Southwest by Elaine Romero
Hi, I’m Elaine Romero. I’ve had the benefit of this vast desert landscape most of my adult life with frequent forays around the U.S. and beyond as a playwright. Every four years, I hear a recurring political theme. Presidential candidates will say, “I’ve seen this country.” And I can say that, I’ve seen this country. I’ve been a playwright in this country, and sometimes, actually, in the country. This national life has influenced my work in every possible way to the extent that I know our national perils more intimately than I wish. Our country propels me forward in the work and with my colleagues. It is a great honor we share to be counted among this country’s playwrights. Collectively, Southwestern playwrights bear the responsibility that honor brings.
In this moment, I’m thrilled to take on my new responsibilities as the Southwest Regional Rep. (I’m the first to admit that I’m experiencing a learning curve with this post and I thank our playwrights for their patience.) Yesterday, I summed my life up by four activities: attending plays, teaching plays, reading plays, most importantly, writing plays. If you see me in the wild, doubling up on caffeine, you can guess it has something to do with my favorite subject—plays!
Five years away in Chicago have given me a unique perspective on what is happening here in the Southwest. The time away forced me to see my hometown as an outsider. I returned to Tucson and Phoenix to witness a dynamically changing theatre scene. (We even have a fringe festival now.) Companies I’d never heard of had cropped up, and the play selection reflected a theatrical sophistication. My connection with playwrights in New Mexico encourages me that we are amidst an overall regional upswing in theatrical work. A resurgence of new regional playwrights and theatre companies, many with new and diverse missions, has made our region the ripest it has been in decades to have a louder voice in the American theatre. And a louder voice we must have.
As our states hug 45’s potential border wall, our geographic location has thrust us into the forefront of an uneasy national conversation. (I’m no longer writing about this place in absentia.) Our regional playwrights know too well the realities of the communities in which they live and the impact such proposals would have here on the ground. Arizona was the state where it was first discussed, days after Sandy Hook, that we arm our teachers. Much of the country is just starting that thought experiment. Playwrights in the Southwest manage the national perceptions of their states sometimes in opposition to their experiences in their own community. It goes without saying that to write today in the Southwest is to write in the line of fire.
It doesn’t take too many drives down our major arteries to witness the rapid change in our communities. Hip and funky has been eclipsed, in places, by modern and slick. Yet, our communities have an indomitable soul. Visiting artists often comment that Tucson reminds them of the early days of San Francisco. Our theatres, artists, and coffee houses, brim over with possibility. As we negotiate rapid change, our communities have opened up their own eyes about where they might see their plays. Southwestern playwrights aren’t doing a lot of waiting in line to be picked, but promoting and developing their work, live and in action, and finding new and unexpected venues to push it forward. (We need to encourage many of them to join the Dramatists Guild.) Their plays seem to be coming from places they never sprung from in the past. Perhaps, it’s the fierce urgency of living on the border—our cliff.
Let’s hang onto each other. Let’s forge our own best practices and create ways to make our work available to one another. This moment we’re experiencing has asked us to span great distances to create community, because it is in community that we will take refuge. It is in community that we will survive and thrive.