“The place in which I'll fit will not exist until I make it.”
― James Baldwin
That pretty much sums up my entire life. From not fitting in throughout school to the type of theatre I write as a professional. I have often had to create the spaces that I fit. Whether it be writing the the type of work that I would have liked to see in my childhood or making sure quirky, yet strong Black girls get their love story. My whole thing (right now) is creating a sense of belonging. So, when I approached Stephen Miranda, one of Houston's most saught-after directors to direct a workshop reading of Delivery, I know that I would get the opportunity to create a space for my words to belong.
After all, working with Miranda last year on Fae and Paciencia, opened my eyes to the process of rewrites, getting into your characters and the building not just the words but the world of the play. So, I knew that after working with him, I'd leave with the tools for building a stronger piece of work. He takes the time to talk to you, pull your work apart and give you a map for bringing it back together. That's why working with Miranda is such an experience, because he doesn't just tell you "Oh, this is great" but he equips you with the tools to make your work great.
This reading was also an opportunity to work with my high school theatre teacher, Ms. Minard. We hosted the evening in her yoga space. It was truly an honor because this is the women that inspired me to pursue the arts. She showed me Chicago in the 9th grade, took us to UIL competitions and had us performing all over the school. Looking back and having been a theatre teacher myself, I realize she worked extremely hard to make our experience. But thanks to her Drama Club was a place where I fit in and learned it was okay to stand out. And there she was in my reading!
Sitting in rehearsals listening to my words over and over again was exhausting. I was confronted with the holes, mistakes and questions that this new work has. But I was also forced to sit with pieces of myself, my students and my community for hours on end. I was encouraged to think about the why of this play. Why now? What is so important about Murdr, Mani and Javier's voices? Why is Ms. Tolivar needed? These are questions I'm still figuring out the answers to.
And the actors. Aside from bringing it, they were the most thoughtful bunch of individuals. Each of them brought their visions of what this world looked, sounded and felt like. How they felt the characters moved, dressed and talked. Working with professional actors is always a treat, because they help the play become better. Not only do they help you to see the play on its feet, but they help you to see the character traits, details and beauty of your story better. Writers are nothing without the actors that commit themselves to the roles and the stories.
MURDR - Dustin Salinas
JAVIER - Nasir (Mo) Villanueva
MANI - Estee Burkes
MAMA - Arianna Bermudez
MS. TOLIVAR - Jill Minard
Please go and check them out on stage and screens near you.
I am grateful to everyone who came out to see the work. You don't know how much that meant to me. I plan to continue working this script, because there are a few (READ: Many) kinks in the plot line, the characters and the story. But the excitment is so real.
Thank you to Scriptworks for the SEED grant that helped to make this happen.
Thanks to Scriptworks I took a class with an amazing playwright Caridad Svich. For those of you who may not know, Caridad Svich is a badass playwright whose work has been on national and international stages. Don't take my word for it check the bio. In addition to teaching the class, Caridad penned a play along side us (who does that?! She is amazing right).
The class took us through writing a quick draft of a piece. Each week we would turn in pages of our play and she would give us pointers and advice. I took the class last year and I felt like I was a bit more focused this time around. I had a goal to get a draft of a play that I'd been working on since I traveled to Mexico City this Spring.
My play was a 30 page romantic comedy called Felices de Los Cuarto about love triangle amongst four friends, two of which are getting married in 3 days. I don't know if I'll circle back to the piece later because sometimes you write plays because you are a writer. Not to have them seen. Writing is a muscle. But you never know.
All in all, I am grateful for Christi Moore and Scriptworks granting me a scholarship to take part in playwright enrichment this year. I really enjoy being a part of Scriptworks because it makes me feel like a real playwright. The newsletters (Shout out to Member Whip Max), professional development opportunities and community of playwrights gettin' it. It makes me wish I were in Austin again.
But Houston and Austin have both been good to me. Also, I won a grant from Scriptworks to put on a developmental reading of my play Delivery that was a part of their reading series. I hope you can make it!
For six weeks, I sat in Adrienne Perry's class and learned about writing. Adrienne Perry is an incredible teacher who brings out the best in her students. She offers feedback with love and makes you want to be the best you can be.
The Writers of Color course is offered by Writespace. It is a dope combination of writing, critique and community that you need. My main takeaways from this space was that my writing is important and it can change the world. I also learned how to ask questions about other people's work. My skills in critique have been heightened and I have been so graciously given so much feedback by the amazing writers pictured above.
If you have the opportunity to take part in this and you are a person of color, you need to sign up.
This weekend I rented an Airbnb, packed my bags and decided to have my own writers retreat. My goal was to finish 60 pages of a new script called Yema, Yosi and Timely Things. It didn't have to be perfect. Infact it was quite the opposite. messy pages. Messy hand writing. Paint on some of the pages. Notes on some of the pages. A true crap draft.
The entire goal of the weekend was to let the story out. And so I did. I still have a ton of research to do, but the important thing was to get the story out.
I dedicate this story to my muse and my grandma. Two people who showed up in the play in unexpected ways.
Life always has a way of bringing you back.
In 2013, a much younger Jelisa traveled to the University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley (formally known as UT Pan American) with three theatre peers (hi! Isaac, Bianca and Madilyn) and her Professor Roxanne Schroeder-Arce for the National Association of Chicana Chicano Studies Conference. She marveled at the speakers who shared their knowledge of Latinx histories. Along with her peers from UT Austin and her peers from UTRGV, she participated in a collaborative devised workshop where Professor's Eric Wiley and Roxanne Schroeder-Arce led the group in creating work that told their stories. That experience taught Jelisa that there is power in telling her story.
Fast forward. It's 2018 and that same Jelisa has graduated college, gone through 2 years of the "real world" and in the process of carving out a space for her self as a storyteller. AND she's presenting at the same college that gave her the opportunity to hone her storytelling passions.
Presenting my workshop for Dr. McMahon's class was a trans-formative experience. It's always an honor for people to feel comfortable enough to scream their truths loudly for the world to hear. Of course, I shared my work, why I do what I do and whatnot, but let's face it, the twenty or so students that I get to spend that 2 hours with make the workshop. And these students floored me with their ability to be real, raw and honest in their work. I mean there were pieces that combined poetry, monologues, Spanish-language and other forms of expression in order to create a river of flowing words. I am so grateful for their receptiveness to the space.
In addition to the workshop, I was a part of a dope panel that Dr. McMahon organized. The panel featured awesome scholars: Dr. Jamie Starling, who shared his extensive knowledge on Afromexican and Black American history in the Valley. Hearing these histories being unearthed in front of me made me feel affirmed. The panel also featured Jillian Glantz, an Undergraduate whose research on Black Americans in the South left me wanting to learn more. I was extremely happy to connect with them because ever since traveling to UTRGV in 2013 I had been looking for these histories.
I also met some incredible students like Danielle, a vibrant colorful performance artist, Juan, a fellow educator and Rogelio, a talented and creative Veteran. Our conversations will stick with me forever and I hope they continue to share their stories and be their genuine selves. I even reconnected with my friend Maria who participated in the performance in 2013.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am to Dr. McMahon. She worked extremely hard to organize this panel. She sent emails, had meetings, coordinated schedules, picked me up from the airport, served as a sounding board for ideas AND listened to me talk about life. She is truly a beautiful person. I enjoyed seeing her in her element with her students, because I can tell that she actually cares about them and they know it. Thank you for everything.
Much love to the RGV. I will diffidently be back and be on the look out for some writing inspired by these experiences.
Getting an opportunity to share your knowledge and passion for the work is always an honor. In February, I got the opportunity to present a workshop at the Womyn of Color Conference at Texas State University at San Marcos for the second year. I was invited to come back by Ms. Wilson, the wonderful coordinator of this incredible conference. The Womyn of Color Conference is a dynamic space for womyn of color at Texas State University. It's always a wonderful opportunity for them to engage in self-care. The theme of the conference was colorism. That theme opened up so many conversations, revelations and writing.
When I tell you it was an honor to work with these young women, I mean it. They were inspiring, hype and hilarious. When I tell you I laughed...I laughed for days. One young lady came up to me and told me that I was the first woman of color she had seen actively pursuing writing. I talked with her for a while about her dreams and goals. That moment taught me that I need to continue to write, and be visible.
In addition to my writing workshop, there was a yoga and a meditation session and as always the food was on point. Thank you Skyllar Walkes, Ms. Rachael, Ms. Wilson, Jasmine and all of the individuals who contributed to making this conference an experience to remember.
#IntheseCreedeStreets (if this becomes a thing remember where it started)
Last week was life changing, I traveled to Creede, Colorado for the National Winter Playwrights Retreat. Thank you to Nickclette (AKA Nneka the Uber Driver) for sliding in my DMs and telling me about this opportunity. Here is a list of many of the wonderful moments/memories there.
1. Met the most amazing playwrights that challenged me and made me laugh (Lauren, Patrick, Georgette, Alice, Tracy, Jordan, Ali, I'm talking to you). Look them up. Read their work; purchase tickets to their shows, etc.
2. Ate at Arps (Thanks Rhonda for making us laugh).
3. Wrote poetry and did the Brennan Check-In technique with the Queen of finding your peaceful state Kate Brennan.
4. Toured the Creede Reportory theatre!
5. Met the incomparable Manuel and Ann (the retreat founders) and their cute newborn (Btw, they are dynamic, interesting and talented people).
6. Had lunch with rising stars Lauren and Taylor Trujillo.
7. Got my life saved by Paula more than once (she is a superhero).
8. Gained valuable insight and laughs from Nan from the National New Play Network (and ate her delicious food!!!) .
9. Listened to dramaturgical notes on Delivery and chatted about diversity University of Texas at Austin's Theatre Department with Liz.
10. Wrote 30 pages of a new play called St. Idris and the Golden Age (Yes, Idris Elba is a character).
11. Laughed at Damon's jokes and marveled at his acting chops.
12. Had a reading of Delivery and received real, honest and constructive feedback about the piece.
13. Had the best suite mate (Lauren, Jordan, Ali).
14. Was reminded that my work, voice and being is beautiful and a force in American theatre.
Thanks National Playwrights Winter Retreat for the magic, relaxation and freedom. I learned so much and laughed a ton. I love Creede. Thanks to Paula, Ann and Manuel for making this experience one for the books. To every playwright, artist, and actor that I met, thank you for showing up and being vibrant spirits. Thank you City of Creede.
I have a dream. It's big and crazy and sometimes only I am sure it will happen. The hardest part of everyday life sometimes is having a dream and remaining present and grateful for the now. So, this year I have to look back on the amazing steps and strides that I have made towards achieving my dream. I just wanted to share some highlights from this year. This would not have been possible without my God, my community, my family and my mentors. Basically, anyone who has been a part of my journey, I am grateful for.
2017 was the first year that I faced a bit of opposition to the work that I do and how I walk through the world. It came in the form of "well-meaning words" that quickly escalated when I didn't take said advice. That incident caused me to evaluate myself and I grew from that situation.
Everything in 2017 wasn't rainbows and sunshine. I hit walls, got rejection letters, faced at least 6 months worth of writers block, but I kept going. I will always keep going.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2017
January- Traveled to El Paso to do research for my play Fae and Paciencia. Thank you Polly for showing me around El Paso!
February- Presented a Workshop to some dope college women at the Womyn of Color Retreat at Texas State University!
April- Presented Guest Lecture on The Stories of Us at the University of Texas in El Paso (Via Skype). Thank you S Paola Lopez for the opportunity.
April- Chosen as one of five finalist for The Emerald Play Prize. Aurin Squire won (he writes on THIS IS US!), but I was nominated along with some super-established playwrights. That was an honor. Thank you Olga Sanchez-Saltveit for nominating me and Ali El-Gasseir the opportunity.
May-Reading with Scriptworks of my play Delivery. Thank you Christi Moore for finding the most amazing cast. Thank you to all of my friends, family and colleagues who came out. Nasir Villanueva, Lori Navarrette, Christopher Alvarenga, Hayley Jeanne Armstrong and Micailah Nobles thank you for lending your talents to the script! Thank you to Raymond and Krysta for your feedback on my script.
JUNE-I took Caridad Svich's Playwriting Class. It was challenging! She spoke of my play Delivery by saying "there's so much passion in the writing too." An Award-Winning playwright said that about my play.
JUNE-Reading of Delivery at the Mexican American Cultural Center featuring some of my favorite actors (Alyssa Dillard, Stacye Markey, Jorge Luis Galan, Tarik Daniels and Lori Navarrete). I got so much great feedback from my Austin community (thanks Roxanne, Cheryl, Oscar, JoAnn, Adam and everyone for coming. Thanks Marina for hooking me up with the space).
Finalist for the Black and Latino Playwright's Conference!
This was a dream come true. Especially since my late professor Stephen Gerald told me I needed to go to this conference. I didn't make it into the conference, but the festival director, Eugene Lee, interviewed me and gave me some encouraging words and I will be submitting again.
JULY-Reading of Fae and Paciencia at Thirsty Thursday's at the Rec Room in HOUSTON! Thank you to Director Stephen Miranda for believing in this piece, organizing this reading and making it happen! Thank Grace for creating this space. Thank you to the actors: Nasir Villanueva, Estee Burks, Anthony August, Giovanni Sandoval, Micah Obregon, Christa Ruiz and Teresa Stranahan.
AUGUST- A Developmental Reading of the Stories of Us in Chicago with Vision Latino! I spent a week in Chicago rewriting the Stories of Us. Thank you to the entire cast, Xavier Custodio, Yari Custodio and Johnathan Nieves for making this happen.
Two of my One Minute Plays, Freedom and Dreamer's Cry, were in the Austin One Minute Play Festival.
Featured in I Interview Playwrights blog!
Wrote an article for Dear Queens!
The students of Dr. Daphne Sicre's Latinx Studies course will read The Stories of Us as a part of their course work.
And my work was featured in an article "(Afro)Latinx Theatre: Articulation and Embodiment" By Olga Sanchez Saltveit for Label Me Latino's Afrolatino Performance issue.
October- Participated in 14/48: The World's Quickest Theater Festival in Austin, Texas where I will write an original 10 minute play in less than 24 hours.
Asking a dope Black woman playwright to be my mentor and she said YES!
December- Attending the HBMG Foundation Playwright's Retreat! More info here.
For all of these accomplishments, I am grateful to God, my family, my community and my loved ones for support.
What are you most proud of this year?
A part of being a writer is doing writerly things like going to coffee shops, writing a museums and going to writing workshops that will feed into your creative and professional life. So last Sunday, I went to FuenteCo's Urgent Narratives hosted by my writer friend Patricia Coral.
I left with pages upon pages of urgent writing. When they said that the workshop would be "generative", they didn't lie. It was wonderful writing out my worlds and hearing the work of the women who shared the space with me. Patricia did a great job of sharing her own personal experiences with writing, making us feel comfortable and building a sense of community among women who had just met.
Advice that I will take with me are that writing should first be for you. Yes, I am a playwright. My work is meant for the stage, but that doesn't mean that the writing process is not a part of my spiritual practice. I also learned to write in the stream of conscientiousness. To let the thoughts and characters speak on the page and don't interrupt them. At least in the first draft. Lastly, I learned that all writing is not meant to be shared. Sometimes its just for you.
I wrote a letter I'll never give to my crush, a note to my mothers and about 8 pages of stream of conscientiousness that may or may not turn into a play.
All in all, FuenteCo puts their all into creating a space where writers and artists learn, grow and build community. I will be going to more of their events in the future.
A few months ago, I received an email from Noah Martin, one of the artistic directors of a festival called 14/48. He had connected with me through my fellow playwright Sarah Saltwick. 14/48 is the quickest theatre festival because they bring together a team of artists, writers, actors and other personnel to create plays in 24 hours. I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but any good opportunity that comes along...I take.
So, when I got the theme Friday night, as tired as I was, I got excited. I jammed Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow", took in some wine, and got to it. The first draft was utter crap. My friend Jorge came over to read it after I proclaimed "I'm turning it in." and told me to do some rewrites. Then he curled up in his bed and went to sleep. I got my energy drink and rewrote the play. Coming up with a draft that was WAY better than what I had before.
In the AM, I talked to Meg Greene, the director, and her excitement and vision calmed my nerves. When 7:30pm came around, my friends and I journeyed to the Ground Floor Theatre. From the first play to the last one, we laughed and laughed. I haven't laughed like that in a while. When my play "Fight til the Death" came on the stage, I was nervous, but the actresses brought it to life in a timely and comedic way. I loved the moments, the facial expressions and the dance moves. Honestly, it was better than I could have imagined.
I even got to see one of my best friends act as well in a piece called "The Prince of Sadness" by Nat Miller.
Overall, 14/48 is a wonderful creative space and my friends and I hope to come see the show next year! Thank you for this opportunity Noah Martin.
Thank you to the cast.
Until next time XOXO...Gossip Girl.