Jacqueline Lawton: Give us a little background on where you’re from originally, where you grew up, and how you ended up where you are now…
Alejandra Cisneros: Well I am a bicoastal baby; I was born in Miami and raised in Los Angeles, Koreatown to be exact, K-TOWN! I went to high school at Bravo Medical Magnet in East LA and graduated from UC Irvine with an emphasis in film and art history. Out of college I was working at The Simpsons as a layout apprentice, basically drawing background and all the movement between character motions. I was looking for a job in creative production and was referred to a stage managing gig at Casa 0101 by a friend. That is where I met the fair temptress named theatre and never left.
JL: Why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
AC: I got into theater because it was the first job I landed out of college. I think that single experience changed the course of my life. The friends I made on my first production are still people I consider my friends today. The biggest inspiration to work in theater didn’t come from the actual production, I didn’t watch the show and think OMG this is what I have to do… it came from its director, Karla Melendez. Her ability to transform an ordinary play into brilliance and her enthusiasm to take on the challenge was ultimately my biggest inspiration. I learned everything I know about theater from her and in the simplest of terms, I wanted to do what she did. I graduated a film major but after that experience I knew that theater was the challenge I wanted to accept for the rest of my life.
JL: What is unique about being an artist where you live?
AC: I don’t live in Boyle Heights/East LA but I do consider it a home. All my work revolves and stems from my interaction in that community. I think, there is such a sense of family among the artists and the community that work/live in that area. I have an amazing support system of people who mentor me, Edward Padilla of CASA 0101, Jesus Reyes of East LA Rep, Ben Guillory of the Robey Theatre Company and my partner in crime, writer Anthony Aguilar. I think, as I write this, that they are more than mentors and I consider them my artistic family.
JL: You are a freelance director, producer, and part of the creative team behind the cult superhero series El Verde. What was the first show you directed and what lessons did you learn that remain with you today? Also, how did you get involved with the El Verde Show?
AC: Ah, the first theater show I directed was Bundles by Ramona Gonzales. It was a ten minute piece about writer’s block and anxiety, ha! It was a great time. I had assistant directed a couple of pieces but that one was all mine, muahaha. What I did learn was that when I didn’t know something that I should just ask, simple concept but a lot harder to swallow. The experience also informed my aesthetic for the comedic ridiculousness. I love to have fun onstage no matter what type of narrative we are tackling. When I directed this piece I had already assistant directed the first two incarnations of El Verde so I kind of charmed my way into directing the show by talking comic books. After that I’ve been with the show for five plus years and it’s the best time I have directing.
JL: Who nominated you to be a Young Leaders of Color Award Recipient?
AC: Christopher Acebo, Associate Artistic Director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF)
JL: What excited you most about taking part in the conference and the program?
AC: The Young Leaders of Color, definitely. Getting to meet all the YLC a day before the conference and be given a platform to hash out all our ideas was one of the best experiences of the whole conferences.
JL: What was the most valuable lesson you learned from the conference?
AC: Diversity is still a very necessary conversation but I think that there is a shift from the new and the veteran generations on the significance. The definition of diversity has shifted a bit and I think, at least for myself, it is a constant reminder that diversity is not just about the color of my skin. It deals with sexism, ageism, accessibility for people with disabilities, social and economic status and the language barrier that still exist. These elements stand in the way of our theatre being a universal experience. So I now have these reminders that inform my personal artistic mission and the work I create.
JL: What are some of the challenges you have faced as an artist of color? What have you learned from these experiences?
AC: Interestingly I think I have experienced more challenges as a young woman then an artist of color. When I started my career and occasionally today there have been situation where I have to work a little harder than the rest to gain trust and opportunity because of the way I look. I think it just takes a little persistence and a lot of patience to change people’s opinion about you or to even be given a chance to be known. The hardest thing would be giving my opinion and being brushed off as a (b!@#$). From these experiences I have learned assertiveness, empowerment, patience and tenacity. Above all, not to take no for an answer or allow disrespect of any kind. I think I learned to be a feminist, lol.
JL: What advice do you have for other young artists of color in the theatre?
AC: I am in no place to give advice but I can only reiterate what has worked for me. Do what you do but do it well. I always give 200% to any project I commit myself to. Have fun. Learn that EVERY experience has something for you. Work in bad theater, you can learn a lot. Get training. Experience all the elements of theatre; work the sound booth, the light booth, assist a lighting designer, handle the box office, build a set, write a grant, write a play, create a budget…
Most importantly for me, say please, thank you and respect other opinions. Key word, respect, you don’t always have to agree but listen.
JL: What’s up next for you and where can keep up with your amazing work?
AC: Up next, I am in pre-production for Los Angeles’ 3RD annual transit festival, Meet Me at Metro which is curated by Watts Village Theatre Company. The El Verde team has been commissioned by East LA Rep to create a piece for the Marachi Plaza stop. And in all El Verde humor we will be doing a spaghetti western. I have a couple of websites and you can also friend El Verde Show on facebook.
Also, I want to give Jacqueline a quick shout-out for being the brains and putting this all together, THANK YOU!
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!