Back in November 2023, my new play “CURSED: The House of Atreus” was produced at Contra Costa College under my direction. Yes, that is the institution I worked at. The play was entered to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Region 7 competition. Two different judicators saw the play and gave their responses. 

In December 2023 I received the news that the production had been chosen to be part of the Region 7 Festival in Spokane, WA, taking place in February 2024. From January 2024, even before schools started, all the way to festival time, the cast, crew, and I worked hard at “remounting” and “re-blocking” the show for the one performance at the festival. The festival took place the third week of February and our producing came and went. Students had a great experience performing for everyone at the festival. I was honored to receive great responses from the audience and the many respondents who saw the show, including national members of the Kennedy Center for the Arts and the Dramatist Guild

Because I’m a national member of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, I had to attend the National Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in May. What I didn’t count on was receving National Awards for our production of “CURSED: The House of Atreus.” At the end, though, I was very happy to received NINE national awards, including awards in directing, playwriting, and ensemble production. As if that wasn’t enough, two of the awards were The Citizen Artist Award, (highest honor from KCACTF) and the Brave Spaces Award (a little complicated to explain but a very honorable and high esteemed honor.) I knew my play was a good play. As a theatre artists you know when a theatre piece is good or not. I wasn’t surprised we were invited to perform our show at the regional level. I wasn’t even surprised if one or two national awards were given for our show. It was, though, completely surprising to received nine national awards, and receving validation as both playwright and director. 

When I was at the Kennedy Center, in front of all the attendees, receiving the awards, I had a big smile on my face. At the same time, I had an incredibly desire to cry, not because of the awards (although I’m sure that is a reason to) but because I suddenly remember how much work and dedication I had invested in order to be standing there. And I don’t mean just writing and directing the play, but writing, directing, acting, and, overall, dedicating my life to the theatre while constantly trying to survive as a non-English speaking immigrant at first and later as a brown gay immigrant individual.

My trek as a student in the United States started at the age of 18 years old as a junior in high school. Yes, I was already “of age” but a counselor was able to get me through the system. I was 19 years old when I learned about “theatre” as a field of study. At 21 I was writing short stories, grammatically incorrect most of the time, but I was expressing myself. I wrote my first play at the age of 22. It was the most awful thing I had ever written. My English 1B teacher, also a theatre enthusiast, gave me an “A” for the assignment, not because it was good but because I had dared to take a short story and turn it into a 67-single space play, with speeches that were three to five pages long, all written by hand. When I say the script was awful. I mean it was just awful. But my teacher understood that such script was not about its quality but rather about my desire to write despite the fact I was still learning the English language. This was back in 1988.

Thirty-six years later, I was now standing at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts receiving the highest award a theatre artist could received, as well as receiving eight other awards for a play I had written and directed a few months before. I’m still trying to figure out how I did not burst into tears at that moment, again, not necessarily because of the awards but because of the hard work and dedication I had invested from the day I step foot in a country I did not know at all. And all, because my mother sacrificed everything so her children could have a much better life than the one she had. These honors, of course, are all dedicated to my her first and also to my theatre students and the theatre colleagues who made this experience unforgattable. 

Before the semester was over, one of my non-drama students ask if I was ever hoping to be a “Broadway success.” I quickly said no. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.” So I became a university professor. But I also knew I like the performing arts. Acting, directing, and playwriting became the vehicle(s) to achieve my dream: teaching. 

I had never had the desire to be a famous playwright or famous actor or a famous theatre director. Of course if the opportunity were to present itself I wouldn’t reject it, but I’ve never been actively pursuing such goal because I have always known my passion has lied in teaching. I know this because after my first time out of graduate school, I took a corporate job and after one year I was desperately trying to get out. So, when the opportunity arrived, I took it. Once out, I promised myself to figure out how to become a university professor so I went back to graduate school to pursue a degree in playwriting. 

And so, here I am, reflecting on my teaching years, and wondering what has become of the many students I’ve mentored. I know some of them have become theatre teachers themselves, others have become theatre artists, like A. Zell Williams, who is an award-winning playwright and TV producer. Or Todd Thomaswho is the former founder/artistic director of Missing Link Theater Company and former artistic director of Murphy’s Theater, and continues to be an actor today. Their achievements have been their own and they are well deserved. I pride myself, however, in the fact that that I may have to do a little bit with their success. Not much though, but I do remember trying my best to guide them in the right direction.

The awards I received are in my office and soon they will be displayed in our college’s theater lobby. I’m glad they will be there. And despite the fact that I’m now contemplating retirement, I’m now drafting two new plays, which, despite their quality, could become the last plays I write. But one never knows because even though art is challenging, once the artistic bug bites you, the symptoms are forever.  Or better put, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in Sunday in the Park with George: “White. A blank page or canvas… so many different possibilities.”  

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