By our literary volunteer Santos Herrera
Learn to Be Latina
is big, is bold, is hilarious, and it doesn’t apologize. The play follows a
young, talented woman named Hanan as she embarks on a strenuous journey of
re-identification in order to become the next big name in pop music. The
playwright behind this magnificent play is Enrique Urueta, whose play will be
the grand finale of Milagro’s 30th Anniversary season in May 2014.
Colombian-American Urueta, a native of the East Coast, was born and raised in Halifax County, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary, where he began to learn more about theater. In a recent interview he described how he just “fell into it.” “As I went through college”, Urueta said, “I became more academically interested in theater, not as an artist, but as a historian.”
Urueta recalled attending a theater conference in Toronto and realizing that he had never imagined that Canada might have its own theatre legacy. He soon made several trips there and back to gather as much material as he could about Canadian theater history. During one of his visits, he encountered a play by Canadian playwright Brad Fraser entitled, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, a comedy-drama about several sexually frustrated "thirty-somethings" who try to learn the meaning of love during a time in which a serial killer is terrorizing their city.
Before reading this play, Urueta recalled that he “had never read a play that shifted me emotionally.” The emotional shift he experienced reading Unidentified Human Remains..., also caused his focus to shift from studying theater from a purely academic perspective to a more artistic one.
After completing his undergraduate studies, Urueta made his way to the West Coast: San Francisco. It was there, in the Bay Area, that Urueta began his writing career. “I took some writing classes in college,” Urueta said. “But, I didn’t take it seriously until I moved to San Francisco.”
In February of 2005, Urueta wrote a short one-act play and entered it into a festival. He had previously worked in a literary office, so he knew that writing a comedic play would increase the chances of his work standing out. The plan worked and it was very well received, so much so that his one-act was produced.
Urueta took the one-act play he had previously submitted to the festival and transformed it into the first scene of Learn to Be Latina. He conducted research about Latin celebrities who had roots that extended beyond that of Mexico and Latin America, and found that two of pop culture’s biggest Latina celebrities, Salma Hayek and Shakira, both have grandparents of Lebanese origin.
He found guidance in one of the protagonist’s opening speeches. “I wrote Hanan’s monologue and saw the direction I wanted to go in,” Urueta said. “I like to find a character and find a tone and write something that I want to see without thinking about producers, actors, or anything. I write the play I want to see.”
Learn to Be Latina made its stage debut in 2010 at the IMPACT Theater in Berkley, California. In 2011, it received the 1st Great Gay Play award from Pride Films and Plays in Chicago. One of the judges said, “I would pay a large sum of money to see this on stage.” Portland area audiences will have their opportunity when Milagro presents its Pacific Northwest premiere this May, 2014. Urueta himself will be in Portland for the opening weekend, to see his play and participate in a discussion following the first Sunday matinee, sponsored by Oregon Humanities. He’ll also travel to Seattle to offer writing workshops with eSe Teatro.
Get tickets for Learn to be Latina today and meet the playwright on Sunday, May 4th on the conversation series Learn to be Latina: Identity Bootcamp!
SUNDAY MAY 4th ~ Just Who Do You Think You Are?
In Learn to Be Latina, Hanan is re-invented. She changes her name, learns a little Spanish and whole new cultural framework from which to talk about herself, raising questions about the mutability of identity. Visiting playwright Enrique Urueta will lead the conversation with guest scholars about his inspiration for this work, how artists reflect identity in their works, and how true life provides examples of transformed identities. In art as in life, how is identity accepted, ascribed or re-created? How does it impact how we are treated or treat others?