INGRAM NEW WORKS FESTIVAL: Natalie Risk Interviews Cristina Florencia Castro

INGRAM NEW WORKS FESTIVAL: Natalie Risk Interviews Cristina Florencia Castro

CRISTINA FLORENCIA CASTRO - ?The Very Last Wishes of Grandpa Joe, or Mia & Hector Go Sightseeing

Nashville Repertory Theatre's Ingram New Works Festival -- Nashville's annual celebration of new plays and playwrights - returns to Music City May 9-19. The festival gives local audiences an opportunity to hear fresh work created by exciting new voices, while making new friends while connecting via new works for the theater.

After a year of interning with the Ingram New Works Project and watching this extraordinary squad of playwrights work their magic, I knew that they all have some seriously smart things to say about their plays. I was curious to hear more about their process and how they crafted these incredibly powerful stories. So I interviewed them. And they so did not disappoint.

About The Very Last Wishes of Grandpa Joe, or Mia & Hector Go Sightseeing by Cristina Florencia Castro: A successful, acclaimed pop-up book artist travels to Ireland on a mission with her best friend-per his late grandfather's final request-as she secretly, silently grapples with losing her vision.

Natalie Risk: Why this play now? What inspired you to write The Very Last Wishes of Grandpa Joe, or Mia & Hector Go Sightseeing?

Cristina Florencia Castro: I wrote this play NOW because my already failing vision seemed to accelerate its degeneration in the last year or so. I approached this play with two core ideas: Fear & Love. What do I fear most at this point? Not being able to SEE my life the way I always have. What's something I love the most at this point? Ireland! And travel in general. So, I combined the fear of losing the details of my life with my favorite place and out came this funky little play.

How has working with the Ingram New Works Project shaped your play? What are you most excited about in the other plays?

Writing this play has been particularly vulnerable for me, and being able to come to Nashville every month with the same group of people has created a familiar environment to be brave in. You don't always get that with new play development experiences. Usually it's one and done workshops, but the consistency here in Nashville allows for support and feedback from artists and staff that really have taken time to get to know me and my writing. All of our plays are so different, and I'm excited about the incredible range of ideas and issues we collectively express and explore.

Your play defies traditional theatrical structure in order to be meaningfully experienced by both seeing and low-vision audience. What was your process of innovating the conventions that make that possible?

Well, I had several conversations with individuals in Minneapolis and here in Nashville who are low-vision or blind. I asked them about their experiences with live theater and the common thread was audio description. It usually goes that productions have a very small number of "accessible performances," where low-vision/blind audience members wear headphones and listen to someone describing the non-spoken action or movement in the play. Most of the people I talked to complained about the headphones - inconsistent, broken, can't control volume, etc.

So, instead of having the audio describer sitting in a dark corner with a microphone talking softly, I made them a character and put them on stage with the other characters in the play. No one has to wear headphones, and every single performance will be accessible to a low-vision/blind audience. My audio description character doesn't just sit and narrate either - she has agency and relationships with the characters that she has to juggle along with being our accessible rock.

American culture is tremendously grief avoidant, often preventing us from truly healing or being present for others in their grief. Your play urges us to embrace our grief, with all its raw ugliness. How has writing this play shaped the way you process loss?

See, I'm all about the ugliness of loss. Weeping, snot running down your chin, punching pillows kind of grief. The characters in my play do a ridiculous amount of crying - it's awesome.

I have no trouble letting myself grieve - I make detailed maps of my emotional life. But the downside is that I'll live in my grief longer than I should. What I learned writing this play is the importance of moving on with a sense of humor - a morbid sense of humor if need be. And maybe "moving on" isn't the right thing to say . . . more like "continuing."

Cry your face off as much as you want. Blow your nose. Hug your cat . . . if she'll let you. Tell a joke about your loss that makes others uncomfortable but that you think is hella funny. And continue.

I lost my father when I was 20 and now, at 29, I'm experiencing a different kind of loss. This play is me trying to understand these losses and how they have and will continue to shape me.

Ireland is a gorgeous nation, and you've had such a unique relationship with that culture. What's your favorite spot in Ireland? What is it about Ireland that moves you?

Y'all - it was love at first sight. The LAND.

The Wicklow Mountains, The Boyne Valley, Inagh Valley in the Connemara, The Wild Atlantic Way, Giant's Causeway, The Burren...just to name a few.

The natural topography of Ireland is utterly beautiful to me. And I don't go to Ireland in the spring or summer! I go in the chilly windy rain and I absolutely love it.

It's the land itself.

In the words of Jane Austen, "What are men to rocks and mountains?"

If you could go back and give yourself advice before you wrote the first word of this play, what would it be? I'd remind myself that it's okay to be clueless. I didn't know how to write this play most of the year. From the beginning I've known that this play was ambitious and I've felt ill equipped to write it. So I'd tell myself to embrace the difficulties and just keep writing.

INGRAM NEW WORKS FESTIVAL: Natalie Risk Interviews Cristina Florencia CastroTHE VERY LAST WISHES OF GRANDPA JOE, OR MIA & HECTOR GO SIGHTSEEING by Cristina Florencia Castro will be presented May 11 and 17 as part of the Ingram New Works Festival. Find out more about the 2018 Festival and reserve your seats by going to ?www.ingramnewworks.com.

About the playwright: Cristina Castro is a playwright/performer who hails from San Antonio, Texas and has been based in Minneapolis since 2007. Her recent honors include the Jerome Many Voices Fellowship at The Playwrights' Center, Silver Award in Playwriting from the National YoungArts Foundation in Miami, Fl. As a performer she has acted in the Twin Cities with theaters such as The Jungle Theater (Anna in the Tropics), Artistry (Wit), Mixed Blood (The House of Spirits), Park Square (August: Osage County), Daleko Arts (The Shape of Things), Market Garden Theatre (Three Days of Rain), Theater Coup d'Etat (Romeo in Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet), the Playwrights' Center, Teatro del Pueblo (Quita Mitos), Little Lifeboats (Parhelion), and History Theater (RAW STAGES New Works Festival). Cristina is a 2011 alumna of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program.

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