Professor Cruz, tell us about “Glass Cord.” When did you begin writing it, and what have been its incarnations since then?
“Glass Cord” was sparked by news reports of “trash can” babies, that and too many conversations with women who swore me to secrecy regarding their maternal experience. Those realities made me think about my own experience having children and how each pregnancy was different. I was struck by the shame many women had because they didn’t feel the overwhelming instant love that they were supposed to feel. Those conversations made me realize that we as women were not having an honest conversation about the maternal instinct.
I began writing this play in graduate school after attending a lecture on the topic. It was the fire that ignited my desire to tell this story. At that time it was a revelation, but I still perceived the myths of the maternal instinct as perhaps looming even larger in the Latina community. It set off alarms for me and yet inspired me to be more honest and tell the stories of my girlfriends who carry this heartache for fear of how the community might judge them. The play has been through many rewrites and always surprises me with how many women—perfect strangers—approach me afterwards with tears in their eyes and thank me for telling this story. Then again, I owe the feminist during that lecture in grad school in the same way.
"This living art form bares witness, conjures, transforms, questions and challenges perceptions about life. It is also immediate, dynamic and shoots straight into the heart and mind. Theatre arts and performance studies at a Catholic-based school like USD, which prides itself on its involvement in civic engagement, compassionate service and diversity makes it even more relevant. Our USD mission calls upon us to have a responsibility for engaging in social justice issues, to be Changemakers."
- Evelyn Diaz Cruz
What discoveries did you make over the course of the writing process?
It seems to me that these myths are so ingrained that this shame could make (and has made) women feel insane. It can even drive a young woman into complete denial about being pregnant and thus not even realize when she has given birth. Hence, we see the horrific action that is the trash canning of a newborn or in one case a young woman that gave birth in the bathroom stall during her prom, left the baby and came out and continued to dance. I started thinking that the level of denial may be connected with the imposed denial of a young woman’s body. My play is an attempt to make that connection of the extreme denial of desire and its consequences.
Teatro Latea in New York recently performed your play. What did you enjoy most about being an Artist-In-Residence there?
I enjoyed the creative energy, support and networking. It was inspiring to see the play realized in an authentic voice and the talent base was an unbelievable luxury. One actor received an award for Best Actor from HOLA (Hispanic Organization of Latino Actors). There is big formal gala every year and Latino notables host it. It is a beautiful event and it is gratifying to have my play in this category. I also appreciate how much theatre sophistication the New York audience has. I guess I needed to feel I could compete in that arena. “Glass Cord” received a favorable review in a Latino based periodical and with the award for Best Actor; I am feeling pretty good about everything.
I should also mention that Teatro Latea was a good fit for me. This is Off-Off-Broadway and one of the oldest U.S. Latino based theatres with a history of activism.
What was it like to bring “Glass Cord” to New York, the setting of your play?
It was a coming home on so many levels. The NY theatre community is tough! If the show is not speaking to them or more importantly, if the show is not accurately representing them, you are toast. It was critical for me to perform in the space where the audience would understand the references from the turbulent times and the cultural references to things like “Tar Beach,” “Bomba y Plena,” and even “Hot Peas and Butter.” There is also a highly spiritual element to this piece that is understood by the Afro-Caribbean community that needed no explanation in its use of drumming to communicate with God and connect spiritually with our ancestors. We were fortunate to have a dance therapist from the Pratt Institute who specializes in the art of Bomba dance and the synergy between her and the drummers was explosive. In fact, one night, to my surprise a Santera from the Santeria religion introduced the show with the opening remarks that “…Every woman needs to see this show. This show is a healing for women.” I still feel emotional at the honor she gave it.
When I was a student reporter, I quoted you in an article about Michael Ahmad's "Plastic Fruit For Hungry Mouths." As an artist who addresses social injustice in her work, what is it like to see students using performance to influence positive change?
Two words: Intensely satisfying. Michael’s performance put upon every passerby to take stock of how they thought they felt about gay rights in a way that was creative, passionate, peaceful and emotional. At the very least, it stirred conversation and that’s an excellent start. At best, people were genuinely moved and couldn’t help empathizing by actually witnessing the embodiment of a person that is affected by the oppression we put upon them. Here is that person that they only know of as a stereotype, vague concept, or a vote on a ballot initiative, not as the beautiful human being put in a cage right in front of them. Powerful activism. It is not easy to get individuals into a lecture on the topic, but here it is living and breathing right in front of them. It is compelling narrative.
Do you see your work as a form of activism?
I definitely see my work as activism. It is what inspires my creativity and not the other way around. Of course theatre artists have a long tradition of doing precisely that. Activism is what inspired and motivated me to create art. In fact, my introduction to theatre art was from performing street theatre for political reasons, not really artistic ones. This agitprop theatre was heavily and unapologetically didactic. We performed everywhere there was a protest, rally or fundraiser. We had no theatre training, though, so that became a conduit for me to actually study theatre more seriously.
How does the study of theatre augment the liberal arts education at USD?
It is critical to a liberal arts education. Simply put, theatre is the study of that which makes us human. This living art form bares witness, conjures, transforms, questions and challenges perceptions about life. It is also immediate, dynamic and shoots straight into the heart and mind. Theatre arts and performance studies at a Catholic-based school like USD, which prides itself on its involvement in civic engagement, compassionate service and diversity makes it even more relevant. Our USD mission calls upon us to have a responsibility for engaging in social justice issues, to be Changemakers. The perspective and skills one inherits with theatre is life-long, life-changing, affirming intellectually, spiritually and artistically and transferrable to just about any field.