I heard Marisela Barrera’s voice first. She was playing one of the playground kids from the “Cuero” section of her play. Listening as my husband and I crept up towards the top row of seats, I was taken aback by how many lines I still remembered as they came out of the actors’ mouths — it was as if they were my own thoughts and reactions to the drama unfolding on the stage below.
Marisela Barrera’s new play, “Cuero, La Ruby Red, y El Big Bird” explores life along the U.S.-Mexico border through three distinct, swift-moving stories and will be presented July 31-August 1 and August 6-8, 2015 at 8:30 p.m. at Jump-Start Performance Co. A special tardeada (afternoon) performance is scheduled for Sunday, August 2 at 3 p.m.
As I watched them rehearse, I found myself not only processing the scene before me, but also transported back to the oblong table where Marisela and I, along with our other four classmates, workshopped her pieces for 13 weeks in our graduate short fiction class at Our Lady of the Lake University last spring.
It is difficult to explain what I was feeling as I watched “Cuero, La Ruby Red, and El Big Bird“ come to life on stage — the storylines and characters were the same shape as four or five months before yet changed, made larger, thicker, and fleshier.
After the final scene and “curtain” was called, I found myself rambling to Marisela about all the revisions I noticed, how well placed and enlightening her changes were to the characters and plot of each story. I was like a kindergarten teacher watching a former student graduate from high school — long removed from the child’s life but so intimately aware of his growth that I felt a strange satisfaction at having touched him once.
Expressing my appreciation for her adaptation in a coherent manner was eluding me. But I knew she and her castmates had work to do, so I ended with a flurry of sincere compliments, and we made our exit.
As we drove to pick up our two daughters from my in-laws house, my husband said, “You should do that — turn some of your work into skits like that.” I immediately listed my dissenting viewpoint: I wouldn’t know where to begin, how to adapt the stories for the stage, how to propose such a production to a theatre, and so on. Those were the concerns I admitted aloud, but as my husband pointed out, those could easily be resolved.
Privately, my only question was: when? When would I find time for that, between teaching high school English full time, managing two graduate courses a semester in the MA/MFA program? Not excuses, practicalities. Besides, what about our girls? Being out of the house two nights a week until well after nine is already hard enough on them — if only I could turn us into the Partridge Family of the written word. But writing is my desire, not their burden, right?
For me, hours spent writing pass like minutes. I look at the talent of a woman like Mari, a single mother pushing her creative boundaries — this is her first time adapting her own original fiction for the stage — and I am in awe, self-conscious, then inspired. Unless you write, you cannot know the labor in the act nor the guilt that lingers when you turn away from people you love in order to let the words out or meet a deadline.
Family is always willing to help in order to get to class, but time to write, to create? There is no value placed on that. Time is afforded through choosing who or what is sacrificed. And those who don’t understand the strength of that creative impulse will never accept the choices made or the apologies offered.
For me, the writer’s act of creation is not unlike mothering — the inklings make themselves known in stages, internally, before they emerge and beg for a tremendous amount of my time, nurturing, and attention. The writing is another child to love, another body beside me at night, and another reason to press forward.
Virginia Woolf was right about needing £500 a year and space required to create. It is impractical to be a writer without these, but not impossible. Just take Mari. Take me, to a lesser extent. We manage.
*Featured/top image: Scene from “Cuero” segment of “Cuero, La Ruby Red, and El Big Bird” rehearsal (from left to right) Janie Sauceda, Clint Taylor, and Marisela Barrera. Photo by Isaac H. Medellin.