Casa 0101 Opens New Venue with 20th Anniversary production of Real Women Have Curves

by Fanny Garcia, Editor

pLAywriting in the city

Playwright Josefina Lopez doesn’t just write plays. She also founded Casa 0101, a theatre company in Boyle Heights that provides cultural and educational programs in theater, filmmaking, art and dance. Casa 0101 has been working for years to accomplish a promise Josefina made to the community where she grew up, the opening of a brand new space in the emerging “Boyle Heights Arts District.” Below is an interview discussing her famous play, “Real Women Have Curves,” the new venue and her own writing projects.

While most young adults are out celebrating their drinking age, at 21 you were writing a play, “Real Women Have Curves.” What kind of training had you received up to that point that allowed you to do that? All I can say is that I am an old soul… When I was 4 years old after I heard my mother and brother arguing about how the world was going to end – was it God that was going to destroy us like in Revelation or by atomic bombs- I remember asking myself that night what was the meaning of life if we were all going to die anyway.  I started asking myself difficult questions very early on in life… So at 17 when I wrote my first play I was already aware of a lot of things that most people don’t want to look at or take any responsibility for transforming.  I was very lucky I got accepted to the Los Angeles County HS for the Arts and we were disciplined to take our acting seriously and we were schooled in the theater classics so when I graduated from HS I already felt empowered to tell my stories and own my voice.  I also won writing contests at a young age that gave me the confidence and faith that I had something important to say.

You were inspired to write this play while working at your sister’s sewing factory. Can you talk about at least one experience that helped you flesh out the play? This play is so autobiographical that I basically borrowed so much of my real experiences in the factory to write this play. One experience was the many times we gossiped and we would spy on our neighbor who we called “El Tormento” because my sister was so taken by him and was tormented by him.

The play tackles with issues of beauty, self-esteem, immigration, and domestic abuse in the lives of several women working in a Los Angeles clothing factory but what was the most important message that you wanted to get across to your audience when writing this play? Women are powerful; especially when they work together.   All women are beautiful and we are beyond measure.

Please tell us about the making of “Real Women Have Curves.” What was your involvement in making sure the movie reached the screen? The movie took 11 years to make it to the screen.  I worked with many production companies, but no luck.   Finally I met a producer who saw the play and got it.  He shopped it around for 2 years and finally a female executive at HBO said YES!  I was on the set and I was set on Lupe Ontiveros getting to play the mother… HBO agreed and I didn’t have to worry because they went out of their way to do things right by getting a Latina to direct the movie and making sure I was there so that it could feel like an authentic Latino film.  I am so lucky that HBO got it right.  They really do make the films that no one else will do.

What was happening with immigration during the time that you wrote the play and how is it different from what is happening now? The AMNESTY LAW had just passed and so many immigrants were becoming “legal”… when I was writing the play…. Now, things have gotten worse because immigration has gotten to the forefront of issues because the economy is so bad.  Immigration becomes an issue every time the economy is bad – there are cycles of this in American history.

Currently there are 11.2 million undocumented workers living and working in the U.S. Why do you think our government is stalling on immigration reform? This is a huge question and it would take me a long time to explain so I would encourage your readers to check out borderangels.org – their website explains the reasons why.  But in a nutshell – Republicans keep killing bills that would help undocumented people become legalized because they refuse to recognize the contributions of immigrants and the fact that so many industries are completely dependent on cheap labor to make their profits.

Why was starting a theatre company in Boyle Heights so important to you? I wanted to create the cultural center that I wish would have been around when I was a little girl.  I didn’t like that people came to Boyle Heights  as immigrants and just left it when their lives got better and they never looked back because people were ashamed of being working class.  I wanted to give something back to the community that became my home when I came to this country.  I also wanted to create a new paradigm for others who left to inspire them to come back to their old neighborhood and give back so that it’s not so tough for the young people who live there.  I wanted to give an alternative path to gangs and extreme religion.  There is so many reasons, but one was that I said I was leaving my barrio so that someday I would return with an education so I could share my abilities with others who were never going to get to leave.

With the new space for Casa 0101 also comes a bigger goal and that is to create a viable “Boyle Heights Art District.” Can you mention some of the other businesses and organizations that are part of this endeavor?  Yes, there is Corazon del Pueblo, Libros Schmibros, Urban Sanctuary, Primera Taza, Mariachi Plaza, Un Solo Sol, Self-Help Graphics, Salon De La Plaza, Serenata de Garibaldi, and many others.  I want to create many stages along First Street so we can have theater throughout the boulevard. There is so much work ahead to build bridges with all of these organizations.  I’m now reminded that I better set up a meeting with Self-Help Graphics because now that they are on First Street I need to see how far their Day of the Dead March is going to go. I better call them so we can collaborate now!

The workshops and classes that were provided at Casa 0101’s old venue influenced many artists including myself, will these programs continue at the new Casa 0101 venue? Yes, they will.  I actually just created, with the help of Harrison Reiner, the Writers Institute for Diversity, which will be housed in CASA 0101 new venue to mentor writers and teach writing classes in every genre someday. Our goal is to have a repertory where we teach acting, improve, design, and everything else related to theater and the arts.  We want to nurture a talented pool of artists that will help our shows be amazing. We want to develop the youth in Boyle Heights to be able to see themselves as creators and authors of their destiny.

Are you working on a new play right now? I am always working on a play.  I have at least 5 ideas for plays that are begging me to write them. I tell them to wait their turn. My problem is I have too many ideas and then I feel overwhelmed because I can’t get to them fast enough. My latest play that is living in me right now is about health care and how ridiculous it is that we as a country are so backwards when it comes to this.  I was recently denied health coverage and it’s been pretty impossible to get it. So I came up with a very wicked idea for a play that allows me to cope with yet another injustice.  I don’t do therapy, I write plays.

Josefina López is best known for authoring the play and co-authoring the film Real Women Have Curves. Josefina has been an activist and has been doing public speaking for over 20 years and has lectured on various topics including Chicano Theater, Women’s History Issues, Minority representation in Cinema at over 200 universities such as Yale, Darmouth, and USC.

She also has a magazine column called “Ask A Wise Latina”.  She has been the subject of countless TV & Radio interviews in which she has passionately discussed immigration issues and other controversial subjects concerning women and minorities. She is the recipient of a number of other awards and accolades, including a formal recognition from U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s 7th Annual “Women Making History” banquet in 1998; and a screenwriting fellowship from the California Arts Council in 2001.

She and Real Women Have Curves co-author George LaVoo won the Humanitas Prize for Screenwriting in 2002, The Gabriel Garcia Marquez Award from L.A. Mayor in 2003, and the Artist-in-Residency grant from the NEA/TCG for 2007.  She is the Founder and former Artistic Director of CASA 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights. At CASA 0101 her commitment is to teach screenwriting and playwriting and nurtures a new generation of Latino artists. Josefina is actively working to create an Artist District in Boyle Heights where theater, arts, music can flourish and create opportunities for the many talented artists who reside in Boyle Heights or grew up in Boyle Heights and want to return to contribute.  For more information please go to josefinalopez.com & hungrywomaninparis.com & casa0101.org.

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