Playwright Virginia Grise and Actor Manny Rivera. They’re collaborating on the Borderlands Theater production “Their Dogs Came With Them” a new play about the destruction and displacement of a Mexican-American community, roaming dogs, quarantines, earthmovers, and ancient voladores.
Playwright Virginia Grise is a recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award, Princess Grace Award in Theatre Directing and the Yale Drama Series Award. Her published work includes Your Healing is Killing Me (Plays Inverse Press), blu (Yale University Press), The Panza Monologues co-written with Irma Mayorga (University of Texas Press), and an edited volume of Zapatista communiqués titled Conversations with Don Durito (Autonomedia Press). She earned her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts.
Actor Manny Rivera (Turtle) is a New York-based, trans Salvadoran-Puerto Rican theatre-maker and member of the performance art collective, A Beautiful Desperation. Manny is also this year’s recipient of the NALAC Mentorship Award along with Virginia Grise. Other notable credits include sound design for Your Healing Is Killing Me (Cara Mía Theatre Co.), Desarrollo (Director/Sound Designer) for Playwrights’ Week 2018 at the Lark, A Meditation on Tongues (Production Stage Manager) at Cornell University, and The Bag Lady Manifesta (Production Tour Manager).
Their Dogs Came With Them is adapted from the novel by Helena María Viramontes and gives new meanings to gang life dramas, gender queer identities, and Chicana/o/x coming of age barrio tales.
Much like the structure of a freeway, the lives of four Mexican-American youth intersect and intertwine, unearthing stories about the effects and aftereffects of the Vietnam War, displacement, mental illness, and state violence. Borderlands Theater, in collaboration with a todo dar productions, is producing this site-specific performance on October 18-20, directed by Kendra Ware and aptly staged underneath the I-19 freeway in South Tucson. More information and tickets are available at Borderlandstheater.org.
Musical director Martha Gonzalez of the Grammy Award-winning band Quetzal brings together band members Juan Perez (bass), Tylana Enomoto (violin) and legendary guitarist Bob Robles (Thee Midnighters) to perform an original score, specifically composed for the Tucson production, live at all performances.
In the 1960s, the most diverse and densely populated neighborhoods in Tucson were destroyed to create the Convention Center, making it an ideal site for a play that asks its community to consider how decisions around city planning and urban development impact everyone. This play stands as a warning for the Southwest-including Arizona-which has some of the fastest-growing urban areas in the country. Conflicts over land use, underscored by inequities in access and representation, reveal themselves in contemporary debates. These debates range from community disintegration stemming from gentrification to the controversies surrounding the imminent construction of the border wall, only an hour away from the city.
The musical score expresses the “East Los” sonic landscape of the early 1970s. In this way, the multifaceted sounds/songs of the score is a material trace of the people’s history that is an amalgam of Mexican boleros, classic rock, doo-wop, R&B, and gospel. Like the 5, 10, and 710 freeways these sounds intersect in the heart of the Mexican American experience brought to life in Their Dogs Came with Them.
In 2015, Borderlands Theater commissioned Their Dogs Came with Them with funding from the National New Play Network (NNPN). In 2017, Grise received an Agnese Nelms Haury Visiting Fellowship from the University of Arizona and additional support from NNPN to workshop an early draft of the script with community members in Arizona whose own lived experiences mirrored the lives of many of the characters in the play. With this support, Grise began a series of theater workshops inside Perryville Women’s Prison in Goodyear, Arizona and created a unique page to stage process of development for Their Dogs Came with Them that culminated in a world premiere production at the prison’s Santa Cruz Unit in February 2019. The production team included 17 actors from inside the prison and over 20 collaborating artists from around the country. The production team at Perryville also included two inside producers, a costume designer, stage manager, run crew and a dramaturge who worked closely with Grise in developing and editing the script. In addition, set designer Tanya Orellana, choreographer Marguerite Hemmings, musical director Martha Gonzalez, and Grise taught workshops on each of their areas of expertise at the prison, in an attempt to make the process of theatre production transparent and accessible.
In 2019, Grise received a Mentorship Award from the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, the largest grant ever awarded by the organization, to continue working with theater artist Manny Rivera, who originated the role of Turtle at the first table reading. Rivera will play Turtle in the Tucson production. An instrumental collaborator in the developmental process, Rivera traveled with Grise to play development workshops at Borderlands, Perryville, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in addition to directing one of the character tracks at Perryville. Through their collaboration, Grise and Rivera aim to continue an intergenerational conversation amongst queer communities of color exploring how artistic work can be produced across borders and beyond bars.
“Their Dogs Came with Them is an important reminder that Chicana literature has long concerned itself with the importance of the environment, that it has valued the idea of home well beyond urban or spatial definitions: what is defined as ‘blight’ or condemned as uninhabitable by city governments and planners is a cherished place of refuge, a sanctuary for the besieged,” says Manuel Muñoz, director of the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona, who has been observing and documenting the aesthetic and political implications of this project throughout the entire process.
Helena María Viramontes [novelist] is the author of Their Dogs Came with Them, a novel, and two previous works of fiction, The Moths and Other Stories and Under the Feet of Jesus, a novel. Named a Ford Fellow in Literature for by United States Artists, she has also received the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, a Sundance Institute Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship and a Spirit Award from the California Latino Legislative Caucus. Viramontes is Goldwin Smith Professor of English at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where she is at work on a new novel.
Martha Gonzalez [composer/musical director] was born and raised in East Los Angeles and is a Chicana artivista (artist/activist), feminist music theorist and academic. Gonzalez earned a PhD in Feminism from the University of Washington Seattle. Her academic interest in music has been fueled by her own musicianship as a singer and percussionist for East L.A’s Quetzal for the last 17 years.
Their Dogs Came with Them was commissioned by Borderlands Theater with funding from the National New Play Network. This production is supported in part by the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Southwest Airlines, the Surdna Foundation through a grant from the NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant Program with additional funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Latinx Theater Commons’ El Fuego Initiative, The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona, and Southwest Folklife Alliance. The script was developed with the generous support of the Princess Grace Foundation, the National New Play Network, Humanities Behind the Walls, the Projecting All Voices Fellowship at Arizona State University, and a Network of Ensemble Theaters Travel Grant.
Recorded and produced by Amanda Shauger.