Saturday, November 16, 2013

A sit down with Shawn Harris, Crossraods Theatre Project and a play called "Encanta"

While we at Twinja Book Reviews attempt to promote mainly books, we've found that many other forms of art are often worth shedding light back on, especially when they feature marginalized groups. From movies, to television, to nation wide beauty pageants, we've given our two cents on a diverse amount of topics. This is the first time we've brought in a playwright to get her two cents. Currently she has written a play by the name of "Encanta." It features not only all Latino characters, but several main characters are members of the LGBTQ community as well. An article about the project can be found here. Before we go any further into the details, why don't we let her explain everything.

1. Before anything, would you like to reintroduce yourself to any reader who may not be familiar with you? What do you do for a living?
I never know how to answer that question in a way that actually reflects who I am. I'm between jobs at the moment, but that's not how I define myself anyway. There are things I'm passionate about though. Combining social justice with the arts and entertainment is one of the big ones, though. As is improving representation for everyone who is not straight, white, and/or male (and affluent, and able-bodied, and neurotypical).

2. After a bit of research about Crossroads Theatre Project, we've come to know it supports writers and stories of marginalized groups. Does this company actively seek people of color, woman and members of the LGBTQ community? Or are the individuals typically the best people for the job regardless of any of those factors?

The important thing to keep in mind about Crossroads Theatre Project is that it's not a company. There's no standard roster of people that I always work with, so that leaves the structure open enough for fresh air to circulate. 

I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the idea that someone has to choose between diversity and competence. I believe there is a wealth of talented people waiting for an opportunity to show what they're capable of. Crossroads Theatre Project is very deliberate about seeking out and working with those people because so much of each play's substance comes from the particulars of race, gender, sexuality, class, and so on. There's also the larger element of how responsible each person in theatre is for doing what they can to resolve issues in representation for people who tend to fall by the wayside.

3. We've had the chance to take a peek(privately and unshared of course ;p) at your recently completed script "Encanta." Why don't you tell people a little bit about that?
I'm going to use the description that a friend of mine used, which has become my favorite. "A pirate lady and a sorceress lady fall in love, and nobody's white."

For a more elaborate description, I'd say that it's "Kirikou and the Sorceress" meets "Moonstruck" on the island from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" with a Latin Jazz soundtrack (no really, I made one).

In a lot of ways, "Encanta" came from my participation in the fandom for ABC's "Once Upon A Time." It's kind of a love letter to Regina Mills (aka The Evil Queen), who is my absolute, hands-down favorite character on the show. It's also a love letter to other fans of that character and to Lana Parrilla's phenomenal work on the show.

4. If we are correct Shawn, you are a Non-Latina African American. Why write a play about Latinos? Was there a certain turning point that leaned you toward making a play featuring Latinos?
There wasn't a point where I was imagining the people in this play as something other than Latino. That was part of the vision for the play since the beginning.

It's not this sort of thing where I thought to myself, "Let's see, how about I write a play about Latinos. That should be fun."

Because this play started out in part as a love letter to a Latina actress, it never occurred to me to not make the main character Latina. It also never occurred to me to have this character be the single solitary Latina in the world of this play.

I'm always struggling with my decision to make everyone Latino, but every time I considered being less clear and not being specific about these characters being Latino, it always felt wrong, like I was betraying something that made these characters who they are.

I suppose I could say something vague like, "anybody can play these roles," but taking the risk and being specific is pretty much the only way I can do my utmost to keep "Encanta" from being whitewashed.

5. Growing up Afro-Latina, both of us have had a difficult time explaining to Non-Latinos, heck, even other Latinos, that Latino is not a race, but more of an ethnicity. We assume for fairer skinned Latinos, it is much easier to ignore this fact, considering they make up the majority. But the truth Latinos come East/South Asian, Black, Western Asian/Middle Eastern, Mixed race, White, Indigenous, and who knows what else! When you look at your characters in "Encanta", do you picture them racially diverse? Im sure you've already been asked this XD But do you have an imaginary cast?
I'd have to ask by how you distinguish between race and ethnicity because if you're defining race as biology and ethnicity as culture, that itself is kind of a problem, especially when you consider the history of the concept of race and what that says about people who get classified into a race.

But if you mean to ask whether I imagine these characters being all different colors and having all kinds of hair textures and other physical features, then, yeah, I most certainly do. I have a dream cast, and it always changes. Lana Parrilla has played Katrina multiple times So has Gina Torres when Lana is otherwise busy in having adventures in other parts of my imagination. Angel Coulby and Zoe Saldana may or may not have found themselves on the casting couch in my head. and it always changes. In my head, Penzima has been played by Jasika Nicole, Tracie Thoms, and Samira Wiley.

6. Not only are all the characters written Latino, but many of the main characters represent the LGBTQ. We believe we've mentioned this to you before, but Queer identity is not always an easy topic to speak amongst the Latino community. This is changing, but the stubborn folks of the past are still hung up on "gender roles" in the household. When individuals don't meet these roles, they aren't always met with open arms. Mind you, this could be any community, as it is not limited to just the Latino community. But was it a conscious decision to write a play about Queer Latina characters? Or was it a decision you didn't have to put much thought into? Was it just meant to be written this way?

I didn't have to put much thought into it. Once I realized that the play could be nothing but LGBTQ characters, I said, "They're all LGBTQ," and that was it. It wasn't so much imposing that (aka, what some detractors of diversity in the arts would call "making it PC") as allowing that part of my experience to be itself.

What I did get particular about was gender and making it obvious that not the characters are not cisgender by default. I was very careful about not tying a character's gender identity to their genitalia.

7. People of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, as well as other marginalized groups don't often receive positive images of themselves in the media. Anyone not marginalized often form their opinions on these groups, and don't often change them unless they are willing to unlearn ignorance. Many do, many do not. Is there any advice one could give to any person of color, particularly women, whom identify as Queer, who are afraid to be themselves, due to the pressure of meeting traditional roles often set within households at a young age?
I don't feel really comfortable doing that. The only person's experience I have any authority to speak about is my own. It'd be one thing if it was someone I knew very well coming to me personally, but it doesn't feel right for me to tell anyone else what they should do with their lives. Everybody has go their own way and figure out what works for them. I won't pretend that it's easy or simple to do that, either.

8. What was the last play you saw that truly inspired you?
"She Kills Monsters" by Qui Nguyen. Those of us who played Dungeons and Dragons would understand why.
9. 2014 is coming up, do you have any ideas that may begin to hit the page for the beginning of the new year?
I think I want to focus on shorter pieces this year. 10-minute plays and one-acts, stuff like that.

10. Lastly, where can anyone interested in supporting everything Shawn Harris and Crossroads Theatre Project,do so? When should we expect to see "Encanta?" 
Hopefully "Encanta" can make its way to the stage sometime next year, most likely the summer.

In the meantime, the best place to go to support Crossroads Theatre Project is at Fractured Atlas:

Follow The Crossroads Theatre Project on Twitter @: Xroads Theatre Project
Like The Crossroads Facebook Page @: Crossroads Theatre Project Facebook Page

Join The Crossroads Theatre Project mailing list @: Mailing List Feed
I thought this Bit-strips pic was appropriate, seeing how we got to sit down together via email and chat about Shawn's project.


  1. Thanks for this chat! It was fun!

  2. BTW, the link to the Fractured Atlas page isn't like the other links for some reason.


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