(Tatiana’s play Profit is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading 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. how do deal with the positioning of your work, if at all?
TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: As humans we are always attempting to find a way to categorize ourselves, our experiences, etc. It helps us process what’s going on around us, but these categorizations are sometimes very narrow and only appropriate under certain circumstances. Devised vs. Text-driven, Latino writer vs. Writer, Woman writer vs. Writer—shouldn’t serve as a definition of the work itself; they barely define what we’re really doing when we make theater, when we write. How I deal with it depends on the context. I will push to be called a writer over a “female writer” most of the time, but context as well as intention is something I care about and always take into consideration. In short, I pick my battles.
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?
TATIANA SUAREZ-PICO: It’s hard to negotiate divides you didn’t create; in other words, it’s hard to play by someone else’s rules. How I negotiate with those divides is by staying true to what I want to say and subsequently being really deliberate about the way I want to communicate it. I go back to picking and choosing my battles— which divides are really having a tangible impact on the work, and which are so arbitrary and ridiculous that there is no need to focus on them.
CS: as a playwright, how do you devise your own process? dramatic project (life goals as artist)?
TSP: I could write about process forever, but it all just comes down to where I am, what my priorities are, in my personal life at the moment. I do spend a great deal of time thinking about my next piece of work before I delve into it, sometimes years.
CS: and how do you wish to live as artist in and with engagement in local and global dialogue with citizens and artists?
TSP: It’s easy to be engaged in dialogue with my local community; it’s in my face, I can’t ignore it. The global community is the one that takes a bit more effort. I actually wish there were more avenues for artistic exchange across continents- we’d be better off as people, and far more understanding. I am constantly engaged with the world around me, but do a great deal of reading and watching to create cultural bridges with the rest of the world.
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?
TSP: Remain open.
CS: when you see/hear/read the phrase “US Latin@,” what does it make you think of?
TSP: It makes me think of community. It’s also a word that can often seem like a mountain you have climb to get over to some, very elusive, other side.
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?
TSP: It’s good to go to a play labeled as a “Latino work” and be able to get the nuances of the work, to get all of the secrets—It’s wonderful to be a part of that community. However, when I write I don’t write with a “US Latin@” hat on; I write with my very human experiences in tow which are not always and only in relation to the place where I was born or where the census places me ethnically. That’s an incredibly and terribly narrow way of viewing any artistic endeavor, by any artist, of any ethnicity. And this is where the labels start to feel like walls closing in. We exist in a larger context.
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?
TSP: I think of all my work as a way of challenging or calling into question a series of actions. Most of the time this entails challenging myself to investigate communication as a whole.
CS: 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?’
TSP: If someone “deeply admires” the work, and they mean that, they’ll put the work on stage. I write plays with a multicultural cast in mind because that’s the world I live in. Some roles I write with a specific ethnicity in mind, and I do so deliberately. As someone who has worked as an actor for many years, putting on stage a multicultural representation of the world, is a very important and personal goal of mine. I’ve gone to the auditions, I’ve acted the plays, I’ve seen the other side and know that if a writer does not specify that a certain role can be of “X” ethnicity, many theaters just won’t consider that ethnicity at all for that role. And that’s the world we live in right now.
Some work doesn’t require culturally specific actors, and if I’ve noted that in my play, and yet a theater or producing organization tells me that they need “cultural specific actors” for those roles, it’s their own bias speaking not my play.
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?
TSP: Cast the play the way our world is: multicultural, accented, different. And, please read my “Character Description” page.
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?
TSP: Yes, of course, theater should reflect this. It is up to the writer whether it is via the inclusion of other languages in the text or allowing a variety of accents to come to play on stage. But should theater reflect our environment, local and global? Yes, of course!
CS: and in your work, how do you address multi-linguality and hybrid aesthetics, if at all?
TSP: I write about it. I write about characters who are multilingual, bilingual, with a variety of accents, and whose self-identification may be in transition. That may not be what the play is about, but it certainly comes into play when I create a character as those subtleties are what inspire me and inform me (as someone who is writing/creating a world).
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?
TSP: As an audience member: when something I see on stage takes my heart from my chest, unraveling deep-seated fears, forcing me to reflect about something, in me or outside of me. I don’t even know what it is about theater; perhaps it isn’t that we are just self-involved and are quickly drawn to self-identification, but that we are thrilled by the truth, we are addicted to seeing something real that makes us incredibly uncomfortable… Maybe that’s just what thrills me about theater.
As an actor— acting has always made me a better person, less judgmental, more understanding. I always feel alive when I’m acting.
As a writer—For me, the thrill of it is when I can get someone to give a shit about someone else or something else. When I see people edging to their seats, dazzled by a story, and for those minutes forgetting all the really stupid divides we have created for ourselves; for a moment we are just humans trying to make it to the next day.
CS: 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?
TSP: It depends on the audience I am trying to reach. If it’s a younger audience, then I think about what’s really making waves with that particular group of people, videos? Instagram? Blogging? A daily picture with a funny message? Everything seems cyclical and everything seems to have a tipping point, at least to me, social media included. A lot of the “how-tos” of communicating with an audience come from what the play/theater piece is about, and from the characters I’ve put in the piece. What I’ve said, how I’ve said, is directly related to how I “market” or present the invitation to an audience. Of course, the economy of it all also plays a huge role in how an audience is reached.
CS: what’s inspiring you these days? and/or what’s troubling you these days?
TSP: Inspiring: Honesty. Travel. Multiculturalism. Playfulness. Especially playfulness. Troubling: Those biases that block our ways into bigger theater houses, TV shows, and movies. Those terrible biases that so many people before us have fought against, that still play in the background, making a quiet raucous behind the scenes—and really, still closing doors for many of us. The truth is that we are still fighting a quiet and not-so-quiet battle against the over-simplification of human identity, and humans in general… You know, how easy it is to stick a label on someone and say “not them, we don’t want them.”
Tatiana Suárez-Pico is a bilingual actress, writer, and teacher. As an actress she has performed extensively in New York City. Tatiana has worked as a freelance writer for Latin Week NY, Back Stage, and co-created BodegaAve.com, a bilingual webcomic focusing on multicultural teens living in Brooklyn, NY. Tatiana received a “Groundbreaking Latina” Award from Catalina Magazine for her work on BodegaAve.com. In 2011, her play 443 was developed at Rising Circle Theater Collective and in the Spring 2012, 443 was selected as a finalist for the Leah Ryan Prize for Emerging Women Writers and was a finalist for The Women’s Project Writing Group. Her play Profit was a finalist for the Old Vic’s 2013 US/UK TS Eliot Exchange and her short play “Cravings” was produced by Piper Theater Company in 2012 and will be published in their anthology “Piper Plays: Smart Plays for Young Actors.” Tatiana has been named a Mary Louise Rockwell Scholar at ESPA/Primary Stages and in the Fall 2012, she began her tenure as a Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program Fellow at The Juilliard School and as a fellow at the Dramatists Guild. In the Summer 2013 she joined the MFA Playwrights’ Workshop at The Kennedy Center, and New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater Season on a residency sponsored by the Dramatists Guild. Two of her short plays were published in 2013 by indietheaternow.com. Tatiana is the author of Like Water, Profit, LRTC, 443, Flesh & Blood, Dog Day, Mountain Air, and She among others. She has taught acting at Essex County Community College and in the New York public school system through ENACT and the CASA Program at Queens Theater in the Park. MFA, Actors Studio Drama School/New School University.
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