(Amparo Garcia-Crow’s play The Bonobos is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. The same interview questions from Caridad Svich have been sent to each playwright taking part in the scheme. This post was originally shared on the NoPassport blog. After you read the interview, sign up to participate in the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme!)
CARIDAD SVICH: A false (I think) divide has been erected in some art-making circles between what is called “devised” work and “text-based or text-driven” work. This divide (or shall we call it a “gap?”) has served to alienate makers of text-driven work for live performance in the field and in academia. In effect, certain battle grounds have formed that encourage oppositional thinking about this, so that we have now, in many ways, the devisers on one side of the field and the text-makers on the other. Devisers are seen as being on trend, text-makers are seen as behind the times. it is exactly this kind of oppositional thinking that can be so damaging not only to those of us making art but those on the “outside” perceiving what is happening in art. (More on that later). How do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?
AMPARO GARCIA-CROW: What others might experience as a gap for me is a bridge since I enjoy both sides and for different reasons. As a writer and director, text-based is the grist for the mill and as a performer/director–devised work is the free for all. Both are satisfying and inspiring and for different reasons.
CS: How do you negotiate the very real diving lines that get drawn, quite arbitrarily, and quite often, in our field in regard to art-making and its role in culture?
AGC: I do not allow the perceived (and largely manufactured) division to be corrosive. I adapt accordingly to stay creative and to stay active.
CS: As a playwright, how do you devise your own process? Dramatic project (life goals as artist)? And how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists?
AGC: Process is defined by what I am doing at the time. Because I am inter-disciplinary, I have more than one plate spinning at the same time. The life goals then are what supports my living healthfully and creatively. And when I can be engaged locally and in any significant global dialogue with citizens and artists, I thrive. I am inspired by the dialogue and grateful for whatever work inspires it.
CS: And are there lessons you’ve learned you wish to impart to fellows in the field and elsewhere? Or lessons you are still learning that impact the kind of work you make or think about making?
AGC: Being a theatre artist is my mindful practice. It is what keeps me engaged, inspired and in good attention and presence with what is my daily Life. Like the Magritte painting of the apple and his text: THIS IS NOT AN APPLE, I remain aware that TALKING about my art is not doing it. However, in refining HOW I talk about my art, my art benefits. My rendering of “the apple” is the art. Everything I do, think, say can be art full. Having that kind of curiosity keeps me wild-eyed and fascinated with the mundane because inevitably the next line, the next character or story comes from the next conversation or from whatever table I sit at the restaurant when I lean back and overhear the perfect strangers’ conversation going on behind me. I can hardly wait to discover what I did not plan for but which births the next big (and hopefully great) idea.
CS: when you see/hear/read the phrase “US Latin@,” what does it make you think of?
AGC: Family. Roots. Passion. The Spanish language and how I butcher it. And how I miss it and want to see “it all”–all things Latin around me. I want more and in all shapes and colors. And ever since attending the Latino Commons Convening in Boston, I miss the community I reconnected with there and miss them. It was a utopia of sorts that re-membered all that is Latin in me.
CS: What is your relationship to being of or part of (or not) a US Latin@ context in your art-making or thinking about art?
AGC: I have felt a real love for wanting to tell what is “US Latin@” as I have experienced it as Mexican American woman from South Texas. And when I veer off the track and get interested in non-Latin subjects, it’s still the deepest part of the Latin in me that tells it.
CS: As a maker of text for live performance, in what ways are you challenging or calling into question the nature of embodied speech and action when you write a given play or collaborate with fellow artists?
AGC: I love that speech and action is the most exciting for me when it is deeply embodied in the actor’s physical body. I love very expressive physicality on the stage. I like to push the boundaries of what is realistic in a very pedestrian way so that it is on one hand recognizable but on the other hand, sublime. I also love playing with the cinematic image and how visual the internet’s ways have altered our brains and the way in which we perceive information now. I am curious to see how the marriage of all of these elements succeeds (or not) to create that moment that ‘awes” us in the way that only poetry can–but in this case, in motion. And/or through the use of sound and music combined to support the actor’s almost acrobatic presence.
CS: Casting is a tough and thorny aspect of our art and business. I think we all know plenty of terrific actors who wait and wait for that one or two gigs every year that ask for their “type” to be cast. I am personally of the mind that the more expansive casting can be, especially in theatre, which is, after all, not a photographically representational art form but an abstract one in its essence, the richer an audience’s understanding of the form can be. But I know that this may not be everyone’s p.o.v. understandably. what do you do when someone says to you “we don’t have culturally specific actors in my town, so we can’t even look at your play, even if we were to deeply admire or want to put this story on stage?’
AGC: I attempt to educate them about what appears to be their ‘unquestioned’ beliefs and short-sightedness in ways that they can hear it and not feel attacked. And if I succeed and if they listen, I begin a new collaboration and/or friendship. Otherwise I know immediately that it is not a match. And go on to the next possibility.
CS: What do you say to potential collaborators and casting directors about the nature of how to cast your show and how casting can carry its own political power?
AGC: I say everything I can to make the intended reality as written on paper a possibility. And/or argue for the complete opposite. For example, in my piece STRIP, the musical I am currently in development with, it is purposefully meant to push every boundary about race and gender by playfully presenting three famous icons in that wildly Caryl Churchill CLOUD NINE kind of way–meaning the subject is questioning the ideas about what it takes to ‘strip’ ourselves of our previously taboo notions about obscenity. Lenny Bruce is a character in this piece, and because historically he was arrested for saying the ‘f’ word, he argued many times: “I’m saying it, not DOING it”—there’s a big difference. The casting is similar. We know Lenny wasn’t a woman but in this piece there are three of them. So why not make one of them everything he wasn’t? Including Mexican. And maybe even a woman. (Since he cross-dressed in the Navy)
CS: It goes without saying that we live in a multi-lingual world. Do you think our US stages (to keep the dialogue national for the moment) need reflect this? If so, how?
AGC: I think the play is the thing and if the characters are multi-lingual, make them that way and allow that to be what and who they are. Subtitles can be an interesting possibility for the stage.
CS: And in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all?
AGC: They talk the way they talk. Or the way my ear heard them talk. And if they are hybrid, they define their own aesthetics by being the most authentically rendered selves. On the page.
CS: As a writer/maker for/of live performance, what is thrilling to you still about the form – this old weird creaky thing we call theatre – and why?
AGC: Everything about live performance is thrilling! I am still so in love, like the first day I fell in love with it, I haven’t fallen out of love. And it was even love at first sight. I am so proud to be a part of its magical, spiritual life line. I admire every living and dead theatre practitioner who married it! I still have that goofy, fool for Love goose-bumpy–’I just had sex for the first time’ ‘ feel with it all. And I know, without a doubt, that it’s a match made in heaven!
CS: Much is made at theatre conferences (esp.) about where and how will we find the new audiences for the work. I think I have been hearing this for about 20 years now. And every year new marketing approaches are discussed and studies are done and surveys get passed around and so forth. Lots of data gets crunched. but there is a bottom line, I think, and you may disagree, but what I see as the bottom line is: if you change the programming, lower ticket prices, do work for free even (see, for example, Mixed Blood Theatre’s radical hospitality model), move out of the building(s), maybe just maybe that elusive “new” audience may be nurtured. But it isn’t going to happen sitting inside the building thinking about it or tweeting about it either. Okay. Wee rant over. But seriously, what ideas have you when you make work or are in the process of putting it out there about how to and ways you can create connection with your audience(S) beyond the work itself, for example?
AGC: I am proud of the fact that more than once I have found new audiences for the work I do. And I’m not greedy about it. It doesn’t have to be the multitudes. Meaning, the audiences we dream about are at heart– our next door neighbors, the mail man/woman and/or the college student that bags my groceries. It’s still about the connection we make. The invitation we extend. And then if we’re lucky they ask: ‘what’s your next project? Or do you have a mailing list?” And so our relationship begins. Wherever two or more are gathered begins the new audience for me. And we remain faithful to the other, I find. It’s not an abstraction. It’s a relationship. We often know each other’s name. And often they bring their friends. And family. And I notice, that there’s enough audience to go around! No worries that we’re going to run out of them once we find them.
CS: What’s inspiring you these days? And/or what’s troubling you these days?
AGC: I am a cheap date. So easily inspired. However, I recently bought a converter for my old floppy disks. And I am discovering old plays or unfinished work I began in the 1990s when the dinosaur computers started to crop up. The same is true for old cassettes of old original musical. I am inspired to breathe life into these projects again. Some are surprisingly worth revisiting!
What is troubling me is that I am obviously getting older if more and more friends (who are ten or twenty years older) are dying suddenly and more regularly. I am discovering that grief is something you manage as you begin to age even gracefully. I am practicing “the good cry” like yoga these days. I sometimes cry for no good reason other than what Beckett said so much better in ENDGAME:
“You are alive, there is no cure for that.”
What I do with my aliveness then is what inspires. And what I do not accomplish is what is troubling. The peace I manage to find comes from cultivating a middle ground between the two.
Amparo Garcia-Crow is a multi-disciplinary artist who acts, sings, directs and writes plays, screenplays and songs. As a playwright, Garcia-Crow has been developed at South Coast Repertory Theatre and has had world premieres Off-Broadway by the Women’s Project and INTAR, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Latino Chicago and various theaters and universities in the Southwest. Her films have premiered at SXSW and the Los Angeles International Film Festivals. Recently she was an artist in residence with NYC’s Mabou Mines developing “Strip” a new musical. Her previous musical work: “The Unknown Soldier: The New American Musical of Mexican Descent” is featured in Hector Galen’s PBS documentary: “Visiones (Visions): Latino Art and Culture” on PBS. A former James Michener Fellow, Amparo won the Larry King Playwriting Award for her play, “Cocks Have Claws and Wings to Fly and the national Mae West Festival’s “Best Female Protagonist” award for “Esmeralda Blue: La Mujer Moderna.”” As a director, Amparo has received the prestigious NEA/TCG Director’s Fellowship and was the inaugurall Program Manager for the City of Austin’s long awaited sixteen million dollar Mexican American Cultural Center. A collection of her work entitled: “Between Misery and the Sun: The South Texas Plays” is published by No Passport Press.
Caridad Svich received a 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in the theatre, a 2012 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award for GUAPA, and the 2011 American Theatre Critics Association Primus Prize for her play The House of the Spirits, based on the Isabel Allende novel. She has edited several books on theatre including Out of Silence (Eyecorner Press), Trans-Global Readings and Theatre in Crisis? (both for Manchester University Press) Divine Fire (BackStage Books), Out of the Fringe (TCG), and Conducting a Life: Reflections on the Theatre of Maria Irene Fornes (Smith & Kraus). caridadsvich.com