The Brown Brain by Marcos Najera

“The Brown Brain” is a solo performance piece that I’m currently creating which explores the inner workings of the Latino mind and people of color.  The project asks the question: where do mental health problems and mood disorders originate inside our heads?

My goal is to create the conversation between scientists and real people touched by mental health that has not happened yet in the same room.  In my own family, mood disorders are present.  But we rarely talk about them in smart, productive, useful ways.  As I’ve begun my preliminary investigations, I’ve gleaned that most families of color also stay silent or stupid about mental illness.

My aim is to first teach people and myself how the brain works.  Then to explore what happens when the brain isn’t working.  And then what to do to help put the brain back on track, while healing the damage to family relationships that may have occurred along the way.

Right now, I’m working to identify and interview professors and psychiatrists, bipolar disorder patients, therapists, alcoholics, victims of abuse, homeless people, and you and me to discover what we know and don’t know about the health of our own human computers.  The interviews will become my source text for the performance piece.

I plan to draw from the expertise of the Los Angeles arts community and beyond to provide mentorship and dramaturgical guidance on creating a strong narrative culled from my original interviews that I’ll re-create on stage.  I hope to identify some grant funding to help offset the costs of purchasing supplies and paying for professional services including a transcription house, a dialect coach, a movement coach, a musician/DJ, a director and yes, a student intern.

The project will engage the Los Angeles community by being incubated, developed and ultimately performed at East LA Rep at its home in the Ramona Gardens neighborhood.  Ramona Gardens is a proud, but struggling minority neighborhood buttressed against the USC Medical Center.

Performances will bring together USC scientists with the residents of Ramona Gardens to engage in community conversations about mental health for people of color.

Ultimately, what I’m trying to accomplish is learning, conversation and a call to action.  When you watch the news, you learn about the world around you.  Perhaps you learn something new about science, about history or your community; something current and of use, hopefully, to your everyday life.  My hope is that my theatre projects, like “The Brown Brain”, will do the same.  I imagine if Oprah Winfrey was able to incorporate performance into her ability to teach on her daily talk show, then that would encapsulate my artistic agenda.  The audience would watch a performance captured by a spotlight, but they would also be comfortable having the spotlight turned on them and joining in on the conversation.  Perhaps most importantly, they’d leave the performance with new information and understanding about complex daily subjects like mental health, education reform or immigration legislation, for example.

Marcos is an actor and journalist from Phoenix, Arizona.   He serves on Center Theatre Group’s Teaching Artist Faculty and as East LA Rep’sDirector of Education. As a performer, he’s collaborated with Cornerstone Theatre Company, Watts Village Theatre Company, East LA Rep, La Pocha Nostra and is currently exploring the power of the word “YES” as a student at the Groundlings Theatre in Hollywood.  Marcos also works as an artistic associate with Anna Deavere Smith on her national tour of Let Me Down Easy.  As a journalist, he freelance reports for NPRmember station KJZZ 91.5 FM in Arizona.  He also contributes to WGBH’s The World, NPR’s LatinoUSA, and Sirius Satellite Radio’s OutQ News.  He has penned two regular columns, “Najera Nites” for Latino Perspectives Magazine and “Brown Town” for Phoenix New Times/Village Voice Media.  Marcos holds a BA & MA from Stanford University.