My years in Washington, D.C. (with quick trips to New York) have afforded me the opportunity to take in more theater in the last five years than, say, in the previous three decades! For some time now, we’ve been trying to devise a way to bring theater—Latino theater—to this space. Today, we take a step in that direction. Anne García-Romero is my colleague at the University of Notre Dame, where she is an assistant professor in the Department of Film, Television and Theatre.
Her plays include Provenance (Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference) Paloma (National Latino Playwriting Award runner-up), Earthquake Chica (National Latino Playwriting Award finalist), Mary Peabody in Cuba (National Latino Playwriting Award finalist), Land of Benjamin Franklin (Actors Theater of Louisville Ten Minute Play finalist), Horsey Girl (Ensemble Studio Theater One-Act Marathon finalist), Don Quixote de la Minny, Marta's Magnificent Mundo, Desert Longing, Juanita's Statue and Santa Concepción. Her plays have been developed and produced at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, Arielle Tepper Productions’Summer Play Festival (Off-Broadway), The Mark Taper Forum, Hartford Stage, South Coast Repertory, Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, INTAR, HERE, New Georges, Borderlands Theater, Nevada Repertory Company, Jungle Theater, East L.A. Repertory, National Hispanic Cultural Center, Open Fist Theater Company, Wordbridge Playwrights Laboratory and LoNyLa Writers Lab. She's received commissions from the NYSF/Public Theater, The Mark Taper Forum and South Coast Repertory. She’s been a Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights Center of Minneapolis as well as a MacDowell Colony fellow.
Visit her website to learn more. But now, without further delay:
Literature in Performance
an interview with Anne García-Romero
Before we begin, let me first say thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to answer these questions for Letras Latinas Blog.
On January 12, 2013, you were part of—and I had the pleasure of enjoying!—the “11th Annual Showcase of the New Resident Playwrights,” which is a program of Chicago Dramatists and where an excerpt of your play, Earthquake Chica, had a dramatic reading. Could you share with our readers what role you foresee this organization having in your continued development as a playwright?
I’m thrilled to be a new Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists. My reading on January 12 was part of the showcase for the four new resident playwrights also including Elaine Romero, Stuart Flack and Steve Spencer. I know that having an artistic home can greatly influence a playwright’s ongoing development. After living in New York City and Los Angeles, I’m now in my third year in the Midwest and am continually impressed by the Chicago theater community with its dedication to new work, ensemble-based companies and theater at all levels from storefronts to regional stages. As a Chicago Dramatists Resident Playwright, I now have an artistic home where I can continue to practice and hone my craft. I plan to have readings and workshops of my plays, collaborating with members of the remarkable community of theater artists in Chicago. Next, on March 9, I’m having a reading of my latest play, Provenance, directed by Richard Perez, Artistic Associate at Chicago Dramatists. I first workshopped this play at Notre Dame, directed by Film, Television and Theater professor Kevin Dreyer, with student actors in November 2011. This process proved very valuable and helped me prepare my script for submission to professional theater companies. Subsequently, the play was selected for the 2012 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference where it received a staged reading last summer. Now, I look forward to collaborating on Provenance with an ensemble of professional theater artists at Chicago Dramatists.
And the second part of this question is: could you compare and contrast, to the best of your ability, your experience with Chicago Dramatists, thus far, with your experience as a Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center of Minneapolis and your stint with New Dramatists in NYC.
In short, I’d love to give our readers a sense of these organizations from your direct experience with them. They seem to play an important role in new play development in the United States, and I’d be interested to hear your insights about them.
The Playwrights’ Center of Minneapolis, New Dramatists in New York City and Chicago Dramatists provide playwrights and theater artists with invaluable support, nurture and development opportunities for their artistic journeys. I spent a year as a Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center where I developed my playwriting through readings and workshops. I also had two productions of my plays, Santa Concepción and Don Quixote de la Minny, a staged reading of Juanita’s Statue and taught playwriting at Macalester and Augsburg Colleges during my year in the Twin Cities. Toward the end of that fellowship, I learned that New Dramatists had selected me for one of their seven-year national residencies. At New Dramatists, I had numerous readings and workshops of my plays and also became part of a remarkable community of playwrights, who influenced me and my work significantly. Now I begin a three-year residency at Chicago Dramatists and am very grateful for this valuable support for my work in the Chicago theater community.
All three organizations dedicate themselves tirelessly to the U.S. playwriting community. The Playwrights’ Center and Chicago Dramatists also produce new plays whereas New Dramatists is focused solely on play development by its members.
The Playwrights Center has many local and national programs, serving playwrights from the Twin Cities and across the country. Under the current leadership of Jeremy Cohen, the Playwrights’ Center continues to expand and grow. New Dramatists, a Tony-Award winning play development organization established in 1949, solely focuses on its Resident Playwrights, a majority of whom live in New York City, yet a significant contingent of whom are part of their National residency program. Under the leadership of Todd London, New Dramatists continues to flourish by giving their resident playwrights access to an array of opportunities including readings, workshops, grants, international exchanges and fellowships. Chicago Dramatists, the award-winning 34-year-old Chicago theater institution dedicated to playwrights and new plays, serves playwrights living within 100 miles of Chicago. Russ Tutterow, the founder and Artistic Director, continues to support, develop, direct and produce the work of Chicago Dramatists members.
Speaking of artistic origins, there’s an appealing passage in an interview you gave in 2010, in which you say:
“I traveled to Barcelona from Massachusetts with my Spanish father when I was seven. We went to visit my great great uncle, a celebrated Spanish painter and sculptor. I walked through Tio (uncle in Spanish) Vicente's home gallery in awe of his work ranging from striking portraits to an expressionistic series on circus performers to stunning sculptures of voluptuous women. Tio Vicente wore a burgundy bathrobe and had long white hair down to his shoulders framing his cool chunky horned rim glasses. I held onto my dad's hand as my young mind soaked in this artistic abundance.”
This indelible experience seems to have had a role in your becoming an artist. But…..why theater (and not, for example, visual art, or sculpture, or poetry or fiction, to name a few other genres your encounter with Tio Vicente could have also inspired)?
My Spanish father’s immediate family members were all performers. My grandparents were singers in Compañia Santa Cruz, a zarzuela troupe (Spanish light opera) that toured throughout Latin America, Central America and Cuba in the early decades of the twentieth century. The troupe included the mother of Plácido Domingo. My eldest aunt, Ana María Olaria, was a renowned zarzuela and opera singer in Spain in the 1950’s and 60’s and my uncle, Tito Mora, was a successful popular singer in Spain in the 1960’s and 1970’s. While I grew up in the Boston area, my Spanish family would visit us and we’d also spend time with them in Madrid. I was very taken by their theatrical lives. Also significantly, my American mother was a professor of Spanish literature at Pine Manor College in Brookline, MA and for the first seven years of my life, we lived on campus. From a very young age, I began accompanying my parents to the musical theater productions in the college’s impressive performing arts center. Even after we moved to nearby Wellesley, MA, I continued to see the shows at Pine Manor every year and was completely enthralled. Once, when my abuela (grandmother in Spanish) was visiting us from Madrid, we attended a musical together. Afterward, she proclaimed, “A Ani le encanta el teatro mas que nadie en nuestra familia." (Annie loves the theater more than anyone in our family.) So, my first love was musical theater. Then, at age seven, I began to write monologues and perform them for my family. I created fantastical adventures that included well-known figures. One piece involved a frantic Shelly Winters getting ready for a date and a down-on-his-luck Nelson D. Rockefeller searching for money. So therein began my circuitous path toward a life in the theater.
You are both a playwright and a theater scholar. Could you say something about how you navigate these two types of writing, and compare and contrast the routines or methods that go into being productive at each?
In my doctoral program at UCSB, I learned about the vibrancy of the artist/scholar model. Many of my professors were also practitioners. When I began scholarly writing in my Ph.D. courses, I had a steep learning curve. I hadn’t pursued this genre of writing in my previous degree programs and so I had a great deal to discover. I knew though that I needed to engage in playwriting and scholarly writing simultaneously because I found the analytic-intuitive connection inspired my work in both arenas. Further, I decided to focus my doctoral research on the very field I had been part of for the previous decade: Latina theater. I contacted several of my playwriting colleagues and asked if they would share their recent plays with me. As I delved into the close reading of their texts, I began what is now my current book manuscript, Contemporary Latina Theatre: Transcultural Voices. I found that my scholarly writing helped me not only to explore Latina theater and the work of my colleagues but also helped me to contextualize my own playwriting work. Further, closely considering the excellent and award-winning plays by my peers inspired my playwriting as well.
As for being productive in each, the key for me is to remember that all writing is a process. For playwriting, I ultimately need a community of collaborators to develop my work. For scholarly writing, I need like-minded colleagues who understand my field of theater studies and can give me detailed feedback. The exercise of refining my main argument and then developing detailed proof helps encourage a certain exactitude in my playwriting. I also find that my playwriting informs creative approaches to my scholarly writing. When I feel this artist-scholar model is being contested, I think of Federico García Lorca, one of my playwriting inspirations, who wrote breathtakingly beautiful plays such as Blood Wedding and also delivered poetic lectures on the Theory of Duende. So, for me, creative and scholarly writing must live side by side.
I think it’s safe to say that, in addition to being a playwright, you have a passion for Latino theater. That clearly shines through in the wonderful piece you wrote for HowlRound (A Journal of the Theater Commons), titled “Latino/a Theater Commons: Updating the U.S. Narrative.” Was there any particular experience that inspired you to become involved in this sort of advocacy? If so, can you say something about it?
I experienced my first professional playwriting job when my play, Santa Concepción, was selected for the Hispanic Playwrights Project (HPP) at South Coast Repertory in California. As a young Latina playwright with Spanish-American heritage, I felt somewhat tentative before my trip from New York to California for this opportunity. Would I be accepted by the other Latino/a artists there? Since living in New York City, I’d come to find my place in the Latina/o community and learned that it is a diverse community encompassing Latin America, the Caribbean, Mexico, Spain and all the cultural intersections therein. José Cruz Gonzalez, playwright, director and artistic director of HPP, welcomed me with open arms as he generously directed my reading. Octavio Solis, an award-winning playwright, was my dramaturg. The cast of actors embodied my play with such commitment and grace. I worked alongside other playwrights such as Rogelio Martinez and Edit Villareal. I felt deeply connected to this gathering of Latino/a theater artists with an array of theatrical expressions yet seemingly united through our Latina/o culture.
HPP lasted until 2004 about the time when other similar programs around the country ended. While I and many of my colleagues understood this complex definition of Latina/o culture, I observed the dwindling artistic opportunities to support Latina/o playwrights accompanied by a limited view of Latino/a theater. Last Spring, I was invited to take part in a discussion about the state of the field of Latino/a theater at Arena Stage in DC, hosted by Karen Zacarías, Playwright-in-Residence, and facilitated by the Center for Theater Commons, directed by Polly Carl (ND alumna). I’m now a member of the steering committee of what has become the Latino/a Theater Commons, an advocacy organization to connect Latino/a theater artists from around the country and raise the profile of plays that give voice to the complex Latino/a theater community.
Finally, I want to ask you to reflect on something else you said in an interview, in terms of advice you would give to a budding writer, which I think may be related to the previous question. You write:
"Find those who understand your work. Have them get behind it. Always keep writing. Most importantly, plug into like-minded theatres, artists, classmates, communities and professionals. Those are the ones who will support you, help you and guide you."
Could you share an experience in your development as a writer that contributed to your giving this kind of advice?
During the final semester of my MFA in Playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, my play, The Voice of Olivia Jiménez, was given a workshop production directed by Leah C. Gardiner, an MFA Directing student. I had not worked with Leah before and immediately felt a kinship and trust with her. During our first script meeting, I was struck by her close consideration of my text and her insightful and perceptive questions. The play was inspired by the career of my aunt, Ana Maria Olaria. Leah encouraged me to delve more deeply into the world of Spanish opera and my family’s heritage as I continued to revise the script. Our workshop production was well received and I knew I had found a director who understood my cultural and artistic work. Since graduation, Leah and I have collaborated on readings and productions of my plays at the NYSF/Public Theater, Hartford Stage and the Off-Broadway Summer Play Festival, among others. Leah has generously supported, helped and guided my path as a playwright. We have a common artistic language. When we work together, there’s a short hand in the rehearsal room. We have a process and a degree of communication that allows us to delve more deeply into my play. When Leah recently won an Obie Award for her direction of debbie tucker green’s Born Bad, I was thrilled to see her excellent work even further recognized. I, therefore, say to young theater artists, “When you find those people who seem to really understand your work, remain connected to them. These kindred spirits are a gift and could potentially become treasured collaborators for the rest of your lives."