Saturday, September 20, 2008

A conversation with Tanya Saracho by Amanda Lopez

Amanda Lopez: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences so far as a playwright, and what has made it so?

Tanya Saracho: Every year keeps getting better and better. Technically as a writer, I've been enjoying rewrites more. That's something that's been quite rewarding because I feel like I'm more in control of the craft. More in control of the story that way and that's kind of exciting to me. And in the social aspect, I think I get addicted to having people come up to me after they see the show and say, "that's my story." "That's my sister up there. That's my mom." Or "oh, I feel that way about Americans too." "Eso es lo que yo pienso de los Mexicanos." It's so important for me to reflect our lives, our stories. To represent us in complicated and fully dimensional ways. It's imperative we see the riches in our culture, in our gender, but also the barnacles and the flaws. That's what makes us interesting and worth hearing about.

AL: Is there anything or anyone specific who inspires you to write?

TS: I love real people. Sitting in a waiting room, on a bus, at the airport, overhearing a conversation at a cafe- that's inspiring to me. What I mean is that it inspires me to write something down, it prompts an essence and oftentimes a character. I love listening how real people talk. I love hearing how my family talks. Well, mostly they argue, but it can become quite cathartic to write it down. To sift through it on paper. My family and friends are my ultimate source of inspiration: Con ellos tengo material para largo!

I do have heroes that I look up to, of course, my former teacher Maria Irene Fornes, Sandra Cisneros (whose classic "The House on Mango Street" I'm adapting for Steppenwolf), Zora Neale Hurston, Caryl Churchill and (my most beloved) Achy Obejas for their literary brilliance. I love artists like Frida Kahlo for how she navigated her art and the struggle with her health, that's something very close to my body. I love Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz for being complicated and so accomplished in such a dark time in our history. Marta Carrasco, the Spanish eminence who is a genius with her body; I think in another life, I'd have liked to have been as capable of the sublime with my body as she is in this lifetime.

I just realized my list only includes women. That was not on purpose by the way, but it's interesting to see who my influences have been. Very interesting to me.

AL: After seeing Kita y Fernanda, what do you hope that people will come away with?

TS: Oh, I don't know. Questions like this make me nervous sometimes because I don't think about an effect or even a message when I write. I just hope people love these women as much as I do. That they get a glimpse of what it's like to live on the border, both physical and imagined. I hope this sheds some light on the invisible people. I hope I've put at least four faces on the whole topic of immigration and that an audience realizes the whole thing is much more complicated than a bit of legislation. I don't know. I hope they snap their fingers when they hear "Los Garibaldi."

AL: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself 10 years ago, what advise would you give yourself?

TS: Become an accountant, Tanya!

It's funny, I talk to myself a lot and I write myself letters. So every so often I find written mantras and declarations to myself in this form or that. Not long ago, I found my high school yearbook while I went home to McAllen for the holidays and on the "Senior Hall of Fame" pages I read my answer to the prompt, "Where will you be in 10 years?" Well, I was very detailed with how I answered, I said: "I will be walking home in the snow from a rehearsal of my latest play, happy and satisfied." Reading it made me smile because it has actually panned out that way. Of course, back then I thought walking home in the snow was super romantic, having grown up in the desert; turns out it's not as romantic as I'd cracked it up to be, but the whole thing still made me smile. I mean... it made me smile that I was a little psychic. I AM happy and satisfied ten years later.

AL: And....Chivas o América???

TS: Chivas. We lived in Guadalajara for a time, so if I had to pick... escojeria a Las Chivas

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