I begin with a short report of the business side of my playwriting career:
For the first time in a long time, I've sent out play submissions. I sent out an electronic one last week, then sent off 2 mailed submissions today. My wife had offered to mail them for me to save me some time, but I told her that it was important for me to send them myself. I'm not sure why, but it felt very, very necessary for me to be the one to walk into the post office, weigh those packets, put the postage on them, and watch them disappear from the chute. They're out there in the world now, on their way to New York City and California. Last week's submission is now living in Chicago. Another couple of electronic submissions I did today are living here in Columbus. In the next couple of months, my scripts will head to different parts of California and even to exotic Iowa.
This is the most I've submitted since 2011. In 2011, I submitted to somewhere between 5 and 10 places. In 2012, I just couldn't get up enough energy to send out any submissions. I was tired of the preparation and energy it took to get those packages or emails ready and then the emotional energy it took to deal with rejections. Last year, I sent out 3 submissions to places and opportunities in town in order to get myself back into practice. Now, I'm on my way, submitting.
My playwriting database, which I created in Filemaker Pro (something I needed to learn for my day job), I wrote a quotation from Walt Disney: "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."
In terms of the creative side, I just wrote/finished, like, seriously a couple minutes ago, wrote the first scene for my play about Persephone. I had a very clear image of the beginning of the play, helped along by a scene from the pilot of Breaking Bad when Walter White is getting his diagnosis from the doctor. I saw it very clearly in my mind and it was very easy to write. It's helping me establish a tone for the play: ethereal, dark, but very playful. The play might be performed by middle school girls, so I'm thinking that I don't want to make it too dark. But I'm going to write the play as it wants to be written. Right now, the play's theme song is Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones, but performed by a woman. I haven't found the right version to sit in the back of my mind as I write. I'll keep searching.
So, my fellow theatre-makers, how has your writing gone lately? Starting up new projects? Have you been submitting plays?
I'll leave you with one last Walt Disney quotation: "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
Be excellent to each other.
I've been at work in the research for my play about Persephone lately. I've been drawing diagrams, searching for a theme song (It's just something I do. And it usually changes once I realize what the play is really about.), and coming up with character surrogates. What I mean by character surrogates is a person or other character from something else that can act as an engine for the characters in my play. Sometimes this is someone I may know, sometimes it's a character from a movie. Right now, Persephone's surrogate is Walter White from Breaking Bad. It sounds odd, but makes perfect sense for the play that's growing in my mind. I don't know which god or goddess is Jesse Pinkman though...
In addition to this, I had a wonderful conversation with a Columbus dramaturg about my play Woman Studies that I'm still developing. We met for 2 hours and it left me very inspired and ready to get to work. The play itself started from an article I read about a Latina arguing against the Republican "War on Women," primarily their obsession with reproductive rights, focusing specifically on contraception and abortion. I didn't want to write a political play; it's just not my bag, but when the political fuses itself to the needs and wants of characters, then it becomes part of the character struggle and not a struggle about the political as something separate. There were two scenes that my new dramaturg friend pointed out in which the politics were not infused within the characters. The worst is the infamous Scene 17. I'm forever going to use "Scene 17" as a code when I have a scene that is heavy-handed, too on-the-nose, and inorganic. It was a necessary scene to write as she and another one of my dramaturg friends noted later; it possessed the kernels of ideas that the characters are dealing with and was important to explore. I have a lot of great notes from the conversation and look forward to the next rewrite (coming soon!).
There was a really interesting question that she asked, one that I've asked myself multiple times about the play and a whole host of other questions that arise from it. She asked me why the main character was Latina. Does she have to be? Or was she Latina merely because of the original source of inspiration? It's a perfectly valid question. Victoria, the main character, and her sister are the only characters with a specified race; everyone else's race is undefined and could really be any race. So, why is Victoria Latina?
Part of it has to do with the sex and politics in the play. What I've noticed in society is that there are two extreme stereotypes of Latinas: one as the "hot," exotic, overly sexed temptress, and the other as a welfare mother with multiple children. Part of the play is playing against and with the stereotypes in the characters, bending and subverting them.
But then what makes a character Latina? By that I mean what are the defining factors that would make her Latina in the eyes of the audience? What would make her "Latina enough?" This is a question I keep asking myself as a Latino writer and keep wrestling with. Does Victoria have to speak with an accent? Does she have to toss in a word of Spanish? Does she have to be brown? If she is brown, what shade? Where does she have to be from? Is she second generation or first generation? Does any of that matter when it comes down to it? My decision, and it was a very tough and deliberate choice, was to have Victoria speak like any of my other characters, to let her not speak a word of Spanish to "identify" her as Latina. I would treat her like any other character, which sounds odd because isn't that what I should be doing anyway, even if she's Latina?
Here's the thing, I've written several plays with main Latino/a characters (4 including Woman Studies). Each one of those plays has been inspired loosely by family, by people I grew up with, by the environment of Albuquerque, NM. What would happen if I looked at a Latina from Iowa? A Latina who didn't come out of the same environment as all my other characters? What if she was like me? What if she was Latino by her family, by her skin, by her upbringing, but not necessarily by her day to day conversations. Honestly, this is a strange concept to speak about, I'm trying not to offend or confuse the issue here or to make me come across as not proud of my heritage or whatever (I made that mistake once by a poor choice of phrase and was unfairly taken to task).
My new dramaturg friend's question is completely valid only because she found that based on her reading of the play, Victoria could be of any race. And that's true besides the character description before the play that says "Latina" after her age. So, if Victoria sounds like she could be of any race, not saying that she's generic by any means, but if she doesn't have something that is distinctly Latina in her language or her experience, is she Latina enough? When I define a race for a particular character, it has weight, it has responsibility. I just hope that the play works and that Victoria is a fully-formed character. That's my main concern. If I do justice to Victoria as a character, I think that's enough.
What about you? Do any of you struggle with race of your characters and the weight that comes with that? How do you handle it? I'd love to hear about it.
I wish you well with your work, my fellow theatre-makers.
Be excellent to each other.