San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

Origins by Thelma Virata de Castro

on June 14, 2013

Thelma de Castro 004

In February, my cousin got married at a chapel in Liberty Station. It was a Big Fat Filipino Wedding. My brother and I danced Gangnam Style as we were introduced at the reception. Two days later I went back to Liberty Station for an informational meeting at the San Diego Foundation for the 2013-2014 Creative Catalyst Fund: Individual Artist Fellowship. My cousin’s name was still on display at the chapel.

It wasn’t even my idea to apply for the Fellowship. I am working on a monster of a project with director Andy Lowe and singer/songwriter Jane Lui. Andy had the idea to create a maritime musical version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that involves larger than life puppets. The deck of the ship transforms into Marley’s face. The Ghost of Christmas Past descends as a star. He asked me to write the book and Jane to compose the music and write the lyrics. I worked on the script and gave it the title, North Star. We had a meeting at Cafe Bassam to review my draft of Act 1. As we were saying goodbye, Andy mentioned that if we applied for the Fellowship I’d have to be the lead artist since he and Jane no longer resided in San Diego.

So I went to the meeting. It was an artist’s dream. We were told that we were important. We brought life to the community. We could ask for up to $20,000. With that money we could buy computers and fly to New York. The only catch, we had to engage the community. We couldn’t just practice our art. We had to give back.

The project I envisioned was to have a concert reading of North Star. For civic engagement I decided to start a playwrights group to support other playwrights. I took in that message that we were special and important and I wanted to share it with my peers. Our goal would be to work together to get San Diego playwrights produced on San Diego stages.

If I truly had my way, I would stay at home, lie on the couch, drink my International Café Hazelnut coffee and read the paper. But I am a playwright. As I said in my Fellowship application, I hear voices in my head. Playwrights have the unique position of existing at the intersection of the literary and performing arts. I can’t just write a play and be done with it. It needs to be performed.

I have had many opportunities in San Diego and been supported by some wonderful people. The Fritz Blitz. Carlsbad Playreaders. The Actors Festival. San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre. Unfortunately, some of the theatres and programs that produced new work by local writers have cut back, are inactive, or no longer exist.

San Diego playwrights need to be produced in order to grow. We want to be involved in local theatres as more than audience members. I tend to keep my being a playwright to myself since the inevitable next question is “Do you have anything in town that I can go see?”

And so I got my hopes up. I applied for the fellowship. Out of 117 applicants, 25 nonprofit sponsors selected 25 artist partners. I was selected as a finalist.

My nonprofit sponsor and I turned in the final application. I bought a new dress at Target and shoes at Ross for the interview. My nine year old and five year old sons even helped me shop. I practiced interviewing with my husband.

On the day of the interview, my friend picked up the kids from their schools for me. I went back to Liberty Station and walked slowly in the parking lot in my new shoes. I had my work samples ready to go, plus my handouts. I figured the odds were good. 10 of the 25 finalists would be funded. That’s 40%. The interview went well, I thought. My husband had even predicted one of the questions.

And then I waited. And waited. And then the e-mail came. “Unfortunately, your proposal was not among the final 10 . . .”

I forwarded it to my husband. His reaction: “I am proud of you, and I love you.”

I told my sons. I wanted to share with them that sometimes you don’t get something that you really want.  My oldest said he was actually glad because he thought this meant I wouldn’t go out to see plays as much.

I told one of my friends and said I was going to have to do a jogathon to raise money. My oldest son’s school raised over $30,000 and she had sponsored him. My friend asked how many laps I could do.

I told the people who were my references:

“Oh well, another opportunity will arise for you. All we can do is keep on keeping on, right?”

“I’m so sorry. I’m convinced you were the most worthy of all the applicants. NEXT TIME!”

“Ah, who needs ‘em.”

The application process was indeed a catalyst.

San Diego Foundation, I thank you for what you’ve taught me about civic engagement and the artist’s role in the community. In a workshop at the Foundation, Arts Advocate Doug Borwick accurately labels artists as entrepreneurs. Seema Sueko, Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company Executive Artistic Director, led a workshop on Consensus Organizing for Theater. We have to create relationships and satisfy the self-interests of all parties. What does a theatre company gain from producing a local playwright? How does the community benefit?

Playwrights can’t exist in isolation. I know we love our couches, but we have to get out there and be seen and be heard. San Diego playwrights need to take responsibility for our own careers and build a community that supports us. In this reciprocal relationship, we must determine what the community wants and needs from us. We must give back so that all our interests are met.

Thus, San Diego Playwrights was born.


4 responses to “Origins by Thelma Virata de Castro

  1. Elizabeth says:


  2. June Gottleib says:

    Go girl!
    great idea.

  3. […] from over the past twenty-five years, including newfound friend Thelma de Castro, founder of San Diego Playwrights. I wrote about the Hedgebrook reunion and all of its radical wonder […]

  4. […] chatting with a room full of writers/would-be activists alongside LA FPI Co-Founder Laura Shamas,  Thelma DeCastro of San Diego Playwrights, LA FPI’s Laurel Wetzork (who just formed the new collective Athena […]

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