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Inside the violence: an interview with the playwright.

Many of your plays take place on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, but El Nogalar is the first one that takes place on the Mexican side. What inspired you to cross the border? And how was the experience different from writing plays set on the American side?


Actually, my very first play was called La Duena, and it took place in Jalisco, Mexico. But this is the first one set on that side that I've written as an adult. Chekhov is what led me to write in the north of Mexico. Chekhov is not "South Texas" to me. The class, the language, the silence of the comedy, the tragedy--all of it is very Mexican.

I wanted to use four languages: English, Spanish, Espangles and Spanglish. For the scenes that happen in Spanish (which are most of them, actually) what I tried to do was just dial up the English and dial down the Spanish. Since I was translating for an American audience, I had to use little devices, like the switching on and off of lights to mark the changing of the language. That's the kind of thing I'm sure I'm going to be playing with in this play for a while.

You've said you envision El Nogalar AS part of a trilogy of plays set on the border. What are the other two plays you're envisioning, and how does El Nogalar fit in?

This border trilogy that I'm imagining, it's not dealing with the same family or the same characters--it's just a closing in on this crime element that all of Mexico is suffering from. I'm concentrating on the border because it seems to be a hot spot.

El Nogalar focuses on the threat of this crime element--let's call it the drug cartels, though it's much more complicated than just drug cartels, because it's so threaded and interwoven now with society. The second play will be about a family that hasn't seen its son for 48 hours. Ten years ago that would just mean he stayed out partying too long, but now 48 hours of not seeing someone means something else, so the family is dealing with the fear that perhaps they have been targeted. I expect that the third play is going to be more open: It will be based on the Arabian Nights, and it is inside the anatomy of a kidnapping. Two girls who are kidnapped will stay alive by telling these kind of American pop-culture telenovela stories. So, in the trilogy, we get closer and closer to the violence until we're inside it.

When Nogalar came out, a lot of people were asking me to speak as some kind of expert on violence on the border, but I'm not. I just have a family that lives on the border. People keep asking me, "So, what is the answer? How will it get solved?" I don't know! If politicians and heads of state don't know, a little playwright's not going to know. They're not political, these plays. I mean, they are political, but they're not taking a political stand, necessarily.

Class plays a role in a lot of your work. In El Nogalar, we Ye watching a family of privilege being confronted with the limitations of their privilege, and how the nature of their power has changed.

Sure, Nogalar is about a family that came from privilege, but it's also about the maid and the former servant. This crime element is the great equalizer. Things used to affect the lower class more because they were on some sort of a front line. For years, we've been hearing about the "women of Juarez"--they are all poor, brown, young worker women who are found dismembered, raped. But now, it's every woman, every man who has to worry. Everybody is affected. There are checkpoints; there are these informal curfews when we know the capos are out, or they go to restaurants around that time. Nobody can go to the bars; that nightlife is gone. That affects the economy--and so much else.

What did filtering this particular story through Chekhov's Cherry Orchard open up for you, and how did it limit you?

The women of The Cherry Orchard have stayed with me since the first time I read it in class. These women are my tias, my cousins--I know these women. That's why there's only one man in this version of The Cherry Orchard; I adore the stories of women. Sometimes I find myself apologizing for it.

The structure of the play is kind of loyal, at the top, to The Cherry Orchard, and then after scene seven I kind of take out the seams, add some stuff. When 1 let myself go a little more, Dunia came out as a character in a different way, and now I wonder what would have happened if I had just let myself do with all the characters the same thing I did with Dunia. This was a great learning experience for me.

You've gone from creating work collectively in 50-seal storefront theatres to seeing your plays in larger theatres like the Goodman and Steppenwolf. What's been different about the experience of self-producing your work in a smaller space and what's happening for you now?

There's no better training than putting up a show for your own company and trying not to go broke. That is practical training at its best. I haven't been "in development" a lot. This has been the first year that I've had workshops and readings and stuff like that. With Teatro Luna, we had this criteria we created for ourselves: 90 minutes and the girls ail had to like it. They were blunt. They would be like, "Mm, that's stupid, that doesn't work." Nobody knew the dramaturgical way to be like, "Well, perhaps if you try out ... " So you develop, not a thick skin, but an understanding that, okay, nothing's precious. When I come in the room now to workshop, I work so fast! What Teatro Luna gave me was the swagger and courage to make broad strokes--and it's okay, you can just delete them later. I'm not a real big thinker--I'm a feeler.

The Goodman was just plain fantasy. At the same time as I was doing El Nogalar, I was directing Kara Hartzler's No Roosters in the Desert at Prop Thtr, a storefront space. My lighting designer for Roosters, Mae. Vaughey, was the assistant lighting designer to Jesse Klug for Nogalar. One day at the Goodman, Mac was like, "I need you to see something, Tanya." He took me behind the scrim and was like, "Do you see the hundreds of lights? No storefront has as many lights as this eye alone." I was in love with the images that Jesse was creating. It was amazing to sit in that tech, to get to be around it with a director's eye. The fact that we could have trees! And this was the Owen, which is the smaller of Goodman's two spaces, and it was, like, the fanciest thing to me. It was just on a bigger scale, with everything that entails.

It was different, though, because it's a lonelier process. I know most playwrights would be like, "No duh. That's just the process of play writing." But for 10 years at Teatro Luna, it was a group process. With El Nogalar, my role was done after a point. In a lot of ways, in the process of Nogalar, I spoke out too late, because I didn't know I could. Sometimes I don't know how to be in the room. I still sometimes help the stage manager, I'm like, "I'll help you setup the chairs!" She's like, "You don't need to do that."

What do you think it means to be a Chicago playwright? Is t here something that distinguishes Chicago playwrights from those in another part of the country?

You know, I'm so pro-Chicago that I have tunnel vision. I adore this town. Everybody keeps asking me if I'm going to move to New York, and I'm like, "Why?" In Chicago, I feel needed. Even if that's not true, I feel included. People in this community saw something in me, and they were like, "Let's nurture it." I don't have amazing reviews all around, but the press is often like, "This is problematic, but we can't wait to see what she does next." And the cover of Time Out Chicago--the scrappy, storefront aesthetic got me on that cover. The fact that we respect and honor the storefront--I feel like that is why I am here right now. I need to always be of both worlds. Being at the Goodman, that was like straight-up fantasyland. But even the Goodman, for the most part, is made up of a lot of storefront artists; storefront is in the veins of Chicago theatre. It feeds itself. It's a self-sustaining ecology.

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT Tanya Saracho was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, and is a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists (emeritus), a resident playwright at Teatro Vista, a Goodman Theatre Fellow at the Ellen Stone Belie Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College Chicago, an artistic associate with About Face Theatre, the founder of the N Project and co-founder and former artistic director of Teatro Luna. Her plays include Enfrascada (Clubbed Thumb Summerworks, 2011); El Nogalar, inspired by The Cherry Orchard (Goodman Theatre, 2011); an adaptation of The House on Mango Street (Steppenwolf Theatre SYA, 2009); Our Lady of the Underpass (Teatro Vista, 2009); Surface Day (Steppenwolf/CCHF, 2008); Jarred (A Hoodoo Comedy) (Teatro Luna, 2008); Kita y Fernanda (16th Street Theatre, 2008) and Ouita Mitos (Teatro Luna, 2006). Saracho is a winner of the Ofner Prize, given by Goodman Theatre; a recipient of an NEA Distinguished New Play Development Project Grant with About Face Theatre; and a 3Arts Artists

Award. Saracho is currently working on two Mellon Foundation commissions for Steppenwolf Theatre, an adaptation of a Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz play for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and a historical fiction piece about a transgendered Civil War soldier titled The Good Private for About Face Theatre. Directing/ co-directing credits include: Jarred, Lunatic(a)s, S-E-X-Oh!, The Maria Chronicles, Generic Latina, SOLO Latinas, SOLO Tu and Dejame Contarte. Tanya is also a proud Chicago actor whose voice can be heard on radio and television commercials.

ABOUT THE PLAY El Nogalar was originally commissioned by Teatro Vista in Chicago (Edward Torres, executive artistic director) and made its world professional premiere at Goodman Theatre in Chicago (Robert Falls, artistic director; Roche Schulfer, executive director). It opened on April 4, 2011. The production was directed by Cecilie D. Keenan; set design was by Brian Sidney Bembridge, costume design was by Christine Pascual, lighting design was by Jesse Klug, music composition and sound design was by Joe Cergua; the dramaturg was Kristin Leahey; the production stage manager was Rita Vreeland and the stage manager was Kimberly Osgood. The cast included Charfn Alvarez (Maite), Sandra Delgado (Valeria), Carlo Lorenzo Garcia (Lopez), Bert Matias (Fulgencio), Christina Nieves (Anita) and Yunuen Pardo (Dunia). Playwright's dedication: "This play is for Mexico. For the North."

El Nogalar, copyright [C] 2011 by Tanya Saracho. All inguiries regarding rights should be addressed to Mark Orsini, Bret Adams Ltd. Agency, 448 West 44th Street, New York NY 10036, (212) 765-5630, Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that performances of EL Nogalar are subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional, amateur, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproductions, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved. Particular emphasis is laid upon the guestion of readings, permission for which must be secured from the author's agent in writing.

Playwright and dramaturg Tanya Palmer is the director of new-play development at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.
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Title Annotation:PLAYSCRIPT; Tanya Saracho
Author:Palmer, Tanya
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Jul 1, 2011
Previous Article:Around the world in 1001 nights.
Next Article:EL NOGALAR.

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