Conversations with the artists

Conversation with TINA ESCAJA, author of THOSE MOTHERS, TMM’s most recent play in Burlington, Vermont.  Tina Escaja is an awarded author, digital artist and scholar who teaches at the University of Vermont.  You can read more about her in TMM’s program for THOSE MOTHERS.  Tina graciously accepted an interview.  I met Tina in a coffee shop, a list of questions and a recorder in hands.  As we began to chat, it appeared that Tina prefers written interviews.  I did not complain because we then had a wonderful unrecorded conversation over coffee and hot chocolate.   I later on emailed my “written” questions ( below) to Tina.   Muchas gracias, Tina.  

  • TMM: You write poetry  and you write plays.  Does one come first?  Which one  and why?

T.E.: Poetry comes to me naturally.  It is a genre I always felt comfortable with. So yes, it has to be poetry.  I have a fascination for the word on the page, both visually and in content.  It has a captivating power.  But I try to apply this sense of power to my plays as well, of course.

  • TMM: How does poetry influence your writing of a play (if it does)? And vice-versa.

T.E.: I’ve always questioned borders and limits, settled definitions.  Even though poetry comes to me easily, it is always entwined with other genres and written forms.  For the same reason, I have poems presented as a play, and I have performed poems on stage, as spoken word.  So one genre can definitely inform and influence the other, or “become” the other.

  •  TMM: Your first language (the language of your childhood) seems to be Spanish.  But you function professionally in English too.  In which language do you prefer to write your first draft of a play?

T.E.: Spanish.  This is my first language of identity and profession (I am a professor of Latin American and Spanish language, literature and culture at UVM).  However, I have spent many years in this country, and I can maneuver around in English at ease, of course.  Language is the anchor of poetry in particular, so I rely on Spanish for my creative writing, of anything.

  • TMM: Do you prefer to use a computer keyboard, pencil and paper, an audio recorder r even typewriter -or does it not matter to you?

T.E.: I prefer the keyboard. I replaced the pen with the keyboard in the early 90′, when I started to get fascinated by the black screen (it used to be black).  I even crated a cybernetic persona, Alm@Pérez, which I still use in particular with my digital work. Orality is not my forte, since my background did not encourage me to have enough confidence to express myself verbally.  Unless it is teaching, of course, where I feel very comfortable, like a kind of performance.  My subjectivity flourishes in writing.

  • TMM: Do you begin writing your play with a clear idea of the whole, or do you just start with an idea and see what happens?

T.E.: Writing is a process of knowledge and self-discovery.  I usually start abruptly, facing the white page, and see how the story or poem evolves. However, sometimes I also have a previous idea, a theme, or even an ending for a plot, and I move from there.  So I guess it is a mixture of both.

  • TMM: What types of themes=subjects do you like best? Do you like subjects that you feel confident about? Subjects that you question? Do you have to feel comfortable with the subject?

T.E.: My writing is also a way to express activism.  Therefore political issues, primarily feminist issues, are some of my subjects of preference.  But I also like to push myself to new options and enjoy dimensions that are less familiar to me, like trying science fiction and narratives for video games.

  • TMM: What kind of treatment do you prefer to give the issues you are dealing with?  The black and white type with a definite answer? The grayish type with no straight answer?  A mix?

T.E.: Obviously, I always try to maintain balance and highlight the complexity of the human condition; provide to te narrative a depth for the viewer or reader to untwine. But it is also true that with certain issues such as social justice I want to be clear and expose the problems, so in these cases I tend to focus more on the issue and message than in its grey areas.

  • TMM: How do you decide about an ending?  What is the best type of ending for a play?

T.E.: Each play is different and unique in its own way.  However, perhaps because of my poetic inclination, I prefer the open ending, or a kind of ending that leaves you “suspended” and, in a way, transformed.  I am not sure if I accomplish this though.  The setting and production of the play is very important for achieving that goal as well.

  • TMM: Where do your characters come from?

T.E.: Life, personal experience, or by themselves.  Sometimes the narrative presents itself with characters you have never expected to explore.  then, they take their own path in the texture of the story.

  • TMM: Do you take sides with some of your characters?  Do you like all your characters?  What is your relationship with your characters?

T.E.: Yes, I do takes sides, but again, characters finally take over and you just give them words.  There is a distance marked by the rhythm of the play.

  • TMM: Who is your favorite Spanish-speaking poet?  Why?

T.E.: Decades of learning and teaching Spanish poetry prevents me from having favorites.  Different movements throughout the centuries inform different ways of understanding and enjoying poetry.  And I happen to teach many of these movements.  I also prefer to disengage from the obvious, Neruda and Lorca, and my research and writings tune better with more recent explorations in our century, primarily by women poets from Latin America and Spain.  No particular favorite though.

  • TMM: Who is your favorite Spanish-speaking playwright? Why?

T.E.: I think I can refer to my previous answer as well.

  • TMM: What triggers you to write a play?

T.E.: Anything could be a trigger.  For THOSE MOTHERS, for example, it was a class I taught at UVM with the subject “Love, Sex and Censorship in Modern Spain”, where we addressed issues of gender, culture and sexuality.  The segment referring to the oppressive Franco era made me reflect upon the realities of women from my own family and their choices.  I wrote the play the semester I was teaching this class.  It was a cathartic process.

  • TMM: How do you define your role as a writer in approaches like Collectives and Multimedia creations?

T.E.: I love experimental and electronic options.  It is part of my “Alma@Pérez” persona, I guess, so I am currently experimenting with the experimental and the collective in a play-in-process under the title “De trips corazón/Guts for lunch” where artists and writers of all genres are invited to collaborate.  I like the concept very much, but it is proven to be hard to harmonize perspectives and coordinate the quality of the various entries.  My Facebook serves as the social media for the project.  This is an intriguing and new form of playwriting that, along with multimedia on stage, is going to be more and more prevalent.

  • TMM: Is the script of a play enough to create a play? Why or why not?

T.E.: Great question, and my guess is that you, Georgette, have a better rendering of the answer. I am primarily a writer, and a play is such when produced and performed, so it is up to the challenge of combining all the elements for the play to exist, even beyond the script, I would say… .

  • TMM: Do you think that writing is like giving birth? If yes, how do you fee when your script is in the hands of a dramaturge, a producer, and a director?

T.E.: No, I don’t think that writing is like giving birth (and I have two kids).  Writing is a for of enlightenment and a necessity for me.  It is important to note that creative writing is not my current profession either, so I don’t have particular constraints or restrictions in that regard.  I am happy to let my work go and reach new heights and visions.  Perhaps I am stricter with my poetry, since it is closer to my exigency for the importance and balance of the written word. 

  • TMM: What do you love best about writing a play?

T.E.: I have enormous fun and love for the unexpected to happen, through dialogue  and situations that keep building a story up from the figment of an idea.

  • TMM: What is the most challenging aspect when you write a play?

T.E.: Coherence, restraint, the factor of entertainment plus the political, that I always like to include.  This is a (very) difficult balance. 

  • TMM: THOSE MOTHERS.  Was the ending of THOSE MOTHERS a happy ending? You wrote Those Mothers many years ago.  Would you write it the same way today, would you write it at all today?

T.E.: Those Mothers responded to a moment and concept that I already explained. My interest are many and vey different now, but women’s issues are still high on my list of choices and concepts to explore in a play.  You could say that the ending of Those Mothers is happy, in that there is a connection between the generations and a freedom and ownership as women, and professional women, that were not present at the beginning of the story.  But love keeps being a challenge in people’s relationships and the historic blending of impositions, which keep being unresolved.  Here I tried that “suspension” of an ending that I mentioned before.  Your choice, Georgette, emphasized precisely that feeling (the ending in my script was more literal, and therefore less effective).

  • TMM: Please share with us whatever you think needs to be added related to theatre and playwriting.

T.E.: The way that we understand and experience theatre and playwriting is changing drastically and the potential is huge.  We need to be in tune and experiment with these tools and new tendencies, such as Augmented Reality on stage or using social media and spoken words as venues for dramatic and collective expression.  I am not saying that this is a better way of exploring theatre, but it is definitely a new form that could enrich the genre and can take us to new levels of the dramatic.  I am excited about that.

END OF OUR CONVERSATION WITH TINA ESCAJA.  THANK YOU TINA.