winter break I read and read but nothing popped out to me about what to direct. Class started in January and the deadline was coming up. Frustrated with the load of my last semester, I went to his office and told him I was lost. I had bitten off too much. I didn’t have the time to read plays that didn’t speak to me and I didn’t want to waste his time. He didn’t even blink before saying just write something yourself. I walked straight over to Joe on the Go across from the theater, opened my computer and started writing. Something happened. He challenged me to share because it was hard. That was the whole point. So I wrote. Straight through that night and the next. No sleep. I had the weekend to turn in a draft late on Monday. We got coffee to talk about it. We both cried like babies. We laughed too. He knew the effect he had on me. For the first time, I realized what my Artistry was. I realized the power of my voice. He “let me” give myself permission to speak. The play he gave me permission to write has given me the residencies that are shaping my craft as a playwright. It’s a crazy journey to go from 25 pages for a directing II class at Texas State University to The Public Theater. I developed a good chunk of it at Hudson Warehouse, my first residency in NYC. Then I took it back to my school as a presenting play for the Black And Latino Playwrights Conference. That’s where it really took shape. I highly recommend submitting your work for this conference. Eugene Lee has been running it for well over 15 years and it has held some serious work that really shaped this young Latino’s idea of theater smack-dab dead set in the heart of Texas.
I remember telling this story in my EWG interview at The Public Theater. I remember thinking as long as I don’t do something embarrassing like cry or say something stupid. I cried. But it was because this moment was an actual turning point of perspective. And it really drives me. And its something that has really carried me through this residency and into all the opportunities working for The Public Theater has given me. There is this crazy sense of validation that has become pretty palpable, even down to the way I receive rejection letters now. It once was, “thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…” And now its like, “We look forward to getting to know more of your work…” It makes me want to push more. Put in those extra hours now that there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. I think a lot about how this shapes my drive going forward. The environment we live in and then I look at how our representation is in the field. Would we have more plays in more theaters if more Latinos got rejection letters that were hopeful; Letters that signaled that they were looking to put our plays up? Because I look around and that’s not what some of these theaters are doing. How many people quit because the table is only as big as the pie and nobody wants to bake anything more?
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I’ve been privileged to work with Octavio Solis a lot. I’ve not only read most of his work but I’ve been cast in a couple of his plays. The dude’s words just hit me. I get him. We’re both from Texas. El Paso isn’t far really from Plainview so the feeling of his plays very much live where I like to live as an artist. Lou Moreno, the artistic director for INTAR Theater, has had a huge impact on my views of what is valuable theater. Mariana Carreño who I met as a resident company member artist in INTAR’s Unit52 that she was a mentor for. She actually introduced me to Octavio’s work. Migdalia Cruz has never-not read anything I have sent her and she keeps me around so I know she doesn’t think I’m too terrible. Georgina Escobar and Caridad Svich have always let me into their process, which has been invaluable. Candido Tirado and Carmen Rivera have fed me with some of the greatest conversations. Actress/playwright combos like Ngozi Anyanwu or Maggie Bofill have shown me it can be done to be both. And of course, my recent mentorship by Jack Moore and Jesse Alack as dramaturges has been eye-opening. The process for EWG is really awe-inspiring. We do essentially a four step Liz Lerman critical response process and it’s really amplified by the unique voices in the room. There were over 500 applicants whittled down to 20 for interviews and out of those, 9 were chosen. So we each bring very strong, specific points of view and articulation to the process. Overall, it has given me insight into the work I’ve shared that I might not have thought of so early in my process. I’m very excited to what this does to my work going forward.
Q: What advice do you have for Latin@ playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Find your community. And be active in it. Reach out to theaters. Reach out to the people that work in the theaters. Get to know them. Try to see as many shows as possible. So you learn what is happening in the community. And, so you can join conversations that are active right now.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: Isaac Gomez and Nancy Garcia have a dream of creating a Latinx Playwriting group in every major city. Guadalís Del Carmen and I are running one here in NYC. We are partnering with theaters here in the city to create and foster free space for our voices. It’s also an opportunity for theaters to get to know us. So if you are curious about putting our writers in your rooms or if you are looking to join a community of writers, let me know.
***For more on Oscar A. L. Cabrera, see:
- INTAR’s Unit52
- The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group
- “Non-stop Between Subway Stops: Underground Reflections on Hamilton” – Oscar A. L. Cabrera (Café Onda/HowlRound)