3 Lessons the Austin Latino New Play Festival Process Taught Me

The Austin Latino New Play Festival came and went.  On May 16th, I was wisked away to Austin, Texas  to see the brilliant work of the actors and creative team that took my play The Stories of Us and mounted it on stage.   I was nervous, excited and overwhelmed but all of that went away when I saw mentors, friends and classmates (that I had not seen since moving from Austin almost a year ago) there to support me.  To have my family’s support was paramount.  Although they were shocked at the play’s use of profanity (even though I warned them before hand), they enjoyed my work.

In short, I was blown away.  Every actor slayed the role given to them.  The music was perfect. The movement was perfect.  They even found a Mario Lopez looking guy to play the lead (that was a very specific note on the script, haha).  I started tearing up because of all of the awesomeness on the stage.

As I reflect on this, I recognize that I learned so much about creating.  Brian, the dramaturg, was a complete badass who guided me through writing.  We would spend hours talking about the meaning of a line and ponder experiences to add into the piece.  It was exhausting and exhilarating. But worth it.

Here are a few of the lessons I learned through the process writing, rewriting and viewing the performance.

Part of the cast of the Stories of Us.  (Ursula Walker, Cherry Mendoza, Brian Oglosby,Me, Oscar Franco, Travis Tate, Aer

Part of the cast of the Stories of Us. L-R Ursula, Cherry, Brian, Me, Oscar, Travis and Aerik.

PHOTO CREDIT: Teatro Vivo

1. Write honestly.

The scariest part of writing Stories was being candid about experiences.  There were so many stories that could “step on people’s toes” and I had to be fearless.

 A scene of a brother to brother chat about intercultural dating.

 A scene about Black students and Mexican students fighting.

A scene about an Afro-Puerto Rican uttering the words “You’re pretty for a dark girl” on a tinder date.

 All of these scenes mimic my real life and it was a challenge to not be so cookie-cutter about it.  I am a Disney Channel loving soul.  But Black, Brown and Afrolatin@ folk share a history of marginalization and oppression the cannot be confinded to cheesy humor.  Was I ready to put that all on the table?  Not really.  Luckily, Brian was right beside me. Challenging me with questions like “Would the character say this like this?” and “What has the character experienced?” I think that made for a richer story.

2. Feedback is key.

The audience had so much to say.  I got notes from a people who were in interracial relationships, folks who identified with the characters and people who had a bone to pick with a scene or two.  It really brought home the purpose of the work that writers do…we gather stories.  I was humbled that people began to tell me about the racism in their own families, how their experiences differed and were the same from the characters in my play and offer suggestions on topics to explore.  That type of dialogue is my ultimate goal for everything that I write.

3. A playwright’s work is never done.

Even after this reading, I debriefed with Brian over Wendy’s last weekend.  He gave me more feedback based on the performance.  I had my own notes about what moved me and what left more to be desired in my writing.  He had his about what worked and what didn’t.  And during our talk I realized I had more work to do.  More character development.  More stories to share. More realness.  A writing a play is like being a parent, according to my Mom, your work is never done.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my work with such a thoughtful audience.  Their feedback, reactions and thoughts propelled me forward.  Special thanks to the artistic team at Teatro Vivo (Rupert and JoAnn Reyes, Dolores Diaz and all the fantastic members of the creative team) for allowing me to share this work, the outstanding cast (Florinda, Travis, Ursula, Antonio, Aerik, Paloma, Cherry) the badass dramaturg (Brian) and the determined director (Oscar). Thank you to everyone that came out especially my lovely family and friends.  Y’all are fabulous.

P.S. check out the story they did on the festival in the Austin Statesmen.  I am quoted, which is super cool.

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