EVELINA FERNÁNDEZ – PLAYWRIGHT
IN HER OWN WORDS
It was at Rowan Avenue elementary school that I started writing, I used to write short stories. And it was the first time I got on stage. I used to write speeches for parents when they came to school. At Stevenson Junior High I had a drama teacher who first took me to see a play, the Odd Couple. I remember being in the audience and saying, “I want to do this!”
From there I went to Garfield High School. I was in the drama club . When I went to Cal State LA I got involved with the Chicano movement and through the Chicano movement became involved in Chicano Theater. I became a student at Cal State LA through the EOP program and that changed my life around.
I became involved first in a teatro company called Teatro Primavera. At this time there was friend of mine, Irma Garcia, who told me there is an audition for a play called Zootsuit at the Mark Taper Forum by this director Luis Valdez. She dragged me to the audition and this was the first time I auditioned for anything professionally and here I was auditioning in front of Luis and Danny Valdez and the producers.
I was very nervous and this helped because the scene called for me to be crying and so my nervousness helped. They called me back, I went back to the theater company I was with and they said you can’t do that play. But something inside me told me that I should reconsider. Irma called me and said they are looking for you! You have a call back! So I called the Mark Taper Forum and said can I reschedule? So I went back and a couple of weeks later I found myself on stage playing the female lead for Zootsuit at the Mark Taper Forum!
I had admired the Teatro de la Esperanza for many many years and when I got the opportunity to work with them I jumped at it. I did not go to Broadway with Zootsuit because I was expecting my son Fidel. So I stayed in Los Angeles, I was friends with José Luis Valenzuela.
When he came to LA he would stay at my place and I knew that there was an opening in the teatro, they were looking for an actress. They came down and very officially interviewed me and asked me why I would want to work with El Teatro de la Esperanza and they offered me a position there. So I packed up my son Fidel and moved to Santa Barbara to be part of El Teatro del la Esperanza. This was in 1981.
José Luis Valenzuela and I moved back to Los Angels in 1985 and got straight jobs. José Luis got a job as bill collector I worked as a secretary at the stock exchange . Of course we wanted to do theater so we had a play, Hijos, from the Teatro de la Esperanza.
So we found this theater in East L.A. and we got together 150 dollars to put on this play and it was a big success. It won the Dramalog award. So that is how we started in LA. And then José Luis heard there was an opening with the Los Angeles Theater Center which was the Los Angeles Actor’s Theater at that time. So he got a job there as an accountant and started the Latino theater lab.
The first thing I wrote in L.A. on my own was in 1986. There was a contest at Plaza de La Raza and Sal López dared me to write a play. And I dared him. So we both wrote plays. So that is how my play “How Else Am I Supposed to Know I am Still Alive?” came to be. I wrote it for Lupe Ontiveros and Angela Moya, two of my dear friends from Zootsuit.
The play won and I did my first production of it at Plaza Del La Raza. And then after that I submitted the play and adapted it for the screen and submitted to the Universal Hispanic film project and it won there and so we filmed the play. A friend passed on the film to an executive at Sony and she loved the movie. At this point I already had my first draft of Luminarias. I handed her Luminarias but they had just bought the rights for Waiting to Exhale, a film about African American women, and so heaven forbid that they do an African American women film and a Latina movie. I didn’t get Luminarias made but I was hired to write another story for Tristar and that is how I started writing professionally and joining the WGA.
How did Luminarias come about? All my life I have been inspired by passionate women. The women that I know as Latinas have always have strong and passionate and smart. But the roles that I auditioned for as a Latina actress was the maid, the undocumented worker. Nothing wrong with that but they were not characters with any kind of dignity. They were hookers. When I was young I used to audition for the gang member and then when I got older the gang mother.
It was frustrating for me because that is not who we are. It is a small part of who we are but there is so much more! We were always seen as victims and that is now who we are as Latinas. We run our communities! The reality is that la mujer Latina is at the forefront of whatever happens in our community. We are not followers, we are not victims, we are leaders.
The way I approached Luminaras is that I took four archetypes of Latinas that I knew. The vendida–the one who turned her back on who she was in order to succeed. The Chicana who had the chip on her shoulder who is, you know, you are not going to mess with me, kind of thing. The new-age Chicana, you know, “we’re all in this universe together.” That kind of thing.
And then the other character is Irene which is someone who had a problem with dealing with her brother’s homosexuality. Those were the four archetypes that I wanted to put in one play. The journey that Luminarias took was that I wrote it as a movie. Didn’t get anywhere wit hit and then Sal López , my good friend, said let’s turn it into a play.!So I turned it into a play and it was very successful,. Then after I had really fleshed out the characters and their conflicts, then I reconverted it into a film. And that is the film that was shot. Luminarias.
To this day my core and the core of my work has always been to write or perform about my people and my community. That is who I am and to do something different would be very very difficult.