Education & Community Engagement intern Rinska Prestinary corresponds with playwright Tanya Saracho about her latest work, El Nogalar. Goodman audiences had a peek at the latest draft during this summer’s Latino Theatre Festival. Here’s the inside scoop!
Know your playwright!
Full Name: Tanya Selene Saracho Armenta
Place you grew up: After around twelve years old, I grew up in the border town of McAllen, TX, frontera con Reynosa, Tamps. Before that I’d lived in 9 different Mexican cities including Guadalajara, Chetumal and Los Mochis, Sinaloa where I was born.
Something random: I’ve lived in the same apartment in Roscoe Village for twelve years. Adoptive Chicagoans know how rare this is.
Favorite TV Show: It varies with the season but I like True Blood and Entourage right now. Have you seen the writers who write for these shows? Some of my heroes. I mean, Eduardo Machado, and Brett C. Leonard write for Hung! Such good writing.
Favorite Play: These are just the plays which have left scars: I Am My Own Wife and Ruined (both which I saw at the Goodman, actually.) And formative were both parts of Angels In America, especially Millennium Approaches. Also, Roosters by Milcha Sanchez-Scott changed my life early on from just reading it. And right now, I’m a little bit in love with anything Bruce Norris writes. Oh, and I can’t wait for Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit. The script is boss.
Favorite Quote: Quotes get me in trouble. When I was in high school I was chosen to be in the Senior Hall of Fame and we had to choose a quote to go under our picture. I was really into Paradise Lost by John Milton for some reason so I chose my favorite quote from that book (which we were just reading in class by the way) but it got me in big time trouble with the principal because for I picked: “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” It caused for all of the other Hall of Fame quotes to be forbidden under pictures. It was a big little mess and the fact that I was using the word “hell” and quoting the devil earned me all sorts of things, including weekly visits with the school counselor. But all I kept saying it was “well, we’re reading it in AP English. Don’t get mad at me, get mad at Mr. Weseman.” Oh, Texas.
Down to business!
How excited are you about having your play at Goodman? What does this mean for you, and what do you hope to accomplish with this play?
This is my first full production at the Goodman as a writer and I don’t think I can put into words how excited I am. I just can’t describe what it feels like to hear this story about Norteños in the Owen. It just fills me with pride.
I never know how to answer when I’m asked what I want to accomplish or what I want people to take away from my plays. I hope people like El Nogalar, of course; I hope the characters resonate; but most importantly I hope it encourages people to pay some attention to what’s going on in the borderlands, because it’s part of the flesh of this country too. You can’t just sever it with a fence or a wall. We share flesh, an ecosystem both physical and karmic and we shouldn’t ignore this very important fact. The whole continent is like a huge organism so if the kidney is sick, there will go the heart and the brain and the lungs. We are connected by cultural, ecological and political tissue and until we embrace that, we are not going to heal this gash, which has become the Rio Grande River. I don’t know… I hope the play is able to at least encourage people to look at what’s going on more closely. See? I never know how to properly answer that question…
I have had the privilege of seeing different drafts of your script El Nogalar, and from the last reading at Millennium Park to now, there have been huge shifts. Do you forsee that continuing in the future, or do you think you found your path?
It was always meant to be this draft, I was just scared. I consciously left out the organized crime element during the first draft as a sort of dramaturgical exercise for myself. And because I was being a big fat coward. But during the writing of the first draft, my thoughts kept going to that place. I kept thinking about my family and how they are navigating it all. I think I’m pretty much staying on this…path, as you put it. I don’t foresee many more structural changes. Now it’s the time for tightening and tweaking.
What is it about the story of The Cherry Orchard that brought you to do your own adaptation?
I wouldn’t call this an adaptation, more like a play inspired by my slight obsession with the women in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. When I was studying theater at Boston University, I did not get exposed to a lot of Latino/Hispano playwrights. Perhaps Lope de Vega or Calderon de la Barca, but otherwise, my exposure was pretty much nonexistent. Until I “met” Mr. Chekov. He was the most Latino playwright I ever encountered during college; the way his characters were trapped by class; gender; socio-economic matters that bring about a revolution: He was basically Cuban to me. Or Argentine. Or Chilean. Or Mexican. He stayed with me. And specifically the women, they stayed with me: Anya and Varya and Lyubov and my own version of Dunyasha. You’ll see what I mean about “my own version” when you come see the play. She’s a survivor, es el pueblo.
What kind of responses did you anticipate or expect from the reading?
Hopefully that it didn’t suck. No, I never expect anything from a reading but that’s not to say I don’t expect much from a reading. I just kind of hold my nose, close my eyes and jump in. I emerge a little later trying to figure out how it all went and what the next step in the process is, regarding my script. But it hits me way later. Way, way later. It is nerve wracking when an audience hears your words for the first time in this kind of format, so like I said, I try to go a little numb right before so I won’t get nervous and hope we all don’t drown.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Just to give in to the Spanish. I get criticized for having a lot of Spanish in my work, but I’ve drafted this in a way that you never miss any new information. You will always know what’s going on. I think if you let yourself embrace that this is a hybrid culture, inside Los Nogales, then you will find the fusion of English, Spanish, Spanglish and Espanglés, quite appetizing.
Tanya Saracho was born in Sinaloa, México and is a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists and Teatro Vista, a Goodman Theater Fellow at the E. Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender, an Artistic Associate with About Face Theater and the Co-Founder and former Artistic Director of Teatro Luna. Tanya’s writing has been featured in most of Teatro Luna’s ensemble-built works. Her plays include: “El Nogalar” a play inspired by “The Cherry Orchard” commissioned by Teatro Vista, opening in the Spring of 2011 at The Goodman Theater, an adaptation of “The House on Mango Street” for Steppenwolf SYA (2009), “Our Lady of The Underpass” with Teatro Vista (2009), “Surface Day” with Chicago Children’s Humanity Festival (2008 ),”Jarred (A Hoodoo Comedy)” with Teatro Luna (2008), “Kita y Fernanda” at 16th Street Theatre (2008) and “Quita Mitos” with Teatro Luna (2006). Saracho is a recipient of the Ofner Prize given by the Goodman Theatre, winner of a 3Arts Artists Award and is currently under commission by Steppenwolf Theatre, under a Mellon Foundation grant to write two plays. Tanya is also a proud working Chicago actor.