ANPF readings set at SOU Main Stage April 29-30
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
The plays of Cuban-born Carlos-Zenen Trujillo (who uses the pronouns they/them) typically deal with the life and culture of their homeland — as does “Christmas, Contigo,” which played to nearly sold-out crowds over the holidays at Oregon Cabaret Theatre.
But Trujillo’s new play, “Our Utopia,” draws on the playwright’s experiences as an Oregonian.
“In it I am trying to capture what the soul of Oregon is,” Trujillo said. “That is my central question. What are we doing here? What lies beyond the Oregon Trail?”
The play, which will be workshopped later this month by Ashland New Plays Festival in collaboration with Bag&Baggage Productions of Hillsboro, Oregon, will have its world premiere in Hillsboro this fall.
ANPF readings of “Our Utopia,” open to the public, will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29, and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30, at Southern Oregon University’s Main Stage Theatre, 491 S. Mountain Ave. in Ashland.
“This ANPF workshop is the last opportunity the playwright has to experiment with new words in front of an audience,” said Jackie Apodaca, artistic director. “It will be the week during which this new play will crystalize.”
Participating in the readings will be actors August Gabriel, Isabel Pask, Emily Serdahl, Lauren Bone Noble, Vilma Silva, Wyatt Fisher and Asa Warnock; and stage manager AJ Ark. Apodaca directs and dramaturg is Lue Morgan Douthit.
Douthit is the former director of literary development for OSF and was associated with the company for decades.
“I’ve never met Carlos in person,” Douthit said, “and I’m looking forward to that.”
Her takeaway so far, via Zoom:
“Carlos is a passionate, brilliant theater-maker who is a great listener and has a lot to say about the world they see.”
During the workshop week, Douthit and Trujillo will talk about structuring ideas, which may result in a bit of rewriting in the weeks following.
Drawing inspiration from “Our Town,” the play asks big questions about belonging and community.
Why the descriptive, “utopia”? The playwright argues that utopian aspirations were part of Oregon’s beginnings.
“All the people who came here came to create paradise,” Trujillo said. “Some were beautiful, some were destructive, many were tainted with racial prejudice and indigenous genocide. Very few of them succeeded. We have ghost towns to prove it, more than any other state in the union. I want to ask why and how?”
Faith has been an important part of who Trujillo is: a person who’s always been drawn to the mystery of cults and extreme beliefs.
“I am a very religious and spiritual person. At the same time, I have a huge interest in obsession and what extremes do to people. We saw it two years ago on Jan. 6.”
These themes are explored in “Our Utopia.”
“For me, it is important work to find empathy with folks in ‘cult’ circumstances,” Trujillo said. “If we better understand where that obsession comes from, we can better help each other. Oregon is a state of idealists, dreamers, and utopia builders. There is a rich history here to mine.”
Trujillo, 26, is a recent SOU graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater arts who now lives in Hillsboro. Trujillo is queer, identifying as non-binary, and acknowledges that it is reflected in the writing.
“It is not something I can consciously point out, but it will always form part of the tapestry.”
Luck of the draw brought Trujillo to America from Cuba at age 5.
“In those years, the U.S. would run something we called ‘El Bombo,’ a huge raffle for a visa. My dad happened to win.”
At the time, they had extended family living in Southern California so that’s where they went.
“It wasn’t for us, though,” Trujillo said. “We followed my uncle up to Oregon five years later (in 2006) and never looked back.”
“At age 13, Trujillo went back to Cuba on a visit and saw a guerrilla theater show that may have been the game changer that set the youth firmly on a path to a career in the theater arts.
“In Cuba, non-state theater is illegal. Anyone who wants to put on a performance has to do it in secret. That particular performance was ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ and it totally changed my life,” Trujillo said.
“It was performed in someone’s back yard in Centro Habana on a stage made of concrete. The audience sat in the family dining chairs. There were no costumes, no set, minimal props. It was entirely in Spanish. And it was one of the best pieces of theater I’ve ever seen.”
Ashland’s reputation as a “cradle of theater” was the reason Trujillo came to the Rogue Valley for college. And an SOU class conducted by Octavio Solis proved to be the inspiration that led to becoming a playwright.
Solis, who moved to the Rogue Valley a few years ago, is author of 20 plays, including “Mother Road,” produced by OSF. He is one of the most prominent Latino playwrights in America.
“I give full credit to him,” Trujillo said. “It is because of his class that I unlocked that part of myself, and that I am able to be a playwright at all. Mentorship is so important. I am lucky to have such a generous, kind, and patient mentor.”
What challenges has Trujillo faced as a queer playwright?
“There always will be a subset of people who do not want to engage with gender diverse writers,” Trujillo said. “It’s not the overt rudeness that hurts, but rather the unspoken things. The dismissiveness. There always will be people who judge me before they even read my work. The hard work is to tune that out, and keep writing.”
Trujillo’s plays could be described as being about parents and children, and how that archetypal relationship shows up in different ways across different intersectionalities. The concept of intersectionality describes the ways inequalities based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects.
One of Trujillo’s mentors, James Edmondson, was with OSF for nearly four decades, directing 34 productions.
“He would do an exercise where we would play a parent or child with a partner and give each other either a pat on the hand or a light smack. That exercise affected me a lot. In every relationship we have, all we are looking for is comfort, and all we fear is rejection.”
Trujillo looks forward to the workshop with no expectations other than radical change.
“Workshops are such an amazing experience, because it gets me out of my head and into a room with talented artist collaborators who can really shift the perspective of the play and bring it to life,” Trujillo said.
“I expect this will be a very different play at the end of workshopping it.”
Part of the process is engagement with an audience during the readings. It can create opportunities that facilitate better conversations about the work. To participate, you can purchase readings tickets at ashlandnewplays.org.
Reach writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.