This Bitch: Esta Sangre Quiero: An Interview with the Playwright
Playwright Adrienne Dawes is interviewed by Laura Muñoz, PhD. Muñoz is Assistant Professor at Colorado Mesa University. This interview was conducted in 2022.
LM: What drew you to adapt Perro del hortelano?
AD: I was in a Spanish production class, my first year of graduate school, and Dog in the Manger, Perro, was assigned to us. I'd never heard of Lope de Vega, didn't really know much about this time. It's always skipped over in theater history education, you just go straight to Shakespeare and like, oh, yeah, this is kind of going on in France and Spain, but we never really read those plays or talked about them. I had a complete crash course. And when I was reading Perro, I thought, this is so funny and interesting. And the pieces just fell together. Number one, I knew that I would have an adaptation class in the spring, and I could already see how this could be modernized using influencers. So that was the first thing: Aha, this is hilarious. I can see how it translates to today.
LM: You had mentioned in an earlier interview it was Diana and her ownership of [her] sexuality that really brought you into it.
AD: Yes, absolutely. In my limited understanding of classical theater, of what was going on at that time, that really surprised me. Seeing a female character be front and center. She called the shots, she was in control of who she married. All these things felt very modern to me, it's not something I expected from that time period.
LM: You've done a few iterations of This Bitch at this point. What has kept you interested in this project? What's kept you working on it?
AD: [My process has been like] building an ensemble, a comedy orchestra. Everyone's got a different instrument, you've got to play with the musicality of how all the storylines or voices fit together. I'm a lot more fluent in that now. And as I continue to explore them, they continue to reveal things about themselves. At the Florida reading, our first table read, every single actor was like, my character is complex! And that for me as a writer is so exciting. They're already [complex] in the original text, then there are all these seeds that I can really tease out in a modern sense. We contain multitudes, there are many faces we have, depending on who we are, where we are, who we're with. And that keeps me excited and interested. It's never boring to work on this play. And I think that's also part of it. It's a party! It's the environment I wanted to be in all through this pandemic. I want to be on the beach, I want to escape, I want love, and black and brown people flourishing and just being beautiful and silly. And that's the world I want to be in. It's the world I've been building.
LM: It's a well-built world. And this brings me to my next question, which is about your cast list because it manages to be both specific but also very open. Has it been difficult to cast for this play? How do you think that the encounter between actors and characters has informed how the characters have changed from one version to the next?
AD: With multiple casts, they've definitely impacted the drafts. When I started out, I had a couple of intentions. Again, it was a puzzle piece. Before I even knew which actors I'd be working with, I wanted to make sure there were different levels of Spanish for access reasons. I hate the idea of a Latinx or Latino actor, coming to an audition and, because they don't speak the language, they're immediately out of the story, that they don't get to tell Latine stories just because of the language barrier. You can see the light go out in an actor’s eyes, when they realize, Oh, I'm not going to have a shot at this. I was really intentional about having a couple characters that for sure need to be able to speak Spanish, and that became Diana, Teodoro, Alma and Olmo. And then I have some characters kind of in the middle, where it's a little bit of Spanglish: Armando doesn't have to be fluent, and Coco's Spanish can go many different routes. And then I also wanted roles, like Madé for example, where you don't really have to speak Spanish.
I wanted to make sure that this was a truly diverse cast. And that for me means that we have everybody and a lot of everybody. No one's the only person, not just one Black person in the cast or just one white person. There's a mixture and there's lots of opportunities there. Originally Fabio and Tristán were just men of color. I didn't think it mattered until we cast Edwin Green and Jordan Williams in our first reading. And then something clicked, like, oh Sheila's not able to discern between the two of them, that's a very Lope de Vega, mistaking someone for someone else. But also very modern, something we always joke about, not just with Black people but with any person of color, that you get confused for someone else. And it's also a joke between those actors, because in their grad program people confuse them all the time and they are completely different. After that I was like, well, Tristán and Fabio, you've gotta be Black. In terms of gender identity, it's also something I wanted to be clear about. There's flexibility around the pronouns and I want to make sure that folks that were maybe nonbinary or trans knew from the cast breakdown that there's a part for them. I think it takes really spelling that out, because for casting directors, their default is a white cis person, skinny and non-disabled. Until you really make it clear, it's open.
LM: I think you've built a space for diversity to really thrive. Because you're not creating individual voices, you're creating community.
AD: Yeah, I love to think about building a show or writing a play with you know, what's the coolest party I can imagine? This is it.
LM: You have a way of capturing authentic voices, especially with the Spanglish. I've rarely heard Spanglish used in a way that felt so right. This feels like the way that these characters would talk if they were real people. And that's, I think, really hard to get across when you're when you're working with Spanglish if you're not a Spanish speaker yourself, and even sometimes if you are.
AD: Yeah. I'll say that especially for the translation, they're the canaries in the mine, the actors are the ones who tell me what they themselves would say. I had a dramaturg, Daniel Jáquez [a director who also does a lot of translation and adaptation work in the comedia space], he really got me to pinpoint exactly where Diana is from in Mexico. Like, let's pinpoint exactly where Olmo is from, because he might not use this word or that word. He helped me figure out the mechanics of [why Diana switches to and from Spanish amongst people she knows speak Spanish.] That's a huge help, because I can't do that. I mean, I have a certain musicality that I'm aware of, because I know a tiny bit of Spanish. But really, the native speakers are the ones who really put their stamp of approval on it, like okay, yes, this makes sense. But obviously it's complicated, too, because not every bilingual person that I'm working with is Mexican. I've had lines completely changed, depending on where the director is from, and their knowledge and their understanding.
LM: The text has a real flexibility because of this! It is true to the person who is doing the work at that moment. Okay. So now I have my last question, which is a big one. What does it mean for you to create Latinx stories? To adapt the classics?
AD: Yeah, gosh that's a big question. I think that of my body of work the things that have hit the most have been Casta and This Bitch. And those are two bilingual plays that talk really specifically about identity and mixtures of identity, [especially Casta,] and that's been really, really rewarding. As someone that does not speak Spanish, that's adopted, you know, I don't have a cultural download that I can do. This writing has helped me feel a part of the family. It's helped me to feel like I belong in a space where sometimes growing up, you know, it was made clear to me because of the language barrier that I didn't belong, or, you know, my hair being different or my skin tone being a bit darker. But yeah, I think throughout my life journey [my question] has always been, ‘Where do I belong, where is home, who is with me.’ And that's constantly involving. I wanted my work to have a home in both Black and Latine theaters. I want the work to be everywhere, I want the audience to be as diverse as possible and I have a better chance of that if it's in a Black theater or in Latino theater. My other plays wouldn't or didn't [make the cut]. I was told once, just straight up, this is not Latinx enough, even though I am, even though I had characters who were. I was pulling from things that for me were real and close to my life, but they weren't reading as Latinx in the way that This Bitch and Casta have. We constantly have conversations about wanting to showcase the diversity of what our experience is, and that not every story has to be about a family, and not every story has to be about immigration or migration. There are just so many different stories, especially in the lens of ability and sexuality and gender. I enjoy stepping into this space, because I'm like, Well, I got nothing but stories. I got everything you want.
Classical adaptation was something that's kind of been on my bucket list for a while. I thought Shakespeare would be the first thing I did, because that's classic, you know, everyone does their Shakespeare adaptation. I really love that I've come to Lope first. [After finding Lope] I felt really cheated out of an education. Why is it until graduate school that I'm getting here, [especially] for me as a comedy writer. Why am I so late in finding out about him? If I had found him earlier, I don't know, there might have been more comfort or recognition of like, oh, all the things that Lope's doing makes so much sense to me. I wish people knew more about his work. He's also an incredibly complex person. I mean, the more I read about him, like what an asshole! But then he also writes these incredible roles for women. But, I mean, I think when you look at adaptation, you're helping a story survive. I do think you have to be mindful about what stories or writers we want to continue to survive. It's just been really rewarding, because again, this is a story that feels very familiar. Everyone says, Oh, this feels like Shakespeare. It's like, yeah, that's Lope de Vega. I will say with writing, [especially for TV], you feel this pressure to give an audience something they already know. We have all these franchises of stuff. Comedia feels very familiar, but it's totally fresh and different. For me, that's a really sweet spot to be in.
LM: You're creating a space for audiences connect to, to play in, that doesn't necessarily only speak to us as just classical or just Spanish. It's something that's in between all those spaces, a nuanced version of diversity.
AD: Yeah, it means a lot to be an American who is also Latina and Black, working primarily in English on a play that comes from Spain, and understanding how our histories are intertwined. It feels like a really unique vantage point, different than a contemporary Spaniard retelling the story. It's very, very American. Just the fact that the casting requires that there be Black people and Latinos of all different varieties feels really important. I found a way in and now I just want to keep [doing it]. So yeah, I might have found something, you know, a weird little niche. There certainly seems like there's a lot more to keep exploring.
 Victor Dixon’s translation, Dovehouse Editions, 1990 (first published in 1981).