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.
I got my first review on Howl Round!
Breath of Love: Jelisa Jay Robinson’s Stories of Us
by: Ursula Simone Walker
Labels. “Mexicana.” “Afro-Latino.” “Black Enough.” Just to name a few. They’re the first thing you see as you enter the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) performance space in Austin, to watch Jelisa Jay Robinson's Stories of US. However, you’re distracted by the music—it pulls you in. Groovy pulses of remixed Cumbias, Hip Hop, and Salsas fill the space. You can't help but sway and smile as you watch others do the same.
The lights shift, bringing a rainbow of colors together to create what could be the interior of a club. The ensemble (Irving Calderon, Tarik Daniels, Si Mon' Emmett, Krysta Gonzales, Stacye Markey, Adam Martinez and Lori Navarrete) enters, reads the magnetic labels and begins fumbling with them—shifting and swapping them before selecting one they feel is most representative of self. Another quick move and then, “click”—their camera phones sing as they snap a selfie with their selected “identity.” Appropriate. Then, the world inverts and the actors begin to make snap judgements to place the labels on audience members. Whether they are right or not isn’t the point; the stereotype is set. And as quickly as they entered—and while the metaphorical mic hits the ground—they are gone.
This introduction forces a moment of self-reflection as the audience is left reckoning with how many times they have done the same thing—assumed someone’s appearance to be indicative of their cultural background, or ethnicity, or race, or—the list goes on. The truth is that each label lends more definition to our differences. The more differences that are highlighted, the harder it is to find a connection.
This play is all about the connections.
Stories of Us, written by Houston-based educator and alumna of the University of Texas at Austin, Jelisa Jay Robinson, directed by local theatre educator and practitioner Florinda Bryant, and produced by Teatro Vivo, had its world premiere at the MACC from April 28th to May 8th 2016. Robinson's work is a composition of interrelated vignettes that expose the often hidden narratives of people who embody Afrolatinidad—culture and experience sprouting from the intermingling of Africans, African-Americans, and Latinas/os. As this play expresses, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to exist in this cultural space; nothing dictating the bounds of what it could or should be. There is just being.
The trouble is in the moments of disconnect within our communities, when people from a certain ethnic group perpetuate violence and disrespect towards another group. This reaction could be expected when varying groups of minorities find themselves competing for resources, respect, and (especially) romantic partners within a limited socio-geographic space. Add in the existing language barrier and--
This town ain’t big enuf fer the two of us!
To find out more click here.
It's been a minute sense I've updated you. Partly because I've been enjoying the summer and partly because of the tragic events that have been going on. Stay up, great people.
Let's jump into it.
Got interviewed by The Nueva Latina blog!
In June of this year, I got the chance to have a staged reading at Austin's Echame Un Ojo Latinx-arts Festival of a new play I was commissioned (My first commission!). Fae and Paciencia is a story about two different families connected by a #carefreeblackgirl named Fae Johnson and an overachieving Latino named Jorge Paciencia. It was well-received by the audience and I got tons of great feedback for my next drafts. Thank you Anya and Oscar for tapping me for the project and giving me the oportunidad to be in this space.
I Attended a Writing Class Taught by Playwright Alvaro Saar Rios
Last Sunday, I attended the Writing the Adaptation workshop with playwright Alvaro Saar Rios (check out his play Luchadora). He was a great teacher who dosed his workshop with jokes and antidotes. I had my apprehensions about going to a workshop about writing adaptations, because I never taught about writing one. I got the chance to meet quite a few Houston playwrights. I left the workshop with a new idea for a play and a bit of advice.
Rios encouraged us to "Put our voice in the piece" and not to copy the story scene for scene. Focus on the parts that stand out and are important to you as a writing.
Using popular music is expensive, but folk songs are free! So find one that works for you.
When someone asks "What are you working on?" "You better be working on something," said Rios.
So, you asked "What are you working on, Jelisa?"
Okay you asked and I have an answer. Phew!
Rewrites for three already written plays.
3 new plays:The idea sparked from the adaptation workshop, a piece dealing with police brutality and a play featuring an Afrolatina pop-punk goddess.
Pa'lante mi gente.
Especialmente mis Negrxs. Te amo mucho.
I've got some great news!!! I've been accepted to a one-week playwriting workshop, in the tradition of playwright Maria Irene Fornés. I will be led by playwright Migdalia Cruz, a Fornés protégée and at the end of the week there will be a public reading of selected scenes from workshop students by professional actors in Chicago. This is an incredible opportunity to learn from and be guided by a group of professional playwrights. I will be in the workshop with people who have had shows in regional theaters, published plays and received MFA degrees. Not to mention Migdalia Cruz is leading the workshop. This is a blessing indeed! Check out some of the writers who will be joining me on this journey!
The 2016 Fornés Playwriting Workshop writers:
Kristiana Rae Colón
Javier Luis Hurtado
Gregory S. Moss
Iraisa Ann Reilly
Jelisa Jay Robinson
Adriana Sevahn Nichols
Jean Carlo Yunen
As always, thank you for your support.
The Stories of Us was an incredible experience. Wow! All I can say is wow. I don't think I have fully processed what the past 3 Weeks have been. So I guess I'll start off with a thank you to God and the universe for bringing this experience, these people and space to me.
Who would have thought that a piece that that little ten minute piece would have become this?
I am not going to lie, I prayed for this. This spiritual, funny and honest experience.
Shout out to Florinda who is like the big sister I never had. Being fierce and Black Mexicana. Making change and owning her purpose. That cast who came together and showed me that a world where Black and Brown people can dance together, cry together and be vulnerable together. Shout out to the creative team who had the lights, props, music, stage managing, set ON POINT. Shout out to every person who shared in the experience. Shout out to my best friends, colleagues, professors, mentors, and kindred spirits who came out to support. Thank you Rupert and JoAnn for your support, love and kindness, but also your bravery in providing a space for this story. Shout out to the family who traveled all the way from Houston to support. Especially to my mom who tells me everyday that I can't give up on my dream. This experience was everything.