It’s probably not a coincidence that February, the worst month of the year, becomes the busy season in Dallas theater. The post holiday hangover has passed but it’s still not spring. We need something to do, to invigorate us into leaving the couch. New works and premieres are popping up all over town and theater festival season is beginning. WaterTower Theatre is getting ready to kick off its annual Out of the Loop Festival, TECO Theatrical Productions will inaugurate a festival of plays featuring female writers, and Cara Mia Theatre Co. introduces a new play festival this year featuring three new works written by Cara Mia ensemble members. Teatro en Fuga, which means “Theater Escaping,” is a way of “fostering new work and actively adding to the Latino/and worldly canon of work,” says Cara Mia managing director and featured festival playwright Ariana Cook.
Cara Mia, despite a partnership with The Dallas Theater Center for Deferred Action, (co-written by Cara Mia Artistic Director David Lozano and DTC Director of New Play Development Lee Trull), saw a decrease in grant funding this year. Cook says this only intensifies their passion for new plays,
Cara Mia is unapologetically political and their festival featuring original plays is hoping to do more than just present new works; they are launching ideas into the theater landscape that they feel simply aren’t discussed. It is a combination of theater and activism. And despite Cara Mia’s mission to promote the voices of the Latino and Chicano communities, they aren’t stopping there. True equality will span gender parity and equity for all underrepresented voices. Cook co-wrote Where Earth Meets the Sky with Edyka Chilomé and Vanessa Mercado Taylor. Teatro en Fuga will also feature Gog and Magog: Two Clowns Trapped in Hell by Jeffrey Colangelo and Hope Endrenyi, and I Am Joaquin / Yo Soy Joaquin by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales. Through March 5, these three plays perform in repertory at the Latino Cultural Center.
We spoke with Cook about creating the play and why she isn’t waiting any longer to say what she wants to say.
How does this process work for debuting new works down the road?
Though this is a work in progress, the audience will experience a fully realized idea and message. This process has been extremely valuable in growing the piece. Once the festival closes, our work as playwrights continues. We have already made many notes on how to re-work the text and narrative in this story. It has been so very helpful to see actors shape the script. We have come across areas that work and can be built upon and areas that need re-writing. We have asked the actors as collaborators, storytellers and artists to weigh in on the world and story we have created as playwrights. Having this extended period of time and resources to not only test the script, but the design elements of the play has been incalculable to the growth of this piece.
How did you and the other playwrights develop this show?
Where Earth Meets the Sky began about a year ago when a group of women of color came together to talk about the trauma inflicted on us by our society. We delved into the actual science behind assimilation, socialization, social conditioning and identity re-contextualization. As we continued to research, study and meet, we found that we were all experiencing the effects of the reformation of identity, even if we were in different places individually. Waking up to the profundity of institutionalized racism and sexism in this country to find how deep the roots penetrate our lives is vital to this shift in all of us. As we started to write the narrative of the piece, we asked ourselves two questions: What does the reformation of identity look like and if we could choose our future, what would that look like?
What was the result of asking those questions?
Where Earth Meets the Sky engages the power of sci-fi through an unapologetic political lens. Instead of the traditional patriarchal and colonial sci-fi that dominates the genre, we have instead employed indigenous futurism as a style to tell this story and as a base for the value system we wanted to portray as a possible future ... we are able to open up conversations about our society today and how we can learn to move forward into an inclusive, non-binary, respectful culture.
This play tackles many issues that face people of color today. These themes include patriarchy, oppression, sexism, eco-violence, being written out of history, lack of representation, lack of inclusion and equity, etc.
We hope that this piece spurs conversations, thoughts and gives voice and representation to people of color. Mostly though, this process and play serves as a healing experience for all those involved as we continue on our journey to fully realize and embrace our identities.
When you speak of the trauma inflicted upon you as women do you mean specifically as Latina women? And what does that trauma mean?
I am actually not a Latina. I am biracial and my co-writers are Latina and have tracked their ancestry to Native America. We as playwrights connected on the specific trauma of being a woman of color in our society. That is not to say that our society cannot inflict trauma on white women or men of color, because it does. That is just how we connected when talking and writing. The trauma refers to the fallout of systemic racism and sexism in our country. The effects of lack of representation, the whitewashing of our cultures, being written out of history, the standards of beauty impressed upon us, the micro-aggressions we face in our everyday lives, the discrimination, the trauma of seeing the negative interactions from the police in our communities and the deaths that result from it, the endless worry I have for my family, my brother, a man of color, knowing that he is driving around and may be stopped and killed because of the color of his skin. I believe the trauma isn't figurative at all because we feel the effects of this mentally, and I also firmly believe it can manifest itself in our bodies physically.
How do you as female playwrights navigate the landscape of gender parity and equity in the arts while also seeking to promote the Latino/a voice?
It's about doing the work. We started writing this story because there is such a lack of representation of storytellers that are people of color and women of color. We didn't want to wait any longer. We also specifically wrote a story that included as many voices and brown bodies as possible. We wanted this to be a healing process as well as a place of representation and inclusion. Everyday is a struggle for parity and equity, not only in the arts, but in our daily lives. I speak for myself when I have decided to stop navigating or dancing around the problem. I am ready to push back and make room. That is what this play does, it makes room for ourselves, our stories and artists of color.
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As a playwright/activist uniquely situated in both camps, does one take precedence?
I don't think either one does. They are so intertwined. Activism is an everyday action for me. I am constantly thinking about it, working on it. It is natural that it would come out in my work, in our work. My life has become so dedicated to the message, that the plays are activism.
What does moving toward a non-binary future look like to you?
I think that future is far beyond my lifetime. When writing about a non-binary future in the play we didn't want to erase the ability for characters to define themselves as 'he' or 'she', we just wanted to write more fluidity. Our gender is physical today, but it is much more of a societal construct. It affects the way we act, dress and move through the world. It affects the way we are taught and how we are told to define our identity. In the world we have written in the play, we have explored taking out the societal pressures of gender conformity and even created a future where people have the ability to switch gender.
How do you grapple with the dichotomy of emphasizing the voice of your cultural heritage and "female-ness" while also seeking to eliminate gender as a defining quality?
Personally, I identify as a female, so I have no issue with my femininity showing through in my work. My voice is also my cultural heritage. I want to represent myself and where I come from. I cannot represent an entire culture. That is why we need more representation of all people of color, women and cultures period. So we as a national and global community can see the vast versatility of ourselves.
The defining quality of gender is a societal issue, we hope that this play can bring light to a new way of living in a community where assumptions, conditioning and assimilation are not established by blanket definitions of gender. In writing this play we wanted to create a future where identifying as female, male or gender nonconforming would be a non-issue and not carry the weight of what that societal construct means. We also wanted to create an artistic place today that represents gender nonconforming individuals onstage since they see little to no representation.