Cover art of the Environmental Issue: Digital Art of the sun rising on three birds
Puerto Rico: Celebrating Myrna Casas
Myrna Casas
Myrna Casas

Myrna Casas is a pioneer of experimental theatre in Puerto Rico and one of the most important Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latina playwrights of the twentieth century. Her work has been produced worldwide and published extensively in various anthologies and publications in Spanish and English. Works include Verano, verano; Este país no existe; Absurdos en soledad; Voces; Al garete; Otoño…en familia; and El gran circo eucraniano (The Great Ukrainian Circus).

Brigitte Viellieu-Davis:  You studied two years at University of Puerto Rico, then transferred to Vassar. Why?

Myrna Casas:  In 1952, UPR didn’t have a theatre department and I wanted a B.A. in Drama. In 1961 I became one of the first professors of UPR’s new Departmento de Drama.

Brigitte Viellieu-Davis:  You received a B.A., Vassar (‘54); M.F.A., Boston University (‘61); and, Ph.D., NYU (‘74). You could have lived and worked anywhere, why settle in Puerto Rico?

Myrna Casas:  I came back after each degree and worked as a playwright, actor, director, and teacher, and later as the General Manager for El Centro de Bellas Artes in San Juan. I always knew Puerto Rico is where I belong. I was born here. My parents were born here. I understand that not everyone wants to live in the place where they were born, but I did. It’s a beautiful country, and I love the people—mayoría de los puertorriqueños somos dadivosos con gran corazón. And the theatre here speaks about us—about our unique history and struggles with colonialism and about the nature of freedom. This all started in 1940 with artists like Emilio Belaval, Rene Marqués and Francisco Arriví—stories written by Puerto Ricans, about Puerto Rico, and for the world.

Brigitte Viellieu-Davis:  You prefer to do your own play translations, why? 

Myrna Casas:  Only the writer who thinks it, then writes it, knows exactly what they mean—the intention of every line and every character. It’s not always there on the surface of the word, often it’s underneath. 

Brigitte Viellieu-Davis:  You are part of El Colectivo, a new playwright collective in PR. What can a collective like this accomplish? 

Myrna Casas:  We each have ideas, all ten of us, and when we stick them together, those ideas are stronger. And when we stick together as people, as artists, we are stronger, more visible, more likely to be heard, more encouraged to create.

Brigitte Viellieu-Davis:  Advice to current and future theatre artists and leaders? 

Myrna Casas:  1. Write about what worries you. If you’re not concerned about anything, don’t write. 2. Study the structure of theatre. Go back to Aeschylus and absorb that structure into your bones. The structure will tell you almost everything you need to know. 3. Embed yourself in all of the arts. Listen to music, go to galleries, museums, and concerts. Get to know your contemporaries in the worlds of design, music, and visual arts. 4. See and read as much theatre as you can, from all over the world. 

For more about Myrna Casas, visit the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University which houses the Myrna Casas papers in the Latino Art and Activism Archives, including original annotated play manuscripts (1960-present), 50+ plays and adaptations, screenplays, translations of selected works, rare editions, her doctoral dissertation, personal correspondence with other notable writers, and production photos, including of René Marqués’ Los Soles Truncos.