West Coast Premiere of “El Nogalar” at the Fountain Theatre
Tanya Saracho might have had the chance to write for a TV series on a major cable channel three years ago.
Producers there had heard all about the McHi graduate’s auspicious work in the Chicago theater scene (a commission for the Steppenwolf Theater Company here, a cover article in TimeOut Chicago there) and they were eager to talk to her.
No one could believe it when she turned them down.
“I was like, ‘No, I don’t do that. I’m not ready, thanks,’” Saracho, 35, said. “I was still figuring stuff out. My writing needed to be more muscular. But everyone was like ‘you’re an idiot, you’re an idiot!’”
Everyone, that is, except her señora — her tarot card reader.
“My señora told me, ‘Don’t worry … it will come back around again.’”
Last week, Saracho left McAllen-Miller International Airport after a holiday stay in the Valley on a plane bound for Los Angeles, where she’ll be for at least the next few months.
Next weekend is the opening of the L.A. production at the Fountain Theatre of her drama El Nogalar, a play the New York Times raved about last year in a glowing article on Saracho and her background.
She now has a manager, a TV writing agent … and a meeting to talk about writing for TV a series.
On that same major cable channel.
With the same producers she turned down four years ago.
“I’m ready now,” she laughed. “I’m ready now.”
Born in Sinaloa, Saracho grew up mostly in Reynosa and McAllen. Her theater career got its start in the rigorous drama department at McHi under teacher John Farr, whose iron fist provided a “formative” experience for Saracho and classmate Raúl Castillo, another McAllen grad on the rise in the entertainment industry.
“Mr. Farr was super mean and awful and a little bit abusive,” she said. “But he trained us so well for this industry … which is mean, sad and abusive.”
Saracho graduated from Boston University and has lived in Chicago ever since.
Saracho’s diverse body of work is very much a reflection of who she is, where she comes from and what she has seen.
Kita Y Fernanda is about the daugther of a wealthy family in Sharyland — and the daughter of their maid, who is the same age.
El Nogalar is an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard — but instead of turn-of-the-century Russia, the play takes place on a ranch in present-day Nuevo León. It’s the first in a trilogy of plays dealing with the Drug War’s devastating effect on Mexican families.
Though still in progress, the second story hits even closer to home.
Son of the Disappeared is about “a family dealing with a son who hasn’t shown up home in 48 hours on the border,” she said. “That’s not just, ‘He went partying and he’s been gone for 48 hours.’ Now you have to worry.”
Saracho has seen the grisly consequences of speaking the truth about the war in Mexico, which has claimed about 50,000 lives since conflicts escalated in 2006.
“It’s not a story with no consequence,” she said. “This is life and death stuff here on the border.”
She felt that fear first-hand when Mexican media reprinted her New York Times article with the inaccurate headline “Saracho escribe obra de narcos” (“Saracho writes play about narco-traffickers”). She makes clear that her subjects are not those who are fighting the war, but rather those who are not.
“I’m very torn,” she said. “I have family members that are not safe … and then I’m up here (in Chicago) looking at it safe and giving opinions.”
“I feel such guilt about this. But somebody has to write about it, because people don’t know about it. It will rot inside me if I don’t get it out.”
“On the road” driving the streets of Los Angeles
Chicago is Tanya Saracho’s home. She’s lived there longer than she lived in Mexico or the Valley, and she proudly calls herself a “Chicago girl.”
“I crave the community (there),” she said. “Casting directors respect you. The weather keeps me honest.”
Voice–acting gigs and commissions have allowed her to thrive in the Windy City. But when change is in the wind, she knows she has to follow it.
Back in the Valley, Saracho seeks out those old familiar feelings — friends, family, even the food.
“Every time when I get off the plane, my mom knows to go straight to Whataburger,” she said. “I could live here again.”
She’s thought about moving back, maybe to work on a novel she’s been wanting to write.
But that would be living in the past. Tomorrow is in the west.
“McAllen lives in my heart and in my head,” she said. “But I’ve got to give it a go in L.A.”
EL Nogalar at the Fountain Jan 21 – March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
Brandon R. Garcia writes for The Monitor, Rio Grande Valley, Texas.