Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Gun Violence Plays (Diana Burbano, Mark Harvey Levine, Eric Jones, John Minigan)

Howdy and welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. We took a break from profiling playwrights for a couple months, but we’re back in full swing now.

This is a very special post profiling plays about gun violence, an American epidemic. If you need a tally, there is always the Gun Violence Archive.

Gun violence in America seems pervasive when compared with the rest of the so-called civilized world. Here are the lowest death-by-firearm rates.

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 10.32.09 AM
Stats from the ol’ Wiki.

I spent a significant portion of my adult life in one of the countries on that list. The only time I felt unsafe or was threatened by violence was when I ran into other Americans there.

Here are the highest death-by-firearms rates:

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 10.39.17 AM
Stats here.

The US is smack dab between Panama and Uruguay. It is also ahead of the scariest place I lived in my life. Also notice that the US has way, way more guns than anybody else.

Recent attacks have specifically targeted minorities. The El Paso shooter “targeted Mexicans” but also ended up killing a German. Some shooters target synagogues. Muslims are also a target, though some shooters have killed Christians and Sikhs by mistake.

Something needs to be done, but as long as we have a racist joke personified as president, that might not happen, since he clearly has more important things on his mind.

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 11.31.13 AM
Seriously, dude. Just shut up.
Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 11.31.24 AM
Seriously.

We will take a look at what American playwrights are doing to take a stand on this topic. We’ll start with Diana Burbano who has written extensively on gun violence.

Salat al-Janazah

The first play from Diana is Salat al-Janazaha monologue based on the horrific murder of Sabika Sheikh and nine others in a Santa Fe, Texas high school last year. The monologue is brief, so I’ll post the whole thing here:

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 12.46.44 PM

Miss Sheikh was very active on social media. If you want to see the video she made after getting accepted into the exchange student program, it’s here.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 12.57.58 PM

News coverage of her funeral is below.

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 1.15.00 PM

20151012_110429-636x395
Here it is with the US flag, via here.

As for the point made by the play, not calling terrorism “terrorism” when it’s done by white people is a thing. Even Rhianna gets it.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 1.22.27 PM

GunViolence2
Warning: not a made-up graph.

Gun violence is an important issue for Burbano. She has written several other plays and we will explore those.

thumbnail

Death’s Release

 

Her next play is Death’s Release, in remembrance of Kimberly Vaughn Hart, another victim of the Santa Fe massacre. 

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 2.46.25 PM

Here, the play brings in magical realism.

Screen Shot 2019-08-28 at 10.06.30 AM

In the Anglosphere, magical realism seems to be  a trope connected to Latin America, though of course not every Latin American work has magical realism and not every work of magical realism comes from Latin America.

Gabriel García Márquez tends to be considered to be the most prominent writer using magical realism.

Anyways, these kids are using magic.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 2.47.56 PMScreen Shot 2019-08-25 at 2.49.39 PM

If you hadn’t noticed, the “magic” is working because the kids are “crossing over” as they’re shot – Ana’s just not aware of it yet.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 2.50.32 PMScreen Shot 2019-08-25 at 2.55.35 PM

Hint: it wasn’t a wand.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 2.57.20 PM

This last line is a great line. Instead of putting the onus on racist killers, it seems to be the victim’s fault they got shot, Ya know, for existing and stuff.

That also ties into the second-to-last line about leaving one’s backpack in the corner. Bulletproof backpacks have become a thing in America, because we’d rather put the onus on the victim instead of the murderer.

Screen Shot 2019-08-28 at 10.28.08 AM
Quite literally the 2nd stupidest thing I saw today. The stupidest was the queen suspending the UK parliament, which proves America doesn’t have a lock on stupid.

By the way, here’s a cop explaining that the bulletproof backpack won’t stop a rifle round – despite the fact the recent shootings have all been by automatic rifle.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 3.11.28 PM

That’s a painful realization.

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 10.10.43 AM

And in a way, they have trancscended death by sending a message through. This is a heartfelt and charming play, written in commemoration of a horrible murder.

KimberlyVaughnHart

Not one content to hammer at gun violence through a mere monologue and short play, Diana has written even more.

Rounds Per Second

Rounds Per Second focuses not only on gun violence, but also the different realities people in the US exist in.

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.03.17 AMScreen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.03.58 AM

“I wasn’t really looking at you.” The Washington Post wrote a whole article about this.

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.05.04 AM

The white woman screwing up a name, just like John Travolta.

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.06.15 AMScreen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.07.01 AM

Nice comeback there, Prof…

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.16.02 AM

Still, the white professor describes her own murderer as “brilliant.”

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.16.59 AMScreen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.17.51 AM

Hehe. ALL North Americans.

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.18.37 AM

Thank God for honest characters! The housekeeper lets the professor know the truth. The professor’s entitlement is still showing.

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 11.18.53 AM

Death. The great equalizer.

dianathumbnail

Diana Burbano, a Colombian immigrant, is an Equity actor, a playwright and a teaching artist at South Coast Repertory and Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble.
Written work: Ghosts of Bogota commissioned by Alter Theatre, winner NuVoices, Actors Theatre of Charlotte 2019, Sapience, writer in Center Theatre Group’s writers circle,  Policarpa, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Brown Swan lab 2017, Drama League Rough Draft series May 2017, Fabulous Monsters, Steppenwolf’s “The Mix.”,Latinx Play Festival, San Diego Rep 2017, Festival51 2016 winner, about women in Punk Rock, Picture me Rollin’ (featured at the 35th annual William Inge Festival and Inkfest at 2cents.), Silueta, (about the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta), with Tom and Chris Shelton, and the TYA Shakespeare mash-up, Caliban’s Island winner 2017 Headwaters New Play Festival at Creede Repertory.(Published by YouthPLAYS). Libertadoras, Vamping and Linda were written for the 365 Women a Year project and have been performed around the world, with Linda featured in more that 20 festivals over the last year, including Center Theatre Group’s community library series. She is currently writing for Rogue Artists “Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta. She is also under commission from Alternative Theatre in San Rafael, and is in Center Theatre Group’s L.A. Writers Workshop 2018-2019.
She has been a working actor since leaving the Professional Actors Conservatory in 1991. She originated the roles of Ama de Casa in the Spanish version of Menopause the Musical, Thumb in Imagine, and Holo-1 in the Labors of Hercules. She recently played Ana Guerrero in Jose Cruz Gonzales’ Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy Dialogue/Dialogos project at South Coast Repertory.  TV includes The People vs OJ Simpson, Cold Case, Betas.

She played punk Praetorian guard Viv in the cult movie musical, The Isle of Lesbos
Diana is a member of The Dramatists Guild and The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights

God Forbid

Our next playwright Mark Harvey Levine has fashioned a three-page play (God Forbid) about those people who dread the day they will ever have to use their guns…while yearning for the chance.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.56.16 AMScreen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.57.26 AM

The fantasy begins…

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 11.58.07 AMScreen Shot 2019-08-27 at 12.11.23 PMScreen Shot 2019-08-27 at 12.12.33 PM

The phrase “orgasmic crescendo” needs to be in some sort of playwriting hall of fame.

The play ends with everyone saying a not-so-reassuring “God forbid” to one another.

Only a Matter of Time

Levine then takes the medium down to its essence, producing a one page play entitled Only a Matter of Time, which you may read in its entirety here:

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 12.16.13 PMScreen Shot 2019-08-27 at 12.16.33 PM

And that’s what the playwright does best: deliver a knockout punch in as little time as possible.

Mark Harvey Levine - Playwright Photo

Mark Harvey Levine has had over 1700 productions of his plays everywhere from Bangalore to Bucharest and from Lima to London.  His plays have won over 45 awards and been produced in ten languages.  Full evenings of his plays, such as “Didn’t See That Coming” and “A Very Special Holiday Special” have been shown in New York, Amsterdam, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Seoul, Mexico City, and across the US.  A Spanish-language movie version of his play “The Kiss” (“El Beso”) premiered at Cannes, showed at the Tribeca film festival, and subsequently aired on HBO and DTV (Japan).

Open Carry

Our next playwright, Eric Christopher Jones tackles the intersection between racism and gun rights in America with Open Carry. Let’s take a look.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.34.28 PM

Oh, the Alamo!

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.42.21 PM

“Don’t shoot! Hands up!” has been a part of the most recent civil rights movement.

The play sets up the conflict early by having two people standing up for their rights. The white man wants his right to bear arms. Specifically, he wants to be able to carry his weapon in the open. To read more about how open carry laws intersect with racism, check out this article.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.44.32 PM

Must be.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.49.55 PM

Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 12.22.25 PM
You can even get audio here.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.50.43 PM

Tamir Rice was a 12 year old boy killed by Cleveland police while playing with an Airsoft gun.

Alton Sterling was a 37 year old man shot by Baton Rouge police.

John Crawford III was a 22 year-old man shot by police in an Ohio Wal-Mart for simply holding a BB gun he’d picked up while shopping.

Keith Lamont Scott was a 43 year-old man shot by police in North Carolina for just hanging out in his truck.

Trayvon Martin was a 17 year-old shot and killed by a local night watch/vigilante in Florida.

Any guesses as to what race these victims all were?

The only good news is that at the time of writing this, there have been 100 less police shootings this year than the same time last year.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.51.13 PM

DPPMCQSX4AEIGOv
Putin’s original bitch. Pretty nifty. It’s even a woodcut.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.52.06 PM

Aha, the mighty Raymond has arrived – but still the other characters don’t know his race.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.56.59 PM

Officer Ray. Sigh.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.58.26 PMScreen Shot 2019-08-27 at 1.58.55 PM

This play eviscerates the notion that 2nd Amendment advocates aren’t racist a-holes. This is from the Wikipedia page about the Oath Keepers:

Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 10.57.07 AM

For a thorough explanation of the 2nd Amendment’s role in perpetuating racism, check out this article (the first time this blog has ever linked to Teen Vogue).

70547267_559244841546482_3760455858643795968_n

Eric Jones  is a Medford, Massachusetts born, Minnesota & Texas raised artist. Mr. Jones is a graduate of Texas Southern University; B.S. Pharmacy. He has been involved with the Christian theater circuit since 1995 as a writer, actor, director and composer. Writing credits includes: Untapped Potential, Wolf Man Wedding, The Baked Potato Incident, Dreamland, American Skin , Freedom Quilt, Liberators and Fired! The Musical. Currently, Eric won 2nd Runner up for the Screenplay Competition at The Beverly Hills Film Festival 2016 for his screenplay Dreamland. His award winning  film he could wrote & produced Dreamland Murders film  was selected to the Marche Du Cannes Short Film Showcase 2016 hosted by NWC Cinemas.. Two Musicals got their premiere in 2018. Liberators An American Musical at The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival & Three Crosses at Ensemble Theatre’s Stage Reading Series.. “I would like to thank God, my family, WRIC church and the Houston Theater community.”

Product Reveal

Next up, John Minigan has a very short play about the confluence of the gun rights activism and Christianity in America.  Let’s see what “christians NRA” gets us on Google:

Screen Shot 2019-09-19 at 9.12.46 AM
Oh.

It even got us an Israeli site. Despite the whole “turn the other cheek” thing and the whole “don’t kill people” thing in the Bible, there’s a definite connection between Christian (White) Nationalists and boners for guns.

6LN4PMD7RGGXU2EW7RRHOMVQ5A
Meet Holly, Christian mother of three. At least it’s not a Confederate flag. (?)

Texas’ resident dipshit Lt. Governor of Texas Dan Patrick even claimed the recent massacres in El Paso and Dayton were “moral failings”  [yeah, comitting a mass-murder would qualify as a moral failing. Thanks, Dan] and called for prayer in school. (Dude really said that)

Mr. Minigan’s play Product Reveal takes down this bizarre relationship:

Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 11.09.58 AMScreen Shot 2019-09-01 at 11.10.12 AMScreen Shot 2019-09-01 at 11.10.23 AMScreen Shot 2019-09-01 at 11.10.35 AM

The play, while satiric, is not far off reality. What’s so weird is just the other day, fashion brand Bstroy had their own product reveal. Let’s see what they revealed:

d613a08d-73c9-4b94-b1c0-00598ecb2e59-THUMBNAIL_PHOTO
Oh, hoodies based on school massacres with their very own bullet holes. People will love this! (Photo by Michael Kusumadjaja)
Screen Shot 2019-09-19 at 9.45.46 AM
Wait, so people DON’T like school massacre hoodies? Who’d a thunk it? (Photo: Michael Kusumadjaja)

Every bit as stupid as the play’s product reveal, we are living in our own surrealistically violent post-modern satire. Sigh.

Minigan Headshot 2 2019

John Minigan is a 2019-2020 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow in Dramatic Writing. His plays have been developed with the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Portland Stage Company, New Repertory Theater, the New American Playwrights Project, and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Queen of Sad Mischance is a 2019 Gold Prize winner of the Clauder Competition and a 2018 O’Neill Finalist. Noir Hamlet—a Boston Globe Critics’ Pick, EDGEMedia Best of Boston Theater 2018 selection, and 2019 Elliot Norton nominee for Outstanding New Script—was produced at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His work has been included in the Best American Short Plays, Best Ten-Minute Short Plays, and New England New Plays anthologies. He is past winner of the Nantucket Short Play Contest, the Rover Dramawerks Competition, the Longwood 0-60 Contest, Seoul Players Contest, and the KNOCK International Short Play Competition. John is a Dramatists Guild Ambassador for Eastern New England. Please visit johnminigan.com.

Our playwrights have been kind enough to answer some questions about their craft. The same questions were posed to each of them. I’ve organized their answers this way to show the diversity of thought amongst people whose goals are similar.
  1. How did you start playwriting?

Burbano: I started writing because good, challenging roles for Latina women could be counted on one hand and I aimed to change that.

Levine: I was at Carnegie-Mellon University as an Acting Major.  During my freshman year they announced they were starting up an Undergraduate Playwriting Program.  It seemed less crazy than acting.  I applied for and got into it.  So I got into the CMU Drama Department twice!

Jones: It was 1995, I was volunteering at a youth arts ministry and I was responsible for looking for material. What I read was least to be desired. So I desired to write the play myself. I’ve been writing ever since.

Minigan: I no longer remember the source of the quote, but I agree with it: “A playwright is a poet who got lonely.” I was a math teacher in a private school, writing poetry and a little fiction, and the drama teacher asked if I wanted to help with his program. Seemed like a good idea, and I quickly became much more interested in theater (writing, directing, acting, designing) than teaching math. The collaborative, fluid, and public nature of the work continues inspire me in ways poetry didn’t quite do.

  1. What are your influences?

Burbano: Women’s stories, especially unknown history. Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard, Sarah RuhlOctavio Solis, José Cruz Gonzáles

Levine: For short plays, David Ives most definitely.  He’s the master of the short play.  For playwriting in general, I’d have to say Neil Simon, Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn.

Jones: I’m a musical theatre fan. I love the songwriting of Pasek/Paul, Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown & the writing team of Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty. I really love Lynn Ahrens as a lyricist & Librettist. It’s very clever & moving.

Minigan: I’ve been really shaped by my experiences working with students in 31 years running a high school theater program. Theater kids are passionate, clear, committed, and usually awesome. And working with lots of great teachers, writers, directors, and dramaturgs has influenced me (Kevin Coleman, Bridget O’Leary, Miranda Jonte, Dan Burson, and more). In terms of the craft of writing, my influences are pretty eclectic: Paula Vogel, August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, Brecht, Pirandello, Beckett, George S. Kaufman.

  1. What is your most memorable production and why?

Burbano: I loved “Ghosts of Bogota” in staged reading at Actors Theatre of Charlotte. It was vicious and funny and UNSENTIMENTAL!  My biggest pet peeve is my work is played too seriously.

Levine: In 2005, I got to go to Curitiba, Brazil to see an entire evening of my plays — in Portuguese!  It was an incredible experience.

Jones: I wrote my first musical Freedom Quilt back in 1999. I had the opportunity to have the show workshopped for a young performers showcase at the Ensemble Theatre. What touched me was how they treated me like a Rock Star when I arrived. I’ll never forget that.

Minigan: I think maybe the 2014 NY Fringe Festival production of Breaking the Shakespeare Code because it was such a rush to have my first full-length NYC production be sold-out and well-reviewed, and because it was my first time being produced by Hey Jonte!, a production company I LOVE working with and which I’ve now worked with maybe five times. Also up there was this summer’s Edinburgh Festival production of Noir Hamlet, because I was brought in to be more than the playwright—I was production manager, lighting designer, and on-stage/in-character crew member. It was amazing to feel fully a member of a professional performing company. I don’t often feel that way as the writer.

  1. What is your funniest theatre story?

Levine: I once accidentally sent the same group of short plays to a theater twice.  The first time they rejected it, the second time they accepted it.  The first time they rejected it because they were a theater that did edgy plays — and these plays were not edgy.   By the time I sent it the second time, they were sick of doing edgy plays and wanted to do something fun.  My second submission of the plays happened to arrive at just the right moment.  Timing is everything. 

Jones: I substituted for a role from my musical Liberators because the actor was sick. I accidentally sang the old lyrics of a song that me & my composer insisted we cut out. I totally forgot. Nobody noticed but everyone in the cast was laughing.

Minigan: This summer, while “hawking” my Edinburgh Fringe show on a sidewalk, speaking to any and all passers-by and trying to get them to take a flyer advertising the show, one passer-by yelled at me, “Stop talking to the wall!” It’s one of the biggest laugh lines in the play—clearly the guy had seen the show and found the perfect place to use my line.

  1. What are your writing habits like?

Burbano: I clean the house and write in spurts. I usually only get 2 or 3 pages done a day.

Levine: Terrible.  I have no time to write, and have to squeeze it in here and there.

Jones: I Must have four things . A. Coffee, B. Encyclopedia Britannica, C. Thesaurus & D. Show tunes. Lots of Show tunes.

Minigan: I’ve gone from two-month-a-year playwright while I was teaching to full-time playwright since I retired last summer. I write pretty much every day, usually in the morning, for at least two hours, and sometimes return later after clearing my head. I think I work best on paper—either writing new stuff with pen and legal pads or revising in the margins of a printed script. I revise a lot. If it’s not at least draft 15, it can’t be ready.

  1. What advice do you have for new playwrights?

Burbano: As my great mentor José Cruz Gonzélez says, “Dare to suck!”

Levine: Read lots of plays.  Go see lots of plays.  Have your work read by actors while you sit and listen.  Learn how to be objective about your work (easier said then done).  And edit out anything you possibly can.

Jones: Keep on writing & keep on making mistakes. Once you learn from those mistakes, keep on writing again until you have a draft script you are proud of.

Minigan: Finish the first draft. Don’t overthink it. No one (other than you) cares if it’s any good. It’ll be easier to make it good later when you’re not having to invent the whole thing.

  1. Who are some other writers you should get more attention?

Burbano: José Cruz Gonzélez, Monica Sanchez, Matthew Paul Olmos, Elizabeth Szekeresh

Levine: Babs Lindsay, Rich Orloff, Alex Dremann and Patrick Gabridge.

Jones: Local Houston writers like Michael Weems, Denise O’Neal, Crystal Rae, Nicholas Garelick, Fernando Dovalina & Donna Latham. Why go to NYC when there is great talent in The Lone Star State?

Minigan: Just off the top of my head: Miranda Jonte is a fierce, clear writer with a unique, smart voice. Emma Goldman-Sherman is brave, passionate, and powerful. Patrick Gabridge’s approach to writing historical pieces that illuminate the present is amazing. Greg Lam’s ability to use sci-fi to write so clearly about who and where we are is also inspiring. And this guy, Bryan Stubbles. Maybe you know him? Incredibly imaginative work — always outside the box.

  1. What are common themes in your work?

Burbano: Feminism, and the normalization (i.e. seeing us as just people) of latinx women.

Levine: Someone once said my plays are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.  I like that.

Jones: My themes always comes back to Perseverance , Redemption & Second Chances. Being a follower of Christ, it’s my duty to present positive stories of how you can mess up but still get back up again. I hope my audiences get the message that you should never give up, even when the chips are down.

Minigan: Almost all of my plays, in one way or another, are about characters who choose to (or are forced to) abandon certainty and move into the unfamiliar. I think I’m focused on getting away from the answers we accept and, instead, deepening the questions we ask.

  1. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

Burbano: That you have to be your own fiercest advocate and that NO ONE is going to give you anything just because you have talent. 

Levine: Have your work read to you!  It’s so important to hear your plays out loud.

Jones: Playwriting is hard!

Minigan: Any success you have is going to take a helluva long time. So find people you love to work with and try to work with them as much as you can. And enjoy that work, on whatever ‘scale’ it happens to be. It’s more meaningful than any accolades. And support new work by your fellow writers. The rising new play tide raises all boats.

  1. What do you have coming up soon? 

Burbano: Ghosts of Bogota at Alter Theatre, and Actors Theatre of Charlotte. Hoping to turn that into a rolling world premiere with NNPN.

Levine: I have several works coming up in Asphalt Jungle Shorts, a festival of plays where the audience walks around Kitchener, Ontario, and encounters the plays on the street.  And the New Short Play Festival in New York City is doing four of my short plays!

Jones: I have three musicals coming to workshop in 2020 where I wrote lyrics & Book. It’s Three Crosses with Composer Joshua Davis L. I have War Letters with Co-Lyricist & Composer Dan Markosian & Please Come Home for Christmas with Co-Lyricist & Composer Gary Sironen.

Minigan: I’m continuing to try to get a production of Queen of Sad Mischance. It’s had a lot of national and regional recognition – and twelve readings or workshops so far – but nobody’s biting yet. Also pursuing leads on a third and also a fourth production of my comedy Noir Hamlet. Fingers crossed. And I’ve now got four new drafts of full-lengths that need MUCH revision. Lots of writing ahead.

  1. What compelled you to write plays about gun violence?

Burbano: Because it’s the single most important topic in our country. We martyr babies because of the obsession with weapons of death.

Levine: The insane number of mass shootings we have in this country. 

Jones: I love watching CNN every morning and I get my daily fill of how the second amendment is being misused and witnessing the constant death toll of our citizens at the hands of Domestic Terrorists.

Minigan: Product Reveal was written in pure anger – sort of giving the middle finger to the folks who conflate religion and gun culture/second amendment and talk about the “God-given” right to carry weapons of war into the grocery store. I’ve written two short pieces about gun violence, this and Velas Votivas, and am in super early stages of researching a piece that looks like it’ll turn into a play about religious cults and gun violence.

  1. What responses have you seen to your gun violence plays?

Burbano: Death’s Defeat has been a powerful reminder to people about how young and innocent  the victims are. I’ve not gotten any pushback. Yet.

Levine: I unfortunately have not been able to attend any of the productions of these plays yet.  I’d love to see the response.

Jones: I know it makes people think and it gets under your skin a little. But it’s a scratch that needs to be itched because gun violence has been irritating our country since its foundation.

Minigan: I love that one reader on the New Play Exchange called this play “the manifestation of the American contradiction.” That seems completely right. I’ve been moved by the responses folks have had (as readers, actors, and audience members) to Velas Votivas, too – a play that’s part of the #CodeRedPlaywrights project memorializing victims of gun violence.

  1. What advice would you give a playwright who wants to be a catalyst for change? 

Burbano: Write with your feelings, anger, righteousness. And don’t be afraid to piss people off.

Levine: Don’t just preach to the choir.We have to reach the people who disagree with us.

Jones: Don’t be afraid to take the responsibility to put others to task when they are not stepping up! Life is too short just to live life trivially. Our words. Our dreams. And our actions must have weight. Just like original thoughts & black lives, they matter too.

Minigan: Be honest and bold in what you write and you will inspire those who agree with you and anger those who don’t. Be sneaky and sly and maybe you’ll get those who don’t agree with you on your side. It’s probably important to do both of those things.

  1. Personally, what role should guns play in America, if any? 

Burbano: They should be melted down and turned into sculpture. Owning a gun is something only frightened people do, and I would rather live with joy. 

Levine: We should have a few handy in case the British invade again.  Other than that…

Jones: I believe that every American should have the right to protect themselves. I come from a family of hunters & fisherman. However, we don’t need assault weapons to do so. The USA needs responsible Gun Reform & background checks for responsible gun ownership. If not, we won’t survive as a Republic.

Minigan: You like the second amendment? Buy a musket.

Hopefully through these writers’ work, you can see how artists can use their voice for advocacy.

While you’re with us, please check out our Unknown Playwrights (living & dead), Monologue Mondays and Theatre Horror Stories.

Until next time…

raised-fist_270a

 

Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Yolanda Mendiveles

Yolanda-e1457973148200
Our bilingual playwriting hero, Yolanda Mendiveles!!!

This week brings us to Yolanda Mendiveles, a playwright from southern California who has fashioned a wonderful play, Blanca Nieves – which is the protagonist’s name and means “Snow White” in Spanish.

original
Wrong Snow White.
dtir8ulu0aa87ne.jpg-large
The REAL Blanca Nieves.

Blanca Nieves takes us back to Los Angeles in 1955. Blanca Nieves‘ world has come undone after losing her spouse Jesús and trying to make ends meet as a widowed mother with children, several of whom aren’t interested in the “old” ways – and Christmas is right around the corner — and all of this is imbued with Aztec mythology.

With a synopsis like that, why isn’t this on Broadway? Or Off-Broadway? Or even Off-Off Broadway?

And before you think “Oh no, not another Christmas play” this IS another Christmas play – but it’s actually one I would pay money to see.

Blanca is struggling and we know this because Jimmy the Landlord shows up:

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.22.04 am

In this context, “cabron” basically means “jerk” and that’s kinda what he is here. Especially when you find out…

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.22.48 am

Blanca’s so nice she’s making Yerba Buena for him. If you don’t know about Yerba Buena, let the US Forest Service explain it for ya:

“The leaves of this wildflower may be used to make a tea. It also figures prominently in local folk medicine: Mexican, Native, and European Americans have and continue to use it medicinally.”

That’s like the whitest explanation of anything anywhere.

50292184_228348654771544_1378718797329858560_n
Pretty happenin’ poster.  Courtesy Diana Burbano.

Like all mothers in 1955, Blanca is very understanding:

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.23.50 am

Blanca makes Yerba Buena for the landlord…and have you noticed the English mixed with Spanish? That is called code-switching and it’s a real thing among bilingual or multilingual people. The play is full of code-switching, as is real-life for the author.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.29.35 am

I really like Natividad – the clutch is shot and she’s loaning Blanca a ten AND she’s charging 2 bucks a burrito to the gringos- which in 1955

screen shot 2019-01-29 at 1.38.37 pm

If your gringo friends are paying 19 bucks for a burrito, they certainly got more dollars than sense…maybe Blanca can hit them up for rent money.

Esther is Blanca’s niece and god-daughter and Luz is Blanca’s daughter.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.52.47 am

Her daughters love mayonnaise. Time to disown them.  screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.55.24 am

huevona = idiot

Wow, Luz REALLY is Americanized…(sigh)

Marta is Blanca’s other daughter. And she’s quick with the insults…

Loco Joe really isn’t as crazy as his name implies.

50291322_2181711562090941_4195902535287963648_n
Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble working hard on Blanca Nieves. Our hero playwright Yolanda Mendiveles is in there, too. Thanks to playwright Diana Burbano.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 8.16.29 am

Teeheehee.

50334659_1653377691430739_7745598662180339712_n
The cast of Blanca Nieves, courtesy of Diana Burbano.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.35.48 am

The first time I read this script, I was eating oatmeal, so it was funny when I saw avena mentioned, because if there’s something better than regular oatmeal, it’s avena, a Mexican variation on oatmeal. Learn how to make it below:

 

What is Esther’s problem? Ham and eggs vs. avena??? Avena wins, every time.

Just don’t tell Esther about Eggs Benedict.

And again, see what a service Blanca is to the community?

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.40.00 amscreen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.43.05 am

You may notice some red every now and again – that’s the joy of reading a working draft. Marta acts up —

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 8.51.20 am

Marta wasn’t acting up, she was defending herself and her honor. Because in LA, 1955 was a hard time to be Chicana – America has a long history with discrimination against folks like Blanca and Raquel…

Things from that era would’ve included:

Chicana women were forcibly sterilized by the state of California, as early as 1909 and not really ending until 1979.

The people who made this map of LA in 1939 were complete jerks. This was a way for LA to remain unoffically segregated.

losangelesholc-med

The red equalled “4th Class” AKA not white.

Makers of said map had this to say about the inhabitants:

For example, one neighborhood in the L.A. suburb of Claremont (C55, C56) received a C rather than D rating since it contained a “few better class Mexicans.” The San Gabriel Valley Wash community, more heavily Mexican-American, received no such consideration as one assessor described it as populated by “goats, rabbits, and dark skinned babies.” Most might have been native-born, but too many were still “’peon Mexicans” and constitut[ed] a distinctly subversive racial influence.”In her own research, L.A. historian Laura Redford of Scripps College, notes that while Japanese and African-Americans were singled out, too, the language describing Mexican-Americans in the Los Angeles area proved particularly “painful” and “awful”.

Then there was the massive deportation of both Mexicans and Mexican-Americans during The Depression. The numbers deported range from 400,000-2,000,000.

The Zoot Suit Riots and Sleepy Lagoon Murder case are relatively well-known.

Not all these things were happening right in 1955, but they woud’ve been in living memory for the adults in the play, thus influencing their choices and actions.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 8.55.49 am

I’m not crying. You’re We’re Okay, fine I might be thinking about crying. Not only does Blanca have to raise a family on her own, she and her children face a society that would rather they not exist. Not your average Christmas play.

And the “dirty Mexican” thing? Has not changed one bit.

What’s a mom to do when her children endure white racism at school?

Tell them Aztec legends.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 9.07.02 am

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 9.07.17 amscreen shot 2019-01-25 at 9.07.33 am

1367
Suddenly I’m angry at my 4th grade teacher for making me do a mythology project on Perseus. Why not Queztalcoatl????
308_02_2
Tezcatlipoca, AKA God of the Month.

You can learn more about Aztlán here.

But the story isn’t just two badass gods doing badass things…

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 9.07.50 am

Fondo-anime
This image of the lovers comes ironically from a high school production of the story.

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 9.08.32 amscreen shot 2019-01-25 at 9.08.49 amscreen shot 2019-01-25 at 9.09.12 am

 

And thus begins the tale of star-crossed lovers – and like most of these tales it tends to end tragically . However in Blanca Nieves’ telling, there is a happy ending…

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 1.14.06 PM

Let’s dissect the above.

  1. Happy ending? Check.
  2. Lovers with volcanoes named after them? Check.
popocatepetl-e-iztaccihuatl-2-grandes-maravillas-en-mexico
Our mythological lovers, in volcano form.

3. Empanadas? Check.

unnamed
Chorizo and cheese empanadas.

4. Champurrado? Check.

champurrado9A
Make your own champurrado.

In the final scene, everything comes together –

Loco Joe has helped unload Christmas trees that day and brought an extra one for the family.

He also asks Luz to the Winter Ball and she says “yes.”

This whole time, one more stressor for Blanca has been Mrs. Tanaka, a social worker who has observed the family – she has some news for Blanca.

Ricky invites Raquel to the Winter Ball and she accepts.

But Raquel doesn’t have high heels for the dance – but that’s OK because Esther bought her some.

And Marta and Lupito have been running errands for Mrs. Peterson, who will lend Raquel her jewelry as payment.

And Jimmy the Landlord…sigh.

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 1.45.55 PM

Jimmy the Landlord is like the only bigoted white person to ever learn the error of his or her ways. Must be something in that Yerba Buena.

He will fix their toilet for free and lower their rent. Meanwhile, Natividad has some news…

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 1.50.57 PM

This helps…

la-1544655514-yzc1jxk7fm-snap-image-1
And the baby…via the LA Times.

And at the end everyone is treated to champurrado and empanadas – truly the best ending to any Christmas Eve ever –

[note to future producers of the show: please share champurrado and empanadas with audience, too]

The play ends with the singing of Christmas carols including that favorite…Feliz Navidad.

And here are the cast of a reading singing it!!!

 

 

A rcent staged reading of the play got a stellar review in the LA Times.

In addition to Blanca Nieves, Mendiveles has written several short plays including The Twelfth of Never and Consulting Spirit. This is her reading from Consulting Spirit and talking about her bilingual writing –

And she has given interviews to other theatre enthusiasts…

 

Earlier I rhetorically asked why isn’t this even on Off-Off Broadway??? Well, American theatre has a dirty little secret – it’s not really a secret to those who work in theatre in the US, but could be to other people.

According to the Dramatist Guild of America’s recent study, plays by people of color and especially by women of color are rarely produced. I mentioned my reservations before about this survey, namely that it is too narrow and includes a theatre that shouldn’t be allowed to exist. I believe the statistics to be worse than what the DGA reported. But let’s take a look:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.41.52 AM
FYI women make up slightly over half the US population.
Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.41.40 AM
FYI white people make up about 60% of America.
Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.40.20 AM
The figure on the right is current. FYI women of color make up just over 20% of the US population.

While not related specifically to the play at hand, this statistic shows how inbreedingly insular American theatre can be:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.41.14 AM
Anti-foreigner much? Ironically the only theatre category where men and women are equal. I know nothing!

All the DGA’s stats can be found here.

While I was writing this, an Indonesian friend of mine [who used to work in statistics research] said that it wasn’t right to compare these percentages to the general US population – that they should be compared to the number of playwrights writing. I understand that argument, but I feel it’s too limited in scope.

American theatre, by producing work by (and mostly for) white males, seals off a portion of American life to other Americans (women and people of color) who may have something amazing to contribute to American theatre but are discouraged by the unbearable mayonnaise-like whiteness of US theatre culture. I see many potential theatremakers being dissuaded even before they start and that would lower the number of playwrights to begin with, which is why we should compare the US population to the playwrights produced…

It’s OK if you disagree. You can write your own blog about it.

Back to Yolanda Mendiveles, who is working near LA. LA, the city with the Mexican-Italian-Russian Jewish American mayor who calls himself a kosher burrito – let’s check out LA..

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.39.38 AM
Non-Hispanic whites make up around 30% of LA’s population, but you wouldn’t know it to look at their limp little theatre scene.

Never mind that Latinx actors make up 2% of principal roles in US theatre…

Soooo Ms. Mendiveles has her work cut out for her. But this doesn’t stop her one bit.

She is a licensed massage therapist by trade and came to the world of playwriting at the age of 52 and has been going strong for 20 years. In fact, I predict she will make it another 20 years at least. She really is an inspiration for anyone who wants to write or anyone who thinks they are starting “late” by society’s standards.

I want to also point out how positive her writing is and also just how positive she was helping me on this blog. In fact, she took the time to answer some questions!!!

How did you start playwriting?

The idea of writing my mother’s and father’s story began after my mother died in 1998.  My father had been deceased since 1958 and she kept his memory alive for us and her unfailing love for him. My mother never remarried although she did have male suitors who wanted to marry after my father died.

I was on my way to Durango, Colorado in 1999 when the idea came to me as a play and I stopped in Phoenix, Arizona to write down the ideas that had come to me and even sketched out some of the scenes. From that date on I have been taking classes in writing and playwriting.

What are your influences?

Yolanda: My influences I can say were my childhood remembrances of musicals with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney; Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire; Shirley Temple. I did not attend stage productions when I was younger. 

What is your most memorable production and why?

My most memorable production was when I joined Casa 0101, a bilingual theater of Spanish and English persuasion. Our production was in 2015. I think and talk in bilingual terms as does my family and friends. The group called Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme writing group from Casa 0101 we had our works presented on stage for our Bilingual community and we were a hit. The reason we were a hit was because the stories told were stories the audience could relate to, the Spanish and English languages used in the stories the audience could relate to, the actors were actors that looked like the audience and they could connect with the characters as well as the actors. Plus Women’s plays are more honest and direct. My family and friends were so “PROUD” and it made them very happy. My family and friends had a wonderful experience.

What is your least memorable production and why?

I was writing a play about being a massage therapist and how the police department considers massage therapy illegitimate and a front for illegal sexual activity.  I am a massage therapist and have very high ethical standards and really resent the implication that my healing skills are construed this way. We have been fighting long and hard to get a state license and regulations that would fit our organization that would work for the police department only to find the police department resistant to our ideas. So I wrote a play about it and wanted it to be a musical but the reading did not go well. I need to rewrite it.

What’s your funniest theatre story?

My funniest theatre story was when I was the assistant stage manager for Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme and I was moving the props on stage ( a very small stage) and as I was placing a prop at the front of the stage as I looked up my youngest sister was sitting right in the front row and we made eye contact. She was surprised to see her playwright sister doing the heavy lifting and not being the proper playwright she imagined.

What are your writing habits like?

To write I need two days-one day is to do all the running around I need to do, gathering the groceries I will need for the weekend and taking care of things so I do not need to go out the door and taking care of things I need to do around the house. The next day I can stay in my pajamas and write all day and not be interrupted.

What advice do you have for new playwrights?

I would advise new playwrights to join a group of writers or a theater or attend a school that has a strong theatrical community so that you can create your network and help and get help along the artistic journey. 

Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?

I think all writers should get attention, but presently women have great stories that need to be told from their perspective. Culture is very important and needs to be taken into consideration therefore; people of different cultures need to have their stories told. 

What are common themes in your work?

I write from experience of what I have learned and know to be true for myself. I write about life situations and characters in my life. There is as lot of material there.

What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

Yolanda: I started out writing as an older person and I would say to the young writers to go to school to learn the craft of writing.  All writers should write from the heart not to write because you are going to sell a screenplay or play to make lots of money.  A playwright’s journey is different from a screenwriter’s journey. Both are fulfilling in their own way but it is a journey and not a quick get rich scheme.

Can you please tell us about the development of Blanca Nieves’ Christmas and how it came to have a reading at Breath of Fire?

Blanca Nieves’ Christmas play came to me back in 2009 which is a remembrance of mine and my family’s. My father died when I was 11 years old and my mother was a widow and had us seven (7) children to raise on her own. She was receiving very little money from the government (Widow’s pension) and she cooked, washed and ironed, and babysat other people’s children to bring in more income. Money was worth a lot back in the 50’s, a penny was worth something and you could buy a penny candy unlike in today’s economy.  In the 50’s money was hard earned as well and the money coming in had to pay for the basics so there was little to no money for extras.  This was the same for our neighbors as we all struggled but because it was the same for everyone we made the most of what we did have as did our friends and neighbors. 

I had written the story and in 2010 I had a reading and then it got left on a shelf, then in 2015 I presented it again but because I have so many characters in it- it was rejected. I think and write for large casts- I think I do this because I come from a large family and a very large extended family and my community is very large. So it is hard for me to write a two person play or a four person play.

I joined Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble three years ago and have been writing with them when last year we needed to raise $15,000 for the 2019 year to keep our organization going. We had a fundraiser and only raided $8,222.00 dollars and so I suggested we put on my Christmas Play to raise more money and that is how we had a reading of my play on December 9th 2018.

Your writing seems very autobiographical and personal. What have been some of the reactions of your family and friends when they see these stories up on the stage?

My family and friends have been elated to see my plays. It has brought pride to them and something positive to see and talk about. As opposed to all the negative things that are said about my culture and the people who look like me.

I loved the Popocatepetl and Iztacchihuatl love story. At what point in the writing/preparation did you decide that it must be in the play?

I have mentioned earlier that culture has a lot to do with my writing and the picture of  Popocatepetl  and Iztacchihuatl were on a calendar that hung in our dining room. It is a classic picture that most people of Mexican decent know and love and have in their home. It was a natural outcome to put that story in the Christmas play. Plus I wanted to remind people that we have a rich cultural heritage and rich ancestry and should be proud of it. 

Two part question. What obstacles have you seen in getting bilingual plays produced in America and how can we get more bilingual plays on American (and possible world) stages?

The general American society is very lazy to learn another language although I do know many people who love the language and culture who are not of Mexican descent. When I was taking writing classes and a teacher or student would say to me about my script, “I stopped reading it when I got to the Spanish because I didn’t know what it said and it took me out of the story.” Just one word or a sentence would stop the person from reading further and I would stop going to the class.

I have attended workshops, town hall meetings about plays and they say about Bilingual or Spanish language themed plays, “But our subscribers (who are older Anglo Saxons) do not or would not pay to see a Bilingual or Spanish play. Or that I had too many characters and the costs would be so huge just to pay the actors.”

Here in California the stage is overshadowed by the film industry and that is another issue. Since theater is lower on the entertainment list of entertainment goers, Latina Theater is even lower on the theater list of lists.

The need and the cultural changes that the US. Is undergoing within time Latina theater and theater in general will also change and become more accessible.

What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question. 

I’d like to be asked, “How much money do you need Yolanda to put on your production of Blanca Nieves’ Christmas with the number of cast you require to fully tell this story?”

Thank you Bryan very much for this opportunity.

I sincerely wish you continued success in your endeavors.

—————————————————————————————————

Unknown
Aww, shucks.

I told you she was positive. Wow – Thank you, Yolanda.

Here’s all our other playwrights.

Here are some links related to Ms. Mendiveles and her work:

Her website.

Her other job (massage therapist).

LA Times article.

A short musical she wrote.

A scene from a screenplay.

Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble (you should support them)