**Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Marilo Nuñez, a Chilean Canadian playwright, director, actor and academic. She was the 2018 recipient of the Hamilton Arts Awards for Established Theatre Artist and was recently nominated for the Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prize. She is the 2021–22 Playwright in Residence at Aluna Theatre (Toronto) and was a member of Natural Resources, Factory Theatre’s playwright’s unit for established writers in 2019. She was Playwright-in-Residence at Aluna Theatre in 2016 and was McMaster University’s first Playwright-in-Residence in 2018. She is the only Canadian workshop facilitator using the Fornes Method to teach playwriting at theatres and universities across the country. She was founding Artistic Director of Alameda Theatre Company, a company dedicated to developing the new work of Latinx Canadian playwrights. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph and is currently obtaining her Ph D. in Theatre & Performance Studies at York University.
How did you get started as a playwright?
I trained to be an actor at a conservatory training institution. I always wanted, more than anything to be an actor. But it was during my training that I realized that I, a Latina, was going to have a difficult time navigating the professional world because even in theatre school I was being typecast and stereotyped. When I graduated from theatre school I did work, and I am grateful for that work that I did get, but I was cast mostly in film and tv roles portraying hookers, drug dealer’s girlfriends and maids.
It was around this time that I met Carmen Aguirre, a fellow Chilean Canadian playwright. She gave me a copy of The Refugee Hotel, a play she was working on at the time. As soon as I read that play, I knew that I had to be in it. It is a play about eight Chilean political refugees who arrive at a Vancouver hotel weeks after the coup d’etat in Chile. My family was exiled from Chile in 1974 and we arrived in Toronto when I was three months old. So, this was a play about something I knew a lot about. I felt connected to it on a visceral level. Needless to say, that play which was supposed to get a world premiere by Factory Theatre never did see the light of day until my own company Alameda Theatre Company produced it in 2009 at Theatre Passe Muraille.
I tell this story because it was that play and the events that transpired because of that play- in a nutshell- director casts white actors to play Chilean refugees and the whole play gets shut down because of artistic differences between playwright and director- that propelled me to start my own company. It was about taking my own artistic practice into my own hands. During the fallout of that experience for me, where I quit acting and had to rethink my journey forward, I wrote my first play Three Fingered Jack and the Legend of Joaquin Murieta. The play went through every stage of development. It was part of Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival, I produced it at Summerworks and I learned so much about being a writer with that play. It is published in Fronteras Vivientes: an anthology of Latinx Canadian plays.
So, in fact, it was anger and frustration that propelled me to write. The thing is I have always been a writer. As a child I used to write short stories, poems and little plays, but it was always a very private thing for me. What this event in my life made me realize was that I loved, loved the process of writing for the stage. And the autonomy it gave me as an artist. And so, when I founded my theatre company, Alameda, the foundation of the company was about giving voice to our stories, from our community. I wanted to create the company that I wish had existed for me as a writer when I was first finding my place within the practice. Funnily, it wasn’t until I closed down the company in 2014 (after ten years) that I really gave myself permission and time to write. So, in a way I am just beginning to find my voice at this stage in my life.
What/who inspires you to write?
Many things inspire me to write. From injustices that I see in the world (one of my plays is about the little boy Jeffrey Baldwin who was starved to death by his grandmother) to exploring what it means to be a Latinx artist living in Canada. I am inspired by my collaborations with other artists and writers and I am inspired by the things I read. Everything from books on theatre making to fictional books about other worlds and realities created by other writers. I am inspired by my children and by my conversations with my husband. I am inspired by my own history and my experience of being the daughter of exiles (my most personal play to date is the story of my parents journey of exile and the effects it had on us, the next generation).
I am inspired when I do other forms of art making, like water colour, beading, dance. Watching other shows and films inspires me as well. I am open to the world around me to always give me signals and prompts. One of my deep inspirations is the work of Maria Irene Fornes. She was a Cuban American playwright and director who created a very unique way of playwriting. And one of the foundations of her work is the found object. Or the found word. Being inspired by the world around you and finding everyday things that can prompt you into creating a new scene or character. That process of writing has changed me as a writer. As one of my students recently said, there was my writing before Fornes and my writing after Fornes. I believe this to be true in my practice as well.
What have you been working on?
Right now, I am working on Foxy: Tales of an Urban Zorra. It is a play about a young girl, Lola, who is about to turn 15. Her mother Dolores is planning an elaborate quinceanera, a Latin American coming of age celebration (very steeped in religious mythology). Through this play I want to explore what it means to be a Latina- by bringing forth the 5 stereotypes that I think exist for Latina women. Each of these stereotypes will be like a fairy godmother to Lola as she navigates her entry into womanhood.
So, there is the Latina Lover, Maya, who embodies female sexuality. She is sexy as hell and great in bed. The Mother, Dolores, who embodies a domineering, jealous, overprotective woman. You don’t want to mess with the Mother and her chancla! La Virgen, who represents religion, guilt, goodness, virginal purity. La Chola/Gansta/Revolutionary, Gigi, who represents the defiant side, the fighter, the activist and then finally the Daughter, who represents and embodies innocence and chastity.
The women go back and forth between being these stereotypes and being their true selves. In the heightened version of themselves, I see them all wearing Fox heads, because in Spanish fox translates to zorra, which is also a slang word for puta or slut. I’m exploring my own relationship with my sexuality and the relationship I had with my own mother at that very crucial age. And looking at the ritual of religious ceremonies and the Latin American relationship with religion. I’m hoping it’ll be a mix of satire and humour mixed with darkness and (Latinx) drama.
Have you picked up any hobbies during the pandemic?
Oh yes! I now make sourdough bread on a weekly basis. My family is always begging me to do so! I have also started collecting vintage cabbage patch kids that I restore and resell. We are so far from a return to normal right now and theatre as we knew it seems like a long-lost friend. Stepping back and doing other things has helped me to re-evaluate how I want theatre to live in my life when we do return to some kind of normal. The world is changing and so is our consciousness (hopefully). As I delve deeper into my PhD, which will be looking at race and racism within the Canadian theatre landscape, I want and need theatre to be different than it was before the pandemic. It cannot exist as it was before because before there was a lot of inequity and racism within the system. All of this to say, stepping away and doing other things/hobbies has been really good for me.
What’s your favourite Canadian play?
I have a few. But I have to say that The Refugee Hotel by Carmen Aguirre (see above). And Guillermo Verdecchia’s Fronteras Americanas really changed things for me as a young artist. Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad. Huff by Cliff Cardinal. Deer Woman by Tara Beagan.
Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.