I spoke with my friend Trevor Boffone, an expert in Latin@ Theatre and Literature and a professor of Spanish, about his latest exciting adventures. Please check out our conversation below and be sure to visit his websites, linked below.
AJP: For people who don’t know, who are you, and what is your experience?
TJB: I just finished my Ph.D. in Latin@ Theatre and Literature from the University of Houston in December 2015. Although I’ve always loved theatre and grew up in a theatergoing environment (and donned a Hungarian accent as Professor Fodorski in All American my junior year of high school), I never formally studied theatre or made theatre beyond high school. My BA and MA are both in Spanish with a heavy emphasis on Latin American Studies. Most departments are traditional and largely exclude U.S Latin@s from the conversation. So I never really had any formal (classroom) exposure to Latinidad for the majority of my life. I simply didn’t know it was something I could study.
Midway through my MA in Hispanic Studies at Villanova University, I “discovered” Latin@ theatre. I was taking a Latin American Theatre course and my partner Kayla suggested I read a play called Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz. I read the play, published an article on it, and was hooked. In many ways, I began to decolonize my brain and realize the tremendous work of Latin@s in the United States.
My interest in theatre remained largely academic for a few years until I met Josefina López in 2012. As I tell everyone, she changed my life. She made me see myself as an artist (perhaps for the first time in my adult life). She made me feel like I belonged. She made me feel like I could make a difference through my work. She made me feel like my work could go beyond the university and truly engage with the community.
Long story short—my relationship with Josefina set me on a path that led me to becoming a member of the Steering Committee for the Latina/o Theatre Commons (which has also changed my life!), to championing the Café Onda Editorial Board, and to starting the 50 Playwrights Project.
I am here now, doing this work, because of many people, but several deserve a special shout out—Magdalena Gómez (pictured with Trevor in the featured image for this blog), Mercedes Floresislas, Abigail Vega, Marci McMahon, Jorge Huerta, Teresa Marrero, Tiffany Ana López, and Mariana Alegría.
For more on me, visit trevorboffone.com.
AJP: And then so what is the 50 Playwrights Project?
TJB: The 50 Playwrights Project (#50PP) is a digital resource dedicated to contemporary Latin@ playwrights and other teatro allies.
The 50 Playwrights Project is engaged in filling the gaps about contemporary Latin@ theatre artists. This project serves as a dramaturgical and pedagogical database for artists, educators, scholars, and students who are looking for more online information about playwrights: where are they from, how do they identify, what are they working on, what advice would they give to aspiring artists, links to relevant online resources, and so on and so forth.
The first iteration of the project will feature 50 short, to-the-point interviews with contemporary playwrights working in the Latin@ theatre movement
AJP: What drew you to starting this exciting project?
TJB: This is the resource that I wanted as a graduate student. For years, I’ve followed Adam Szymkowicz’s “I Interview Playwrights” series which, while a fantastic resource, doesn’t include many Latin@ playwrights. For years I went back and forth about making the leap and starting the project, but always found an excuse not to—mostly as a result of the “publish or perish” mentality of academia.
By chance, I crossed paths with playwright Josh Inocéncio in early 2016. We had just missed each other for years, but finally connected once he moved back to Houston after finishing his MA from Florida State. I randomly ran the idea by him one Wednesday afternoon and by Monday I launched the project.
AJP: I know you’ve already published a number of these interviews. What kind of response have you gotten so far?
TJB: The response has been so positive and supportive, especially from the playwrights. At first I reached out to my network of playwrights, but soon received emails from playwrights I had never heard of and from writers that I didn’t think would be interested.
Luckily, I’ve had the support of several key organizations (and their members) to help promote the project: the Latina/o Theatre Commons, Café Onda, and Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say. Additionally, the playwrights have done a phenomenal job of supporting the work and sharing the interviews with their networks.
AJP: That’s really exciting. I’m glad people are discovering 50 Playwrights Project so quickly. So, the big question, what happens after fifty people have been interviewed?
TJB: This is something people keep asking me and, at the moment, I don’t have a definitive answer. I have created an advisory board of sorts—Kayla Boffone, Claire M. Massey, Andrew Joseph Pegoda, Josh Inocéncio, Jasminne Méndez, and Lupe Méndez—that I bounce ideas off of (and these are the six people who have been instrumental to starting this project). I’m currently brainstorming ideas for the second 50PP series: an alternative interview format, 50 monologues, 50 testimonios, 50 guest posts, 50 lo que sea.
AJP: So often our projects evolve in sudden, last-minute ways. I know the next forms will be just as exciting. And I’m so honored to be able to help out. In its current form, who all do you hope to interview, and what do you want readers to learn?
TJB: I am committed to featuring the full spectrum of Latin@ playwriting and the Latin@ experience. I want #50PP to be a space that everyone views as welcoming and a safe space to express ideas. The 50 Playwrights Project will not just feature established veteran@s such as Migdalia Cruz, Josefina López, and Caridad Svich, but will boldly feature new, emerging playwrights such as Josh Inocéncio, Krysta Gonzales, and Wilfedo Ramos, Jr. To me, part of the beauty of the project is having a playwright who has never received a professional production (por ejemplo, Josh Inocéncio) next to a playwright who has won the Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement (Caridad Svich).
I hope readers will use 50PP as a starting point to learn about playwrights: ones they already know and new ones. I hope artistic directors and literary managers read about one of these playwrights and decide to produce them. I hope a graduate student does a google search for “Latina/o playwrights,” finds 50playwrights.org, and writes a seminar paper on Mercedes Floresislas. I hope that seminar paper becomes a dissertation and that dissertation becomes a book.
AJP: What can people do to support your project specifically and the arts generally?
TJB: My main goal has and always will be for 50PP to make it into the college classroom. I want professors to share this resource with their students and encourage them to learn more about playwrights they might have never heard of before.
I can say my journey has been richer for working with emerging playwrights such as Mercedes Floresislas. What started as an email introducing myself and asking to read Tamales de Puerco has grown into something so much more and something that continues to nurture my work as a scholar as well as my relationship with Floresislas.
People always ask me how they can support Latin@ theatre. And I believe the answer is simple. Be open minded and willing to try new things. Go to the theatre. Go see a play by a writer you’ve never heard of. Buy published plays. Read content on Café Onda. Share with your networks. Tweet it. Talk about it. Donate to the Latina/o Theatre Commons. Donate to your local Latin@ theatre company (CASA 0101 Theater, for example).
AJP: You said the 50 Playwrights Project is new and fills a gap in available knowledge. What else is waiting for a scholar to study?
TJB: The possibilities are endless.
I would love to see similar projects that feature the work of designers, directors, actors, etc. There are so many possibilities and so much work to be done.
For instance, there are terrific designers out there such as Regina García, Courtney Flores, and Christopher Acebo who are doing important work, but don’t always have the platform to profile the work. García and Flores have created La Esquinita series on Café Onda to do this work, but text can only go so far to showcase work that is visual.
AJP: What else would you like to tell us?
TJB: In addition to my work with the Latina/o Theatre Commons, Café Onda, and the 50 Playwrights Project, I am also working on two book projects—one based on my dissertation research and an anthology of new Latin@ plays.
My first book project, Eastside Latinidad: Josefina López, Community, and Social Change in Boyle Heights, is a study of theater and performance in East Los Angeles, focusing primarily on Josefina López’s role as a playwright, mentor, and community leader in Boyle Heights. Eastside Latinidad explores the mutual relationship between theater and community, and analyzes how theater and performance can be used as a critical framework to promote positive social change and new subjectivities on the Eastside. Eastside Latinidad examines the textual and performative strategies of contemporary Latin@ theatermakers based in Boyle Heights that use performance as a tool to expand notions of Latinidad and (re)build a community that reflects this diverse and fluid identity.
For my second book project, I am co-editing (with Teresa Marrero and Chantal Rodriguez) an anthology of plays from the Los Angeles Theatre Center Encuentro 2014 featuring the work of Quiara Alegría Hudes, Karen Zacarías, Magdalena Gómez, and other playwrights.
Stay tuned and visit my personal website for updates!
AJP: Wow. Thanks so much for your time, Trevor. I hope we can do another interview sometime to see all of the great things that have happen with 50 Playwrights Project.
TJB: Thank you so much!
You can visit 50 Playwrights Project at http://50playwrights.org and Trevor’s personal website at https://trevorboffone.com.