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Ocho Años

Updated: Mar 14



Eight years ago, on March 11, 2016, I walked on stage at Ross Valley Players Theater to perform my one-woman show, Tell Me Your Name; I had no idea I was embarking on a new career. This picture is from that first show. Since then, I've been using theater to address issues of fairness and justice.



After three-plus decades as a lawyer (and some years as a journalist), I took a break from law to focus on writing. I had started a novel several years earlier and planned to continue with that project. But something about that work in progress wasn’t working. My friend Diane invited me to join her for a series of Saturday classes at The Marsh Theater titled Telling Our Stories with David Ford, an enormously gifted teacher and director of solo plays. I fell in love with oral storytelling in that 10-week workshop.


The culmination of these classes was a group show after the 10-week sessions, with each student performing for 15 minutes on stage. My friends and colleagues repeatedly showed up, seeing my new material and providing wonderful feedback and support. Often asking, “When is your next stand-up show?” It pleased me that they thought of my work as standup comedy. While it isn't standup, it does have lots of laugh-out-loud humor.


After enrolling in David Ford’s class for three consecutive sessions, he encouraged me to develop the material into a full-length (hour-long) show weaving history and comedic insights into stories about names.


While writing this show, I was accepted into an intensive eight-day workshop in San Francisco with the award-winning playwright and solo performer Anna Deavere Smith and her production team -- dramaturge, dialect designer, and movement coach. The knowledge and confidence I gained from this experience convinced me I could get my show into a theater. 


Shortly after that workshop, I was at a friend’s birthday party, where I met another guest and learned we both loved theater. She shared that she was on the board of a community theater interested in producing new work by California playwrights. I told her about my play, and she asked me to send her a copy of the script. A few weeks later, the theater told me they wanted to produce my show the following spring. David Ford, a great collaborator whose insights and direction had helped me develop the material, served as the show's first director.


Have you ever heard this saying? “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” Sometimes, it’s also phrased as “fortune favors the well-prepared.” I sure was lucky to have made this random connection, and by then, I had spent a couple of years diligently researching, writing, and studying the art and craft of solo performance.


In this show, I portray 20+ characters, including me at various ages, my parents, teachers -- a parochial school Filipina nun and a University of Notre Dame Law School professor – as well as classmates, colleagues, opposing counsel, and others I have encountered throughout my career. Collectively, these characters show us that names can be minefields of misplaced notions, comical, sad, demeaning -- that speak volumes about where we are as a diverse nation.




I was thrilled that my play was included in the Nuevo Teatro: Festival of New Plays at The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Theater in San Antonio. Performing the show in South Texas, where I was born and raised and where many of these stories are set, has been especially meaningful. Fortunately, in the last year, I have been able to return to my home state with updated versions of my show. I code-switch between English, Spanish, and Spanglish much more frequently with overwhelmingly Latino audiences.



Shortly before taking my play to The Guadalupe in San Antonio in 2017, I began working with another talented director, Rebecca Fisher. I also changed the play's name to Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?  Bruce, a friend and colleague who produces solo shows, shared with me that the show's title, Tell Me Your Name, gave no clue about its content and how it addressed identity and belonging. Was I open to changing the title?


"I'll think about it," I told him. As I was leaving, I told Bruce, "Here's the deal: I have no control over whether people care about or try to say my name correctly, but why would I mispronounce my own name?"


"That," Bruce said, would be a good title." And so the name changed.


In the Fall of 2018, I had a six-week run at the San Francisco Marsh Theaters, a premier venue for solo shows. It was extended twice and, in 2019, moved to the Berkeley venue of The Marsh. My show was selected for the Best of SF Solo Series, which played in San Rafael and San Leandro, California. My last show was on March 8, 2020, and already, people were staying away from venues like theaters. Two weeks later, COVID shut down our entire country. Hard to believe this was four years ago.

  


During COVID, my play was selected to be part of Re-Encuento 2021, the National Latino/a/x Theater Festival (virtual) sponsored by the Los Angeles Latino Theater Company. Audiences across the US, Europe, and South America watched it. I also had the opportunity to perform my show on Zoom for schools, non-profits, law firms, and corporations. Following these shows, the virtual audiences engaged in productive group discussions about creating more equitable schools, workspaces, and organizations.


Since the reopening of theaters, I've performed my show in San Francisco, Berkeley, Nashville, San Antonio, Kingsville, Texas, and Scottsdale, Arizona. Beyond theaters, I've taken my show to colleges and universities and will be at Princeton next month and at Trinity University in San Antonio later this year.  


What keeps me deeply engaged with the work is researching efforts nationwide to roll back civil rights gains and tailoring stories to connect the dots to the history of the places where I perform. The script changes to address the culture wars raging in our country, and there is no shortage of material, from the dehumanizing and scapegoating of groups, the rise in targeted hate crimes, gun violence, the anti-CRT movement, and the concerted effort to ban books in schools and public libraries, especially those by writers of color and the LGBTQ+ community. The persistent attack on women's rights, especially to bodily autonomy, is front and center of everyone's mind. All these topics are at the heart of the work and the post-show talkbacks with audiences.


My goal with each production is to bring fresh perspectives to long-standing problems and encourage everyone to examine their biases and prejudices (all of us have them). Dr. Martin Luther King said, "Justice is Indivisible. Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere." I seek to give life to his words. See something, say something. All of us can be champions for justice and fairness.


You can watch this 2-minute video about my theater-making adventure.



Thanks to everyone who has seen and encouraged others to see my show. Please come again when it is at a theater near you.














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