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.
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.