The past February and March have been full and beautiful. While I am grateful to be a writer, I've also had the opportunity to perform. I figure if there has to be a "voice" to my work it may as well be mine (sometimes). Here's what's been happening.
February 20, 2019
I performed my poem "I like You" at the Houston House of Blues for the Raw Artists Showcase. I was nervous and I totally made up the other half of the poem, but I got through the performance.
Also, one of my favorite bloggers, Pretty Little Blerd, wrote a review of my performance and the event.
Thank you to everyone who supported.
February 13, 2019
I was invited to be a featured artist at FuenteCo's Bad Love Open Mic along with incredible artists Reyes Ramirez and John Pluecker. I recited poetry-monologue titled "To All the Boys I've Lost Before".
It was a beautiful night with wonderful friends and a great audience. I love working with FuenteCo!
March 9th, 2019
In celebration of my birthday, I wrote the first 35 pages of a new play that I have been wanting to work on. It's called 3000 Years and it's a Black Sci-fi play. I had a table reading of it followed by a feedback session. Thank you for the amazing actors who took the time to read the roles.
CAST: (R-L) Ajuah Powell, Elisabeth Swim, Cedric Oglesby, and Jorge Luis Galan.
Much love to my teacher and fellow playwright Ms. Smith, Denise O'Neal of Fade to Black and Nick (and his lovely girlfriend Marjorie) and Sofia from the writers group for all of the thoughtful and great feedback. Also to the actors for lending their voices to my work and letting me here it out loud.
I admit I felt very vulnerable putting my work out there at such a new stage, but this year is all about stepping out of the comfort zone, being vulnerable and expecting great things to happen. I have a lot of research to do.
Well, that's all for now. As always, thank you for your continued support of my writing and growth.
You did more than you think.
I'd often complain about how much writing I didn't get to do. How I had a writers' block and I wish I didn't let my day job get in the way of my passion.
But looking back, I DID A LOT this year.
What I wrote this year:
1. Several drafts of my play Delivery happened this year. Thanks to the incredible folks like Manuel, Ann Pittman Zarate, Nan, Liz (at the HBMG National Playwrights Retreat in Colorado), Liz from the Alley Theatre, Raymond (writer bestie), Stephen (Houston's dopest director!) and the all beautiful actors who breathed life into the characters, offered feedback and worked with me. Thank you to Scriptworks for the developmental grant. And a special shout-out to North Forest High School the place and students that inspired the play.
2. I wrote several short plays including Queens of Little Africa, Midgets and Digits (thanks Noah Martin for letting me be a part of 14/48 Festival. I love it every year. Shoutout to Jorge for always making sure I have a comfy and productive night to write these plays) AND I wrote a short for the Austin One Minute Play Festival.
3. I wrote my first short film, Lala and Lalo, thanks to Nasir and completed a television pilot that I'm pretty sure Ja'Michael and I will star in one day.
4. I finished 2 One-Acts called Felices de Los Cuarto and 99 Problems and Yoeslan Ain't One. Thanks to Caridad Svich's course.
5. Oh, I also wrote first drafts of two full-lengths: The Breathe Before the Jump and Yema, Yosi and Timely Things.
6. Not to mention 12 months of morning pages.
7. I even started my own writing coach business where I worked with dope creatives to help them write their dope stories.
Productions: 2 (Austin One Minute Play Festival and 14/48 Festival)
Residencies: 1 (National Playwrights Retreat)
Grant: 1 (The Scriptworks Developmental Grant)
Invitations to Speak/Workshop: 2 (University of Texas-RGV Panel on Afrolatinx stories and Workshop for Dr. Marci McMahon's course! and the Women of Color Panel at Texas State University)
Readings: 2 (One in Creede Colorado at the Playwrights Retreat and another in Houston, Texas directed by Stephen Miranda)
Workshops and classes taken: 3 Caridad Svich's Playwriting course where I wrote a draft of Felices de los Cuarto, Fuenteco (where I came up with Lala and Lalo) and Writers of Color class with Adrienne Perry.
Performances: 2 (Invited to perform at the Fuenteco showcase and Writers of Color Showcase)
Research trips: 1 (Mexico City where I wrote Felicies de los Cuarto)
Personal Retreats: 1 (Where I wrote a crap draft of Yema, Yosi and Timely things)
Writers groups: Had one meeting of Black Women Writers, wrote with Fuenteco and started writing regularly with Nick, Sophia and Elizabeth (Love them).
Regret: Not going to the Spanish writing workshop because I was scared.
Shout out to writing circles, writers groups and Skype/phone sessions with folks like Raymond and Héctor. Thank you to everyone in my circle for the love and support. I truly couldn't have done it without you. Shout out to God who set it all up. #amwriting
As a kid, I loved playing M.A.S.H with my friends. Choosing four options for my life in the categories of Job, Husband, number of kids, and Location, allowed me to dream as big as I wanted and leave the rest up to chance. If my M.A.S.H. results were any indicator, I would be a famous actress by now, living in a LA, married to Aaron Carter or Bow Wow, with three kids.
Thank God M.A.S.H. doesn’t hold any weight in real life.
God decided to do something entirely different; constantly proving to me that my life is in His hands. First off, I’m not an actress, but a writer who creates roles for actresses. Particularly, Black actresses. I’m not living in LA, but I’m in the vibrant city of Houston and I’m not married to Aaron Carter or Bow Wow (thank God), but I’m working on a maintaining a healthy relationship with myself at the moment.
One of the hats I wear that is central to my identity is a writer. I believe it’s my purpose. Writing for the stage has, if I’m not comparing myself to others, been fruitful. I’ve gotten a regional production, a commission, had several readings, and two developmental residencies. More importantly, I’ve worked with some pretty amazing directors who have brought out the best in my work. I’ve had the dopest actors breathe life into my characters. I’ve written plays that have helped people connect to their true selves and others that need to rest in my file cabinet. While I’ve obtained something that would look like success to some, to me my life looks a lot like the transition from one scene to the next where a group of folks in all black gather the props and prepare for the next scene. Unlike the theatre, my transition is anything but seamless.
I’m a Millennial. A part of the generation of dreamers and doers. The group with the lofty goals because we were told at a young age that we could do anything. One of the things that I struggle with is dissatisfaction with the present. In my prayers, I ask questions like “Why doesn’t my career look like so-in so…?” “How can I do X Y and Z faster?” “Why am I at this day job?” All of these questions stem from my looking to the future instead of being fully present.
I want regional, national and international premieres like Lynn Nottage.
I want to head my own company like Shonda Rhimes.
I want to do “this” and “that” like [insert colleague name].
Now, there’s nothing wrong with these desires, but sometimes I have to wonder am I ready for these opportunities? Or is God using this “transition time” to grow me? Is this draining day job teaching honing my skills for presenting and writing dialogue? Is it helping me see a problem that I need to work to remedy in the world? And what if Shonda Rhimes handed me the keys to her kingdom tomorrow? Or Lin Manuel Miranda took me under his wing to write the book to his next musical? Or Issa Rae said “Here’s a role on Insecure”? Would I be ready? The truth is it’s these transitions in my life that are growing me. Confirming my dreams, but also teaching me humility, compassion and determination.
It seems that when you are in transition, you are the most venerable to feeling downtrodden. But that’s when the most beautiful things are brewing up in your life. For me, it was the play I wrote while teaching at my old high school. A job that was both rewarding and challenging. I wrote the play called Delivery based on the magical and creative beings that my students were. It was in that classroom where I was sometimes cussed out and dealing with behavior that honed my skills in relaying information, being intuitive to emotions, and presenting engaging material that prepared me to give workshops at colleges and speak on panels. It was also there that made me understand that my purpose is beyond me. It’s to foster creativity in my community. Truth is through all of the hardship, I made connections with some pretty talented students who will go on to do great things. I am grateful that God let me be a small part of their journey. It was that experience that made me who I am today.
Transition is a hard time that helps us realize what we are made off. While I’m swimming in rejection letters, or hearing “write this over” from colleagues, it’s these moments that make me in the words of Ciara "Level Up". A skill that serves me well in the classroom, on the page and in life. My transitions may not be nice, neat or timed, but they are exactly what I need to put on the grandest show. The show of my life.
I had the beautiful opportunity to write a play called Minutes and Digits for the 14/48 Quickest Theatre Festival. 14/48 gives playwrights, actors, directors and musicians the opportunity to flex their creative muscles by writing a play in a night, rehearsing and designing for it in a day and putting it up! My work was seen alongside my colleagues Sara Saltwick and Max Langert.
Thankful for Noah Martin and the amazing team that puts this together every year.
I am grateful to my friends Jorge, MyHanh and Drew for coming to support.
<3 Jeisa Jay Robinson
“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.