Interview with Playwright Adrienne Dawes

I heard of Adrienne Dawes when a show that talked about Mexican identity called Casta came on my radar.  I knew that I had to connect with her.  She is a boss writer and the head of a production company called Heckle Her.  She is the mastermind behind dope shows like Doper than Dope, Am I White and Denim Doves.  She has been featured in Essence magazine and other national outlets.
Check out her bio:

“Adrienne Dawes’ plays include Denim Doves, Am I WhiteYou Are PrettyJesus Loves Good Christiansand Heritage, Her-i-tage, and Hair-i-tageHer work has been produced by Salvage Vanguard Theater, American Repertory Theatre of London, Live Girls! Theatre, Little Fish Theatre Company, New England Academy of Theater, New Jersey Repertory Company, Hyde Park Theater, St Idiot Collective and American Theater Company (Chicago, IL). Her plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc, Smith & Kraus, Heuer Publishing, Heartland Plays and Vintage Books.

Adrienne is the recipient of the Stanley and Evelyn Lipkin Prize for Playwriting.  Her play Am I White was a finalist for the 2012 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and semifinalist for the 2012 Princess Grace Award. Am I White won the David Mark Cohen New Play Award (2015 Austin Critics Table Awards), an award for Outstanding Original Script (2015 B. Iden Payne Awards) and was honorably mentioned by The List (The Kilroys) of recommended new plays by female and trans authors.  Adrienne is a member of the Dramatists Guild and a company member of Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin, TX. In January 2017, Adrienne will join the inaugural class of writers in the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, supported by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.”

What is your identity?

I identify as mixed-race, multiracial, and/or AfroLatina. I am an artist and feminist; my pronouns are she and her.

Tell us about CASTA.

“Casta” is the working title of a new performance piece I am writing and creating with support from Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin. It’s my first time to collaborate with visual artist Beth Consetta Rubel and composer Graham Reynolds. It’s also my first “history” play set in a very specific time and place (presented mostly as a period piece). We are exploring mixed-race representation in casta paintings of 18th century Mexico. Casta paintings were a unique genre of portraiture that depicted different racial mixtures arranged in 16 panels according to a hierarchy of race and status.

via  Adrienna Dawes


How has that process been?

We are just at the very beginning so we have way more questions than answers right now. Sometimes it feels really intimidating (there is still SO much research to tackle) and other times it feels really exciting (this play could be ANYTHING)! So far we’ve had just one workshop that SVT produced in August 2016. It gave me an opportunity to write the first 30 pages and then immediately put them up in front of an audience. I don’t usually show ANYONE a first draft of ANYTHING so that was super terrifying but I appreciated the experience because I have a much better idea of what this play wants to be when it grows up. I think I know where we’re going now. The play is still just a baby though. I know that I’ll do my best parenting, I mean, my best writing, if I just love on this draft unconditionally and keep nurturing and feeding it.

 How did you get started on the project?

The first casta painting I remember seeing was on the cover of Natasha Treheway’s book of poetry titled Thrall.” I was really intrigued because I thought the only portraits painting from that era would be of people with great political or religious significance . . . why were there portraits of families that looked like mine in 18th century Mexico? I did a sort of cursory research project (just for myself, this is just how I relax) while working on other projects but it wasn’t until I met Beth Consetta Rubel that I started to really think, “OK, this project could actually happen . . . ” Beth and I share very similar experiences as we both grew up here in Central Texas and we are both mixed-race artists. We both like to create work that is very political and centered around identity . . . so it just felt like a collaboration that needed to be. Jenny Larson and the SVT company have really been invested in supporting my career from the start. Every playwright needs a Jenny Larson in their life to read every draft, create specific deadlines, and maintain a positive “You Can Do This” attitude. She’s great at keeping the work always moving forward while also giving us time and space to discover stuff organically. She also knows to light small fires under me in the form of public readings of unfinished drafts because she knows nothing motivates/scares me more.

 Why is the project important?

I think it’s really important to create different types of roles for performers of color and to share as many different stories as possible onstage. Live performance is such a dynamic space to share our history and really dig into the stories the textbooks and blockbuster films have either overlooked or forgotten completely. This project is really important to me personally as an opportunity to explore more of Mexico’s history and the history of Africans in Mexico.

 What has been the developmental process?

For our first workshop, we jumped into some “quickie dramaturgy” as a creative team. Jenny led a series of compositional exercises with the cast to build specific scenes we wanted to see (but weren’t on the page yet). I wrote new pages whenever I could around the rehearsal schedule (and my day job ) and Beth Consetta would visit rehearsals to photograph and sketch the actors as they worked. By the end of the week we had about 20 minutes of first pages (script and pencil drawings) to share with a small audience.

 What do you hope to see happen to this project?

I hope we create a project that can both illuminate the past and present in an interesting way. I really hope that we see as much of Beth’s work in the show’s production design as possible because she is such an incredible artist (that everyone should know about). And I hope (as always) we send the audience home with new questions to explore about identity.

 How can people find out about CASTA and your work?
You can find out more about me and my work at:
Salvage Vanguard Theater’s website is the place to go for news about upcoming Casta workshops/readings that will be open to the public:

We’re both all over the social mediums: @heckleher and @salvagevanguard


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