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.
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.