A conversation with Marisela Treviño Orta
We sat down with playwright Marisela Treviño Orta to discuss her play Shoe and more. We are thrilled to have her for the inaugural INGENIO.
Tell us about Shoe.
I wanted to write a play with a nasty character in it. It’s really as simple as that—someone who was mean and manipulative. But I knew the play wouldn’t be about that character, but rather the main character would be the person who was bearing the brunt of their venom and manipulation. The play then became about my main character finding her way out from under that oppression.
How long have you been working on it?
I wrote a first draft of SHOE last fall and presented it at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop’s Monday night workshop. That was an unrehearsed reading for my classmates and instructors. This past July I spent a week at The Kennedy Center as part of the National New Play Network’s MFA Playwrights Week where I worked on getting the play to draft 2.
What was your hardest scene to write and why?
The hardest scene to write was the big fight in Act 2. I had to be really thoughtful as to how it unfolds—how it ramps up, what are the emotional buttons that need to be pushed. But it was also a lot of fun to write that fight—to get two characters who know each other really well to intentionally try and hurt one another with words.
Are you working on anything else now?
I’m currently in pre-production for The River Bride at Arizona Theatre Company, in conversation with a Berkeley theatre to bring Woman on Fire to the Bay Area, and adapting a young adult novel for a children’s theatre.
Do you have any advice for emerging Latino/a playwrights?
We need your stories. Know that they can be uniquely your perspective, your voice, your reality, your world. They don’t have to follow any pre-conceived ideas or rules. There are no rules. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to write a certain way or about a specific subject. And the more of us there are writing plays, then it will become clearer how wonderfully diverse and complex our cultural community is.
Know that it can take time. When I first started out as a playwright I remember reading advice from another playwright. He said you have to work hard at it for 10 years before you start to see any movement. That can seem daunting to some, but for me it took the pressure off. Spend your 10 years honing your craft and getting to know your theatre community—both locally, nationally. People hire playwrights for 2 reasons: 1) they like your work and 2) they like you. Sometimes they like you and then want to get to know your work. Either way, relationships are important in our field. It’s not a just a “who do you know” kind of thing. It’s more than that. Plays take time to produce. Pre-production, the rehearsal process—it’s at least 6 months of working with someone. Theatres and producers want to work with someone they know and they like.
As for how you can get to know your theatre community—go see plays. Go to festivals like INGENIO. Get involved—volunteer, join writing groups, or national committees like the Latinx Theatre Commons. And reach out. I joined Twitter back in 2013 and made it part of my “reaching out.” I’ve found that online relationships are just like real ones—you have to be genuine and you have to nurture them. I’ve had productions that were a direct result of me being on Twitter because I got to know people and they got to know me. And for introverts, an online forum can be a low-pressure environment.
For those of us who are introverts it’s not easy to do the “reaching out” part or the “get involved” part. But you can develop your small talk skills naturally, you don’t have to force it. Again, you want to be genuinely who you are. Time and hard work go a long way in helping you develop and grow as a playwright.
Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
My first mentor was playwright Christine Evans. I audited a playwriting introduction course with her. Christine is the person who recommended I submit my first play to a festival and that’s what put me on the road to being a playwright.
Another mentor and friend has been playwright Octavio Solis. He was incredibly generous—recommending me to theatres and for opportunities. I try to honor that spirit of generosity by always sharing information with others and helping connect artists to one another.
Why is theatre important today?
Theatre is unlike any other medium. You have to be there to get its full effect. It can’t be mediated. You have to be present physically, mentally, and emotionally. Also, we experience theatre as a community—together, in the dark. And it’s ephemeral. When the lights come on and when the show finishes it’s run—only those who were there, who witnessed it, fully experienced it. Others can read about it or read the script, but that production lives most fully in the memories of the audience members. They carry the art inside them.
Theatre is about transformation. The transformation of characters on stage and of the audience members who experience a production. Experiences shape us and theatre is a uniquely powerful experience.
How do you decompress?
I watch movies to decompress. I watch bad sci fi and action movies. I go to theatre to have my heart broken. Movies are like my brain’s junk food.
I grew up watching the old Universal monster movies with my dad. He also liked sci fi and action movies. I think his movie interests greatly informed those of me and my siblings—we all are drawn to the same kind of movies. Sure, I’ll watch other movies. But the ones I look for, and the ones I’ll suffer through when they’re terrible, fall into these categories.
Concert-style reading followed by a moderated conversation
Saturday September 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM
Read more about Shoe and the other INGENIO Play Fest selections, performing September 8–10, 2017 at Milagro.