I’m primarily a solo artist, so when I first conceived of Jotalogues, naturally, I thought it would be another solo show. Before the Creation Fund Award, if and when an opportunity came up, I would workshop a character here and there, but it was a haphazard process with long periods of time between the character monologues. Initially, all I knew is that I wanted the piece to be inter-generational, pan-Latino and to tackle the complexities of coming into different forms of political consciousness. So a character might have his or her class politics down, but they would be slow on their gender issues; or maybe they had great environmental awareness, but their eating habits and diet were lacking in critical consciousness. In short, the piece would speak on some level to the difficulty of creating and maintaining coalition politics when are not truly versed in each others’ histories and concerns.
I assumed the piece would follow a typical multiple character monologue format. But that’s precisely what kept eating at me! I didn’t want it to be typical or predictable in content or form. So I kept tabling the project because I couldn’t find a unique way into the piece, and, more so, because of the lack of funds. Fortunately, when Sarah Guerra approached me about applying for the Creation Fund with La Peña Cultural Center as the lead commissioner, I knew we had to apply with Jotalogues—it had been gnawing at me for a couple of years.
So often as touring artists we have to be on the road a lot to pay the bills. Because of the Creation Fund I actually got a chance to stay home and just write. The focus on development, research and process emphasized by the parameters of the Creation Fund made it an ideal grant to seek. I often find it frustrating to write grants for work you haven’t created yet, especially if the grants expect you to tell them in detail what the end product will look like. As an artist, I’ve always felt that process counter-intuitive and a huge fallacy. How can I honestly tell you what something will look like when I haven’t created it? I may have an idea, but every artist can tell you it can change exponentially once you’re putting flesh to a bare-bone concept. Needless to say, it was a relief to find a grant that allowed me to commit to the process and left room for radical growth in the piece.
And this is exactly what happened with Jotalogues. I started with that initial idea and a few monologues, but in the end, with the risk-taking the Creation Fund allowed me and the time to let the piece talk to me — to find the story organically — I eventually landed on something so much stronger. For one, what I couldn’t have planned was the realization that hit me after the application was submitted and awarded. Because of the research I embarked upon, I knew the piece had to move into another format, preferably from a solo show to a two-person play. Fortuitously, over the course of the past five years, I had also been collaborating in various capacities with a dear friend and talent in his own right, D’Lo. He’s a wonderful character actor. Once he was on board as a co-performer and collaborator, I felt like the work really opened itself up to me. The piece remained inter-generational, but the work also demanded to become pan-ethnic. And with our mutual comedic chops, I knew we could push our audiences into taboo territory in a meaningful and thought-provoking manner.
Throughout the process inspiration came from many unexpected places, but the critical moment that shifted everything was when I read an article in the Ventura Weekly about Southern California sea otters and how they have been deemed “illegal” in the Monterey Bay Area. I don’t want to give too much away about the play, because the element of surprise adds to the experience, but let’s just say a critical epiphany about how to present the piece through unexpected voices/perspectives gave us a fresh way to explore spirituality, race/ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, immigration, health, gender, and so much more. And while writing can be a solitary process, a few weeks before our initial residency, the process of putting the language and characters into our bodies really allowed us to fine-tune the text. Any playwright will tell you strong actors in a workshop process contribute tremendously to the nuance of a work. D’Lo’s ear for language and dialect was essential. Plus, he’s also a collaborator, constantly bringing ideas to the process. At one point, we even improvised a missing scene we knew we needed in the script about three different ways so I could figure out how to write it.
Once Mark Valdez, our director for this touring version of the show, joined us in the process for our residency week at La Peña, the script and our characters were ready for that outside eye. Mark was wonderfully efficient and brought in great ideas and enthusiasm for the work. He helped us tease out acting moments, blocked it, and had a great ear for potential edits in the text. Everything did really come together for us that week, including our fantastic costumes designed and built by Marisa Becerra. And putting up of first three shows at La Peña was a blessing too. Sarah, of course, was an incredible tech director, and the staff at La Peña exceeded my expectations. They’ve always been attentive and helpful, but they were ultra-supportive and even gave us access to their space for extra rehearsals and meetings weeks before our NPN residency.
La Peña represents the other reason I applied to the Creation Fund – I knew I would have two extremely supportive commissioners and audience bases. As with La Peña, for several years I had already been presenting my other solo works in Austin via allgo (a Texas Statewide Queer People of Color Organization). Asking allgo to come on board as the second co-commissioner seemed like a natural fit. They are the major and most consistent presenters in Texas of my work, providing artist-residencies with actual funding attached – the artist’s dream, especially when mainstream funding sources and venues don’t always support edgy queer works of color. Like La Peña, Priscilla Hale at allgo and the other staff and volunteers made themselves completely present and available for our rehearsal and production needs.
The two-site tour attached to the Creation Fund guarantees a fulfilling workshop process. Each night we presented during our residencies we had responsive and great feedback from our audiences. We found during performances even more detail and nuance that helped us illuminate the story. We still plan on improving our performances and doing an official premiere in the near future. And we’re looking forward to touring the piece and seeing how it plays in different regions. What I’m confident about is that Jotalogues: Talking Taboo in the LGBTQA—U! offers audiences something unique, complex, highly entertaining and satiating. This is what the Creation Fund afforded me—something I’m really proud to stand behind as an artist.
The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.