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Tow Foundation Playwright-in-residence: Paola Lázaro


Originally published on HowlRound Blog

The Tow Foundation’s Playwright-in-Residence at The Atlantic Theater Company, Paola Lázaro, discusses her residency and upcoming play, Tell Hector I Miss Him:

Talk a little about what being in a residency means to you as an artist and how the notion of residency influences your artistic practice.
For me, having a residency means having the support to move forward with a vision. As a writer, it’s sometimes hard to move forward because the creation process is rather lonely—most of the time it’s just you and your computer. The residency gives you a sense of family and community.

I truly believe that I work best when I have a support system in place. With the residency this support system includes a weekly workspace where I can come in, create, and keep working on different projects and an artistic staff available to discuss and examine ideas with me.

Another aspect of the residency that I truly appreciate was having the chance to do a workshop with the second year conservatory students at Atlantic Acting School. First of all, I want to say that these students are an absolute delight. They are full of heart and ready to play and work. The most important aspect of having done a workshop with the students was just talking with them. Even though these students have been working together as an ensemble for a year, they still got to learn a lot more about each other during our time together. I opened up about family life and growing up in a sometimes tumultuous environment, and the students completely opened up and poured their hearts out. It was beautiful to see how everyone jumped in and expressed their feelings towards family, trust, and forgiveness. At the end of the workshop you could tell the students had gotten much closer and united as an ensemble. I’m extremely honored to have had the opportunity to work with such incredibly open and engaging artists. Having this residency allows me to dream bigger than I ever have; this support system has given me the chance to continue creating, developing, and envisioning present and future projects.

What are you working on during your residency?
At this point in the residency I’m working on fixing my script and getting it ready for production. The artistic staff and I are discussing the different aspects and needs of the play. In terms of the script, I’m working on making the story and the world more concise, specific, and to the point, which involves going back and doing some research. Over the summer I spent a month down in Puerto Rico and spent a couple of days exploring the vibe of the neighborhood at different points of the day and different days of the week, and once again, I fell in love with that place and remembered why I chose to embark on this journey to write this play. The openness of the staff has given me the freedom to start thinking about the topics I would like to explore in my next piece. I would like to explore the topic of domestic violence in Latino culture, specifically violence towards children, young adults, and mothers. The play I would like to write takes place in Washington Heights, New York City. The main character is a female hero in her early 20’s that finally stands up against her father’s abuse, but she might have taken it too far.

How do you define home as a playwright? How important is it to have a place you call your ‘artistic home?’
As a playwright it is essential to feel like the people who are working with you understand your work and understand what you are reaching for in your plays. When I walked through the doors of the Atlantic and met with Abigail Katz, Director of New Play Development and Annie MacRae, who is the current Associate Artistic Director, I knew that I had come to the right place. Annie and Abigail showed me an incredible amount of support and understanding of my work. My play consisted mostly of Hispanic characters and revolved around a specific Puerto Rican community on the island. For me, it was extraordinary to see how these two women had responded to my play and had such an understanding of the world I was writing about, however different it was from their own. With tears of joy in my eyes I listened to what they were saying about my work and how they responded to it with such an openness and willingness that I had yet to experience. It was then that I knew that I had found the artistic shelter and staff that I had been searching for. The artistic team has fully and wholeheartedly committed to supporting the development of my play Tell Hector I Miss Him through extensive dramaturgical conversations that have propelled my work forward. At Atlantic Theater I believe that I have found an extremely welcoming and embracing artistic home that includes a staff that is fully committed to the work they develop and in fact, that is exactly what I needed to move forward. The Atlantic Theater is an artistic home for writers unlike any other. They go far and beyond to support writers through their specific process and create a welcoming sense of family that propels their passion and my passion for the work that is being created. I truly have never felt so supported as a writer and artist as I do when I’m in their home.

What are your aspirations as a playwright? When you imagine yourself ten years from now, where are you and what are you doing?
My aspirations as a playwright are to be honest and create raw and transparent work. It sounds simple, but it’s not—it’s an ever-changing process that involves removing the ego and pride in order to fully and wholeheartedly tell a story. I just hope to continue having the support of a group of artists, friends, and family members that I am forever thankful for. I just want to take care of my family and give back to everyone who believed in me and even the people who didn’t. The rest is up to the universe.

Okay, heads up, I’m gonna dream here:

Maybe in ten years or more, I want to have a local TV channel in Puerto Rico where me and a group of local and international artists select and curate the content that will be aired, whether it be a documentary film, a feature film, a scripted TV show, or a non-scripted show. I would like the content that we air to be important, educational, and helpful to the current state of our communities. I would like to create a channel where everyone in the island gets access to illuminating information, education, and entertainment.”