Interview with Maia Villa

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Maia Villa discusses her new play EN EL MEDIO. This is the last in a series of four posts featuring the playwrights of the Bennington 365 Women a Year Festival.

Q: How did you hear about 365 Women a Year? 

A: My friend and peer Natalie Osborne!

Q: Why did you choose Gloria Anzaldúa as your historic woman? What drew you to her? 

A: As a Chicana theatre artist, I felt a responsibility to represent the Chicana identity, which can be seen as both a curse and a blessing to any artist of color (any artist belonging to any underrepresented group). The decision was not forced,  however, because Gloria deserves so much recognition. Gloria can be described as chicana, tejana, queer, a feminist, a “dyke-feminist” (as said by her), a poet, a writer, a scholar, a cultural theorist, an activist…the list goes on.
Gloria also means a lot to me, personally. Discovering her and her work two years ago in my college’s library (Shout out to Crossett!) relieved me of the stress I used to have when grappling with the complexity of my own identities. Growing up, the identity of “American” and “Mexican” were in constant conflict with one another. She’s the one whose words taught me…haha, essentially, POR QUE NO LOS DOS?! To be Chicano/a means to simultaneously celebrate your American identity with your Mexican heritage…YOU CAN NOT SPEAK SPANISH, AND STILL BE CHICANO/A. Her permission informed my work at Bennington and beyond so much, and continues to today. She’s my identity savior.

Q: Can you walk me through the process of adapting a persons life for the stage? What were some of the challenges? What parts really clicked together? 

A: There were definitely a lot of challenges for me that made this process a long one. I got stuck a lot worrying about whether or not I would be giving Gloria’s life and work the representation it deserves. An example of something I was worried about: Gloria writes in six variations of Spanglish (Tex-Mex Spanish, Chicano English, etc.); so I was sad that, because I am monolingual, I would not be able to write a play that involves what she did with language in her own work.

I had to alleviate the pressure I was putting on myself before the *click* could emerge. I made the decision that, because Gloria’s work is all about inspiring others to break their normative perceptions of identity, I would allow my own grappling with my identity to seep into the work. I would allow me to seep into the work. Once I did that, two characters emerged out of a blend of both Gloria and Maia, and they came out of a time when I was deeply entrapped in my own Maia version of the BORDERLANDS! A personal event (relating to race) made me angry (an emotion I don’t actually feel easily for too long), so I contained the feeling, put myself in an empty theatre space, did a lot of physical actor work, and that was the moment all the *clicks* came together.  I intellectualize race so often with my peers during class, club meetings, etc. that I rarely allow the time to remember that inside me there’s still a little girl who hasn’t intellectualize anything — who simply feels…torn into two pieces, confused about where “home” is supposed to be. Gloria wrote about the Borderlands to put into words that feeling of being Chicano/a — of being neither and both at the same time.

Q: I’m captivated by the way you use language in the play, can you talk to me more about that? 

A: Ha ha, as I wrote earlier, I really just let it emerge. I could probably talk more about the how or why after I’ve done more readings and more revisions of the play. For now, I have ideas about how or why I did this or that, but nothing solidified yet — and I like it that way. All I’ll say is that I let ideas of Gloria’s flow through ideas of Maia and hoped they would come together to mean something for someone else.

Q: Are there any playwrights that inspired you while you were working on this piece, or who inspire you in general? 

A: I don’t consider myself a poet nor even a student of poetry, but I focused on being inspired by Gloria’s words — and also the work of another Chicana writer, Cherrie Moraga. Many, many playwrights inspire me, especially my peers at Bennington.

Q: What has been your favorite aspect of working with 365 Women a Year? 

A: Simply how we were able to create a community of artists nationwide via social media. YUM. I study community development on a smaller scale through my work at Bennington and my work at various non-profit theaters; but haven’t yet explored how community is developed on a bigger scale just yet. It’s exciting to me how we all have joined together without even knowing many of each other’s faces.

Q: Do you have any advice for the playwrights joining 365 Women a Year in 2015? 

A: Don’t feel the pressure to represent someone’s entire life in one piece! Duh. It’s totally okay to take a juicy slice out of their life, or, if you’re like me, write a bunch of slices that represent what they have meant to you.

A recording of the world premier of  EN EL MEDIO at the Bennington College Student Center on March 27th is available here and on the public archive on the HowlRound site.

To see the other post in this series, click on one of the links below:

Catherine Weingarten

Shellen Lubin

Natalie Osborne

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