2017 Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre Winner
Visiting Multicultural Faculty Member
You are the winner of the 2017 Cunningham Commission for Youth Theatre. Tell us about the the play you are writing.Throwaway Kids
centers on the lived experiences of homeless youth who hop trains in the American Southwest. Genesis, a thirteen year old Zapotec Mexicana from Oaxaca, wakes to find herself locked in a freight train in El Paso, Texas; her coyote (the person who helped her cross the border via freight trains) is the one who locked her in, a common occurrence that often leads to heat stroke. As she pleads for help, a group of ragtag teens and pre-teens cut the bolt on the freight train and free her, which is where Genesis meets the self proclaimed “Throwaway Kids” — a group of eclectic homeless youth on the road, not really looking for a home but rather finding home wherever they lie their head, and in each other. Throwaway Kids
is part train play, part a coming of age story, and part an interrogation of homelessness through the eyes of young people who are trying to find their place in the world. It’s an interrogation of our collective role in support systems for youth homelessness, and where that intersects with immigration policies through the eyes of a young girl trying to find a home for herself in a new country. What interests you about writing plays for young people?
I think of it less about writing plays for young people and more about writing plays for all people. A phrase an anti-racism organizer told me once was, “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will shape your reality.” This feels painfully true, but especially through the eyes of a young person. Often, the world younger people live in is shaped by the gatekeepers in their lives — primarily teachers and parents. And the truths many gatekeepers keep from these young people are often kept out of fear or discomfort and wanting to keep the innocence and naiveté in young people preserved. But the harsh truths in lives, the realities many young people face, especially for women, queer people, and people of color, are learned the hard way. The most recent movement following the shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida, demonstrates that. I want to write plays that tell the truth. That tells young people that they aren’t alone. That remind young people that they’re powerful, complex, and beautiful human beings. That they have a voice and they deserve to be here just as much as everyone else. Describe your playwriting process.
Every play is different, but across the board, I love to write in public places. Something about the energy of human life moving around me inspires me greatly. I also light candles, incense, and sage — part of conjuring my indigenous Mexican rituals that help me get centered whenever I’m entering in and out of the different worlds in my head. I also create a Spotify playlist that paints the soundscape of the world for me. Language is music and so are people so I love to surround myself with the music of the worlds I’m writing — the sounds I hear when I walk down the street, the songs I think they’re listening to … that sort of thing. What do you like to do for fun?
I’m obsessed with movies. I’m a huge movie buff. I don’t have a ton of free time so the little time I have is going to the movies. It’s such an escape for me. I’m also a big foodie so once a month my partner and I like to treat ourselves by trying new bougie restaurants. Haha.Tell us about some of your current projects.
I'm currently in rehearsals for the world premiere of Ofrenda
with Albany Park Theater Project (I’m the first playwright they’ve ever worked with as they typically devise so that’s been a fun and rewarding challenge); it runs April through June. I then go into rehearsals for the world premiere of my play The Displaced
at Haven Theatre that runs May-July, a horror gentrification two-hander — very scary! I’m currently in the Goodman Playwright’s Unit where I’m working on my play Wade
which is an epic play about faith using the hurricanes in Houston, Texas, as the framework — who gets left behind, who doesn’t, and why. So the public reading for that will be in July. Much of my summer will be spent writing and working on current commissions (South Coast Rep, Steep Theater, StepUp Chicago Playwrights) before going into rehearsals for a yet-to-be-announced project in New York City in September and October, and then I go into rehearsals for the world premiere of my play La Ruta
at Steppenwolf which runs December 2018 - February 2019. I’m also dabbling in some TV & film stuff — nothing formal yet but lots of exciting possibilities! So...lots going on but excited to be working!
His play La Ruta will be receiving its world premiere at Steppenwolf Theater Company this fall. He is currently under commission from South Coast Repertory, Goodman Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville (Acting Apprentice New Play Commission), The Theatre School at DePaul University (Cunningham Commission for Youth Theater), Sideshow Theater Company, Albany Park Theater Project, and StepUp Chicago Playwrights. His plays have been supported by Steppenwolf Theater Company, Primary Stages, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Goodman Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, Northlight Theatre, Albany Park Theater Project, WaterTower Theater, Haven Theater, Teatro Vista, Greenhouse Theater Center, Jackalope Theater Company, Pivot Arts, Definition Theater Company, Broken Nose Theater, Stage Left, The VORTEX, and Something Marvelous. He is the recipient of the 2017 Jeffry Melnick New Playwright Award at Primary Stages, an inaugural 3Arts “Make A Wave” grantee, a member of the 2017-18 Goodman Theatre’s Playwrights Unit, Co-Creative Director at the Alliance of Latinx Theatre, a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists, an Artistic Associate with Victory Gardens Theater, Ensemble Member with Teatro Vista, Artistic Associate with Pivot Arts, Artistic Curator for Theater on the Lake 2018/2019, a steering committee member of the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) and a core producer with the Jubilee.