It’s not a secret that Latinx art isn’t as well funded as art made by white creators – this is especially true in theater. In October 2018, the Dramatists Guild of America and The Lillys published a study that analyzed 147 theaters and 3,970 productions since 2011. The latest iteration of the study (called the Count) found that, while plays produced by women had gone up 8.5% since the study’s first iteration in 2015, female playwrights only accounted for 28.8% of produced plays, compared to the 71% of plays by male playwrights.
It didn’t get much better when the study broke down the number of productions written by people of color. Productions by writers of color may have gone up nearly 5%, but playwrights of color only account for 15.1% of plays produced in this time, compared to the 84.9% of plays written by white people. Julia Jordan, the treasurer of the Dramatists Guild and executive director of The Lillys, created the Count as a way to measure who was entering the US’ theater canon.
“I, for one, do believe that the American theatre would be more exciting and influential, and have a higher bar for excellence if it produced a more diverse host of writers,” Jordan wrote. “And I hope the Count itself helps to push theatre in that direction.”
It’s with that energy that we’re highlighting eight of the most exciting Latinx/Latin@ playwrights of the moment. The 50 Playwrights Project – created by Houston-based scholar and dramaturg Dr. Trevor Boffone – explicitly wants more Latinx plays produced. Since 2017, the group has released three lists of the top unproduced plays written by Latinx- and Latin@-identifying people.
“Latinx stories are systematically underrepresented on U.S. stages despite the robust artistic production by Latinx writers. The 50 Playwrights Project encourages theater-makers to seek out the plays on our list and commit to equity, diversity and inclusion in their theater organizations,” according to the announcement that accompanied the 2019 winners list reveal.
These playwrights and their plays are ready for the biggest stages in American theater – they just need the shot.
Monet Hurst-Mendoza caught the attention of the 50 Playwrights Project with Torera. It’s about two friends – a young girl named Elena (who is the daughter of a housekeeper) and her best friend Tanok (who is the son of a famous rejoneador in Mexico) – on journey to become bullfighters in Mexico. Torera is the second of a three-play cycle about working-class women in Yucatán, Mexico, where the playwright’s family is from.
Marisela Treviño Orta
Marisela Treviño Orta is a Tejana playwright whose work is incredibly wide ranging, but she still calls herself “an accidental playwright.” She’s made waves for her cycle of new plays of “grim Latino Fairy Tales” and her latest play, Shoe.
Shoe is a story of a young woman (Marta), who gave up everything to take care of her family after her father left them in a double-wide in Texas. It calls for an all-Latinx cast and was inspired by the nursery rhyme, “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.”
In her interview with 50PP, Treviño Orta stressed the importance of finding community to help you prepare for the hard work that brings forth success. “It can take 10 years of hard work before you see any traction in your career. I heard that from another playwright early on and it was so helpful — don’t think you’re failing at this if you don’t see immediate success,” she said. “It takes time.”
Benjamin Benne is an MFA playwriting candidate at the Yale School of Drama. In a 2017 interview, he described himself as “a Jewtino of Guatemalan heritage.” Benne’s play, Alma (or #nowall), which got the attention of the 50 Playwrights Project, tells the story of Alma and her daughter, Angel, who are studying for their citizenship test and SATs, respectively. But the night before the SATs, Angel goes missing. It’s “a real-time, two-hander about an undocumented parent and U.S. citizen child’s differing visions of the “American Dream,’” as described by 50PP.
Guadalís Del Carmen
Guadalís Del Carmen is a Chicago-born Afro-Latina who now resides in New York. Her work covers relationships and intimacy, gentrification, queerness, history, police brutality, and more. Her play, Bees and Honey, is what landed her on the 2019 50PP list, but she has a deep roster of plays. Del Carmen wants Black Latinos to know that “theater is for them,” too.
“I want them to walk away feeling like theater is for them. I want them to feel like they can do theater. But most of all, I want them to feel seen,” Del Carmen told The Theatre Times. “I remember how I felt when I saw In The Heights, and the Dominican flag was raised high. I cried. I felt so seen. I felt so proud to be Dominican, to be Latina.”
J. Julian Christopher
Julian Christopher is a queer, Puerto Rican, and Dominican playwright. “These days I know my Dominican and Puerto Rican roots have grounded me in my search for identity. I think there is empowerment in ownership of identity to a larger group that identifies the in same way,” he told 50PP in 2016. “Not that the larger group defines me, but that I define my own identity within the group, creating a richer and more authentic self.”
Bruise & Thorn is about Bruise (who dreams of being a chef), Thorn (who wants to be a queer hip-hop artist), and their place in a Nuyorican street family in Jamaica, Queens.
Alexis Scheer is Colombian-American and Jewish. Her play, Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, caught the eyes of the 50PP selection committee. “Our Dear Dead Drug Lord dares you to dive into a world of millennial brujeria with a gang of viciously vulnerable girls who try to resurrect the spirit of Pablo Escobar. Think Mean Girls meets Narcos,” she told 50PP.
It’s a wild concept for a play, and Scheer knows it. “My mom is [understandably] horrified that I wrote this play. I, too, hold my breath and break a sweat every time I hear it in workshops. Sometimes I wonder if plays are like children – loud and constantly flirting with trouble – trying desperately to articulate their experience of the world with only the words you taught them,” she said.
Paz Pardo’s play, Milton, MI, is about threesomes, poetry, and, of course, slugs. It takes place at Milton Technical University where Jake is a professor and Leah, previously a poet, works in admin. By Pardo’s own words, things “get sticky” once Amber enters the picture. Pardo, who is Argentine-American, honed her writing while an undergraduate at Stanford University and on a Fulbright Scholarship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin’s playwriting program.
Mónica Sánchez is a Chicana playwright from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her dramedy, Los Dreamers, about an undocumented young adult named Scoobi, her mother Petra, her all-American citizen husband Dylan, and Scoobi’s dead soulmate’s ghost Roko. “For me, this is a play about the marriage of cultures, and returning to indigenous world views including the feminine, as guidance towards an enlightened evolution of community,” Sánchez told 50PP.