In the beginning of August, I traveled to one of my favorite cities to develop my play The Stories of Us with Vision Latino, a dope theatre company in Chicago. This has been in the works for about a year. I thought it was going to be an opportunity to hear my work and get feedback from the audience, but Xavier Custodio, Johnathan Michael Nieves and Yajaira Yari Custodio Baez made it so much more.
Two of my closest friends, Myhanh and Jorge, came to Chicago with me. It was pretty much a "girls trip". I felt like the character, Ryan, because just like her friends were coming to see her Keynote speech, I had my #flossypossy there to see my show. And we did get some fun in!
But let me tell you about this process. I went into the reading room with the actors and they gave me notes that took my play to an ENTIRE new level. Xavier, the director, set up a space where the actors and creative team could dig into the work and offer their feedback. It was beautiful because I was seeing the play through an entirely different set of eyes and perspectives.
I spent each night up until 3 am (that's why my hair was in a ponytail) writing, eating Taco Bell and thinking about the Stories of Us.
When Thursday came around, I was tired, but ready to see what we had come up with. I was nervous as well. How would the audience react? What would they respond to? Would they hate it? These were my thoughts.
When the audience came in, I was surprised at the response. I heard laughter, snaps and gasps...okay, the audience is responding!
In fact, many people were touched by the work and offered their own stories. It was a beautiful experience.
I want to thank Johnathan for pulling together a great cast. Xavier for being a dope director and for pushing me! Yari for producing and keeping me encouraged. I want to thank Dago, Matthew, Victor, Ayanna, Katrina, Destiny and Jocelyn for being a part of this process. This was a tough process, but I was so grateful for the wonderful artists that I got to work with.
I can't wait to see you again Chicago. Leaving you is always hard.
I've always said I wanted to put on for my city. I've been blessed with opportunities to work in Austin, New York and Detroit so far. But having a reading in my hometown was magical. There is something special about "coming back".
Last night, the Rec Room, a wonderful performance space, hosted a reading of my play Fae and Paciencia. Fae and Paciencia tells the story of Jorge, a Mexican-American college student whose life is quickly spiraling out of control until he has an unexpected encounter with Fae, an optimistic Black millennial who has a habit of being in the right place at the right time. The play depicts young people of color navigating college, family, mental health issues.
Stephen Miranda, the director, organized the reading with the Rec Room's Grace Rosenwinkel Cunyus as a part of their monthly reading series (Thirsty Thursdays). What?! Fae and Paciencia was a part of a monthly reader series? Like Big Sean says "On the come-up".
You don't know how many times I have sent that play off to opportunities, reading rooms and fellowships. It was even a finalist for the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference. I've gotten that "Thank you but..." letter/email for that play, but all it takes is ONE yes.
Dr. Trevor Boffone was my yes, passing the play on to Stephen Miranda. The truth is that you never really know when your time is, but it's coming. And this was the best place for it to be. My city. What I loved about this reading was getting to have HOUSTON-based artists act the script. Artists who really got into the roles and put their souls into the characters. Artists who really got into the script and helped me to hear the eb and flow of the piece.
This cast slayed.
FAE - Estee Burks
JORGE - Nasir Villanueva
DAD - Anthony August
PAPA - Giovanni Sandoval
CONSUELA - Micah Obregon
MARIA - Christa Ruiz
MOM/NURSE/PARAMEDIC/SECURITY/STAGE DIRECTIONS - Teresa Stranahan
I got the chance to see so many of my friends, family members and colleagues. I am so grateful for my audience. I just want to thank Oscar Franco and Anya Reyes for commissioning this Black American/Negra Americana girl to write a play that told black-brown stories in the Echame Un Ojo festival so long ago. This is why I do what I do. To see Black and Brown people on that stage...together.
I am ready to see this show taken to new heights!
I am writing this to tell you to keep going. Keep following your dream. Keep praying, living and moving forward. Don't let anyone or anything stop you. Don't let haters tell you what's what. Take constructive criticism, but only from people who have constructed something! Believe in yourself and the work that you do. It will all pay off.
This Saturday at 2pm. I, along with Alyssa Dillard, Stacye Markey, Jorge Luis Galán, Tarik Daniels, and Lori Navarrete, found ourselves in the Raul Salinas room at the Mexican American Cultural Center. "Why" you ask? Because it was time to hear Delivery again. You see the first time I was bouncing off the walls with nerves and excitement. The first time jitters will do that to you. By this time, I had heard it once so I was ready to workshop it.
When I got there, I was with my best friend Jorge who so graciously helped me set up for the event. The staff was so nice and they helped me with the parking passes, chairs and all of that. Then, we did a read through. That read through in that chill setting really helped me to see so much that I didn't see the first time around. I saw language mistakes, places where what I was trying to communicate was unclear and other things. It is a baby play after all.
The actors did a great job and Alyssa killed it at directing and leading a talk back. I all of them had worked on The Stories of Us and it was nice to see them again.
Murdr-Jorge Luis Galan
Stage Directions and Ms. Tolivar-Alyssa Dillard
Look them up. They some of Austin's finest!
I was a bit nervous about the work going in front of the audience that was coming including my former professor and mentor Roxanne, JoAnn Reyes, Cheryl Sawyer, my cs Jocelyn Zuniga, Adam Martinez, mi amigo Oscar Franco and other people who were important in my life.
The piece needs work. And my artistic Austin family was generous in their feedback. I left with so much to work with. That's the part of writing. Rewriting. Rewriting. Rewriting. And that's what we do as an artistic family, we help each other create great work!
Afterwards, I treated myself to Greek food, a nap, Disney channel, adult beverages, Captain Underpants and Gossip Girl reruns. I am very blessed to have the opportunity to come to Austin to do this work that I love so much.
-Jelisa Jay Robinson
I know love. But I've never known a love like this. The shear bliss of writing. Even when he makes me angry or shakes my confidence a bit, I love writing. He's one beautiful being.
I'm sitting up here in my room with Maluma playing and a big cheesy smile on my face. No... bae(s) have not texted. No... Shonda Rhimes has not summoned me to work in her writers room (yet). No, I have not finished the thriller play I told you I'd be working on. But I had a reading and it changed my entire life.
Maybe I'm being overly dramatic, but everyone who knows me, knows that I'm overly dramatic. So, as this J. Balvin song plays, and before the high fades away, I will tell you about this reading.
My parents and I drove to Austin last Sunday for reading of my new play called Delivery hosted by Scriptworks. I was nervous. Partially because this was Scriptworks and partially because the actors that Christi Moore cast were professionals. I didn't want to "waste" their time.
I called friends and messaged them to see if they were still coming. I knew that bringing something into the world was scary and I needed that support. I thought only a few people were showing up but so many friends and colleagues that I worked with in Austin came. I felt loved.
Delivery was about to be "delivered" into the universe. I found my nerves rolling away after the first scene. Hearing the world of Mani, Murdr and Javier come alive made me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. Here was a snapshot of the world that my students inhabit. Here was a snapshot of the world that my community inhabits. Here was a snapshot of the world I inhabit. No, it was not autobiographical, but it is inspired by realness.
The actors really put their all into the roles. They made the characters come alive and their chemistry was crazy. I had the opportunity to see one of my friends and biggest supporters Micalah Nobles slay on stage. I also got to work with the super fabulous Lori Navarrete again (she was in The Stories of Us). I loved that Javier, Murdr and Mani were played by actors who in some way shared the identities of my characters.
MURDR - Christopher Alvarenga
JAVIER - Nasir Villanueva
MANI - Micailah Nobles
MAMA - Lori Navarrete
MS. TOLIVAR - Hayley Jeanne Armstrong
Look them up. They are dope.
The feedback was real. As always, I am learning to take what I need and let the rest be. I'm building my own craft not following a pre-order manual called What it takes to be a dope Negra-Americana Writer. Growing into the writer that I want to be will take time, sacrifice and most importantly love...lots of it. That's the main theme in all my work. Love. Even if it comes through as anger or regret, at the core is love.
I just want to give a big thanks to everyone who came out to see the reading of Delivery. It meant so much to me. Thank you Christi Moore and all the Scriptworks family. Thank God, my family and friends. This journey is real and I'm here for it.
There always has to be another play.
The question "What are you working on now?" is constantly being thrown at me.
What? People want to see the stories I put out? What?
I am blessed to have a community that cares about the work that I write.
This next play, Delivery, was conceived in April of 2016 when I was on the freeway thinking about the many ills of society. Especially, the death of Black people (and Brown people) by the hands of police. Then, this Blaxican kid Javier pops into my mind and his Black American girlfriend Mani. I write the idea down and don't touch it for months.
In the fall of 2016, one of my students came into my classroom feeling down. He's usually a hype student who participates in all the performances, but that day he was not feeling it. He didn't answer when I asked what was wrong, so I told him he could sit this one out and that I was here if he needed to talk. The next day he was laughing and joking. He came up to me after class and shared that that day was the anniversary of his friend's death. I began to think about how hard it must be for a teenager or anyone to process the loss of a loved one.
I start writing.
I began to listen more to my students when they were talking amongst themselves. In addition to the gossip, tea or chisme, themes of losing friends, police brutality and the hardships of growing up in poverty were ever present. I listened for the stories and sure enough they came. Latinx students who used the n-word and Black students who grew up in a world where both Black and Brown students were the same. "It's different than when you grew up Miss. We [Blacks and Hispanics] cool now," one student assured me. One of my students, who identified as Salvadorian, and grew up with the African American community told me that he was called "less hispanic" because he didn't speak Spanish by family and friends. Students would share songs with me and through music and stories, I learned about their world.
Even though I'm from the same hood as they are, my experience growing up in the early 2000s was vastly different.
When I began writing this play, Delivery, I had my students create their own poetry slam to give them an opportunity to express themselves, but to also get the feel for the world of my own play. In this play, I scripted a world that took its inspiration from my...I mean our surroundings. It's not based off any students life in particular, but their conversations color the world of this story.
After an initial "1st draft", I sent the play to my two writer friends, Krysta and Raymond for feedback and they let me have it. It was good feedback that changed the trajectory of the story for the better, and I am excited to hear it aloud for the first time. It takes a village.
Readings of Delivery in two spaces in Austin. I am working with some dope actors (The Stories of Us Family!) for the June 3rd reading so I am stoked for the reunion. If you are in town, you should drop by.
Scriptworks will be hosting a workshop reading of my latest piece Delivery and I would like you to be there.
Sunday, May 21, 2017 at 6:30pm
When high school juniors Murdr, Mani and Javier begin find themselves in Ms. Tolivar's English class, they begin to find themselves and express their views of the world around them. They compete for a space in the end of the year poetry competition for scholarship money and bragging rights. Welcome to the world of Black and Brown voices as they navigate living in the hood, police brutality and the adventures of teen hood.
Location: Austin Playwrights Studio is in the office park behind Half-Price Books on North Lamar, 5555 N. Lamar, Bldg. K, Ste. 125.
SECOND READING of DELIVERY
TIME: SATURDAY June 3rd, 2017 1pm-2:15pm
at the Raul Salinas room at the MACC
600 River St, Austin, TX 78701
As always, thank you for the support!
It's only February, but this year has come in with a full force! I have been submitting to several opportunities and working towards my goals. I have been praying to God that all my dreams come true. So far it's been happening!
In January, I traveled to El Paso to do some research for my play Fae and Paciencia. I got the chance to see many sites and get a feel for the city. This will help with rewrites!
Feb. 11th, I was asked to come and present at the 1st Annual Womyn of Color Retreat at Texas State University in San Marcos! It was a beautiful experience and I got the chance to share writing with three dynamic groups of college women! I am grateful to Sykller Walkes and Ms. Joni Wilson for inviting me. I am encouraged because the next generation of womyn is fierce and ready to change the world.
I am proud to announce that I am a Finalist for the Emerald Play Prize, a new biennial Prize to be awarded by the Seattle Public Theatre. I am a finalist along with Emily Dendinger, Aurin Squire, Eric Pfeffinger and Shontina Vernon. This is all so exciting!
I am grateful for all of the support that I have gotten over the past years! You all keep me going.
image via Emilio Rodriguez
Black and Brown Theatre presented some amazing short plays by artists of color at their first showcase.
The Stories of Us by Jelisa Jay Robinson (opening scene) on stage at the Wright Museum in Detroit. Oct 31, 2016.
It was directed by Playwright and Theatre Artist Emilio Rodriguez. Featuring a cast of amazing actors!!!
Jessica Wilson - Natasha
Justino Solis - Alejandro
Izaya Spencer- Jerome
Angela Riley- Mom
Maurizio Dominguez - Dad
Black and Brown Theatre is dedicated to providing opportunities for people of color in theatre! Check them out on Facebook and Twitter. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have my work at the first ever Black and Brown Theatre Showcase!
November 11, 2016, I had the pleasure of serving on Texas State University's Black in Mexico Panel with Dr. Sagrario Cruz-Carretro. For those of you who don't know Dr. Cruz is a notable scholar of Afromexican identity and her segment on Henry Louis Gates's Black in Latin America. The event was organized by Dr. Chris Busey who focuses on Afrolatino education. This was my first time participating in a panel and I would like to thank Dr. Chris Busey for bringing Dr. Sagrario Cruz-Carretero to speak and for organizing such a timely and needed space in Texas!
Black in Mexico was just what we needed to remind us to continue to fight for our stories. A person raised an important question about "Where do we go from here?"
Special shout out to the brilliant panel of scholars (#Blackgirlmagicwoman Skyller Walkes, Dr. Anadelia Romo, and Caroline Garriot).
Special special shout out to Dr. Jesse Gainer for showing me around Texas State and getting me to and from San Marcos.
Where do we go from here? We keep fighting and building comunidades mi gente.
I had the fantastic honor of having my play the Stories of Us (an excerpt) in this year's Now Africa: Playwrights Festival, Oct 22, 2016. This year's theme was Africa and Her Children: Bridging the Continental Divide! They choose a light hilarious but rich scene that I like to refer to as the "Tinder Scene" where an Afro-Puerto Rican meets a Black American woman in person. That fit the theme perfectly.
It was an incredible opportunity to be featured among Nsangou Njikam (my favorite playwright), Stacey Ann Chin (I read her work in college) and Tarell Alvin Mccraney's work. And to have my work featured in New York City!
It was also a beautiful opportunity to meet Mfoniso Udofia, an incredible playwright and artistic director of the festival, who invited me to be a part of this. From the moment I talked to her, she welcomed me into the festival with open arms. The artists is a powerhouse in her own writing, having productions, readings and fellowships to her credit. But it's her immense passion for African and African diasporic work that makes her the real MVP.
Seeing my work in that space was motivation to keep going and to keep writing. Thank you to everyone at Now Africa for bringing this work centerstage. Big shout out to the fierce ladies Ngozi Anyanwu, ChiChi Anyanwu, Erin Cherry and Mfoniso Udofia! You all are doing the most important work, uniting Africa's children. Thank you.
For more information check out Now Africa Fest!
An excerpt of The Stories of Us will be a part of the Black and Brown Theatre showcase on Sun Oct 30, 2016 at The Wright Museum in Detroit! Thank you to Playwright Emilio Rodriguez and Sam White for inviting me.
An excerpt from The Stories of Us will be featured in NYU's Now Africa Festival October 22, 2016!
I am excited about the opportunity for different audiences to see my work!
WRITING CULTURE, WRITING HOPE WORKSHOP
Sunday Sept. 18, 2016- I gave my first workshop called Writing Culture, Writing Hope to Fresh Water Ministry. We went over writing a cultural monologue and using our identities to find hope in a broken world. It was a beautiful experience.
BLACK AND LATINO PLAYWRIGHTS CONFERENCE
I finally attended the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference that my dear professor Stephen Gerald told me I needed to attend years ago. It was an honor to be in the presence of the greats like Judy Tate (who taught the workshop), Eugene Lee, Regina Taylor (who I sat next to in the workshop) and Inda Craig-Galvan whose play Black Super Hero Magic Mama Stole the show.
FADE TO BLACK PLAYWRIGHTS WORKSHOP
I attended Fade To Black's Playwright Workshop taught by the Greats, Harold J. Haynes and Thomas Mcloncon! They gave me so much to think about when it comes to writing a play.
I am excited about where life is leading me and I am grateful for everyone who is coming along for the journey.
The highlight of my summer was participating in the first ever Fornes Playwriting Workshop. It was taught by the amazing Migdalia Cruz, Puerto Rican Playwright. She was mentored by Fornes. Cruz shared some of her techniques and experiences she had while learning under the legend. Cruz is a legend in her own right so being in the same room with her was always an adventure. She had us laughing, thinking and feeling all the feels. The workshop ended with a presentation of the scenes that we had written while in workshop and they were performed at the Chicago Dramatist building by some of Chicago’s finest actors.
Maria Irene Fornes (the workshop’s namesake) is a master playwright who was a leader in the Off-Off-Broadway movement in the sixties. She has received nine Obie Awards and is hailed as the “Mother of Latin@ Theatre” But what makes her such a boss is not that she is “distinguished”, but it’s that she treats writing a grand adventure. I think that is something that we tend to forget when we are grinding on this journey. Migdalia Cruz is a writer of plays, musical theatre and opera. Her pieces have been produced in London, New York, Oregon, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Houston among other places. She is a leader in the field crafting honest stories that resonate with audiences world wide.
Here are a few takeaways from the Fornes workshop:
1.What a brilliant artist Maria Irene Fornes is.
I knew who Maria Irene Fornes was, but I didn’t know her methods writing plays. Her methods of making the work that we do communal, fun and opening up our minds to recognize how serious of a gift this is really put into perspective the significance of writing. Learning her techniques really put the PLAY back in playwrighting for me.
2. Let your characters speak.
We wrote for hours every day during the workshop and one of the goals was for us NOT to put the pen down. Not to censor our characters. There were times when I really wanted to censor the words because I was thinking about what can be produced or what an audience would like, but Migdalia Cruz challenged us to see beyond that. Just tell the stories!
3. Writer’s communities are imperative.
The playwrights in the space made the experience lively and wonderful They were gracious, kind, honest, hilarious and wonderful bunch to be around for 9 days. We were so diverse in professional experience, language, culture, sexuality, race, ethnicity and age, but we were all there for one reason, to learn and to write. And write we did. Many of us came away with a full notebook of scripts inspired by our workshop.
4. Use Paper.
When writing, use paper. I had gotten away from that. The laptop had received one too many clicks on my end. There is something about writing in a tablet that frees you. That was a requirement of the workshop, that we come with paper and pen/pencil ready to write.
5. Writing starts in the body.
We would go through physical activity before we sat down to write. I will admit it wore me out a bit for the first few days, but that was the point. To get us worn out so that we have no choice but to be honest on the page. It really worked, because we got some of the most honest writing out that week.
6. Chicago actors rock.
The presentation of our scenes was a dream come true and each actor really grasped on to our stories. The actors were cast across gender, race, ethnic lines by the super talented director Sandra Marquez. My scene titled Pop-Buelo, featured the creativity of actors Penelope Walker (as Pop-Buelo) and Avi Roque (as Emita). From the first read, I knew the chemistry would shine through these vessels. I am grateful for them lending their voices to my piece. But what would you expect when Sandra Marquez, a superstar director, get her hands on your script?
This workshop will go down in history as one of the turning points in my life. I want to give a sincere shout out to the writer’s group that became family in such a short time. I am grateful to have met a group of such gifted, skillful and hysterical writers. Check out their work!
Javier Luis Hurtado
Gregory S. Moss
Iraisa Ann Reilly
Adriana Sevahn Nichols
Jean Carlo Yunen
Thank you Migdalia Cruz for your honesty, talent and blessing in this process. Thank you to Lucas and Anne for the tremendous job you did organizing the program. Most importantly, thank you Maria Irene Fornes for gracing the world with your dynamic presence. You are a light that will continue to shine.