The Courage to Write Performance Art: An Interview with Adelina Anthony

Hello, courageous writers.

Today I have a special treat for you:  I am interviewing the incredibly talented, once-in-a-lifetime performance artist Adelina Anthony. Adelina calls herself a queer Xicana artist. (For those of you who don’t know “queer” was once a derogatory term used for gays and lesbians that was later reclaimed by the gay community and turned into a positive term. The same goes for “Xicana,” which was once a derogatory term for Mexican-Americans that was also reclaimed and turned positive by the Mexican-American community.)

Adelina writes one-woman performance art pieces that she presents to audiences in theater stages all across the country. She writes both drama and comedy, and executes them both with an effortless brilliance. She performers several different characters all in one show, making her an incredibly versatile actress as well. Her work often tells the story of communities that don’t get much attention by mainstream theater stages: Mexican-Americans, gays and lesbians, abuse survivors, and the working class.

Along with writing and acting, Adelina also directs, produces, and educates. Oh, and she’s also an activist. Talk about a true artist and an amazingly talented woman, right?

The list of awards she’s earned for her work is endless. But here’s some of them for you:  she’s been awarded The Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, The National Performance Network Creation Fund Award, The C.O.L.A Fellowship in Solo Performance by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and was nominated for The Alpert Award in the Arts.

I’ve been a fan of hers for years and I’m also blessed to count her as a good friend. Today it’s my pleasure to have Adelina share with you the wisdom she’s gained over her many years of writing for the stage.

The Interview


Ollin: First of all, thank you so much for stopping by and participating in the C2C’s first interview ever. It’s an honor to have such a talented performer and writer to be my first interviewee.

Adelina: I’m honored and very touched that you would think of me. It’s been wonderful to see how our roads keep crossing. Really proud of what you are doing.

Ollin: So let’s get right to it:  can you explain what “performance art”is and how writing performance art is different from writing, for instance, plays or novels?

Adelina: The term “performance art” is an umbrella term for a wide range of styles, it is an overwhelmingly visual and interdisciplinary art form. It gained momentum in the last century during the 60’s and 70’s (which makes sense since society was questioning the status quo and art reflects its surroundings). Folks aren’t usually allowed to be passive, “sit-back and relax” audience members… I find ways to involve them in the show. At the end of the day though, my writing for the stage requires my body and that audience to witness the show, and that’s not the case for novels or plays (that require other bodies, but not necessarily mine.)

Ollin: You’re not afraid to tackle what many would consider are controversial or taboo subjects. In your performance pieces you address issues such as abuse, homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, sex, politics, religion—sometimes you even address all of these issues all in one performance piece. This is something that many “mainstream” writers would avoid like the plague. Why have you chosen to “go there” when others are afraid to? How do you summon the courage to write about these touchy subjects?

Adelina: Well, for one, I’m not invested in being a mainstream artist if it means not writing or performing what I care about. I care about my communities, the colored, the queer, the indigenous, the feminist, i.e. all of us and our experiences that are rarely featured in mainstream. I “go there” because I strive to be the best artist possible and I also want to make an art that helps heal. This is a base many Xicana-Indigenous artists work from, that our stories and arte are medicine. And I’ve been fortunate to have great maestros who have taught me that without courage, there is no real depth in the work. When I feel fear around a subject matter, as opposed to running away, I sit there and try to figure out what scares me about it and then I face it and embrace it. What one discovers in art-making is that your fears are shared by others, and making it “public” as an art form means we get to share a communal catharsis… or at least break the silence and begin meaningful dialogues.

Ollin: You’re really great at writing drama and captivating the audience with your fascinating characters and their complex storylines. What is the best advice you can give on how to write compelling storylines and characters?

Adelina: First, start with a story you care about. If you’re not invested, we won’t be either. Then take time to craft your story. Ask yourself constantly, is this true to the character? Am I letting the character take over the story or am I forcing the story?  Leave it alone and then come back and pick up the gems and start the re-writing process and rewrite until the shape starts to present itself. Along the way, ask yourself if you’re being predictable… share it with intimate friends who are also writers or critical readers.

Ollin: There’s something else you’re also an expert at: comedy. You’re frakkin’ hilarious! Many writers struggle with being funny, what’s your best advice when writing comedy?

Adelina: Ah, the smart-a** in me. The first thing you do if you want to write comedy is you study the comics or comedies that you admire and crack-you up. Like all genres, comedy too has an organic structure, in its most basic form, the set-up and the punch line. Best advice I would give is to figure out what makes people laugh when you are just in your own circles, ask yourself what was funny about a joke or what someone said and study that. Also, figure out what kind of comedy you want to write—is it physical, character-driven, linguistic, or all three?

Ollin: My blog also addresses the intersection between writing and life. So here’s a life question: you are one of the most authentic people I know. That’s not an easy thing to do in today’s world. How do you stay true to yourself and how do you bring that sense of authenticity into your writing?

Adelina: That question made me pause… in a good way. I suppose at the end of the day, I’m extremely humbled by our shared humanity. I always remind myself that I am on a journey, and so are others. We make mistakes along the way, we grow up and make apologies. I can only stay true to may art and my life if I accept my contradictions and complexity… my humanity, even if others have historically or currently try to “dehumanize” my life because of my ethnicity, gender or sexuality.

Ollin: Acting, writing—any kind of art form is very hard to pursue these days. My readers know that very well. I was wondering, what do you do to keep your head up when the going gets tough? Any last words of encouragement or inspiration you can give my readers as they pursue their writing dreams?

Adelina: Be clear about your intentions—why are you a writer? Also, if you come from a place of seeing writing as a life’s work—a journey of growth—then use that knowledge to help you over the hurdles. The hurdles teach us something, help clarify why we do what we do. It’s an old adage, but it’s true for me: I would die if I didn’t make art. Maybe not drop dead on the spot, but my soul would wither, and eventually, I think it would make me physically sick. Know your purpose in this life, and if it includes a larger vision of community, you’re on your way to never feeling completely alone in your journey.

Ollin: Finally, I sincerely believe you are a once-in-a-lifetime performer. More people need to see you live. So where can my readers catch your shows and how can they support your phenomenal work?

Adelina: I really appreciate your support, Ollin. And, yes, if folks want to see my live performances they can always check my calendar on my website: www.adelinaanthony.com or they can follow my fan page on Facebook. If they live too far away, then they can at least catch some of my comedic video clips on the amazing new website: http://www.comediva.com.

Ollin: Thank you so much Adelina.

Adelina: Gracias, a ti. Keep writing!

Adelina Anthony is a Xicana-Indígena lesbian multi-disciplinary artist, educator, and cultural activist originally from San Antonio, Tejas. With almost twenty years of stage experience, Anthony has garnered Best-Actress nominations in both comedy and drama throughout the country. Her most popular comedy, Mastering Sex & Tortillas! was nominated for Best Solo Performance in by L.A. Weekly (CA) in 2007 and a year later, was selected as Best Solo Performance by Premios Sin Limite (NY).  In 2009 the world premier of her solo play, “Bruising for Besos” received critical acclaim from both the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly.  Also while in Los Angeles, Anthony received the highly competitive Department of Cultural Affairs City of Los Angeles Fellowship for Solo Performance (2007-8). In 2010 her solo writing was nominated and co-awarded a Del Moral Foundation Award.

Follow Adelina on Twitter and Youtube.

Are you writing about a controversial topic that’s being overlooked by the mainstream? How do you summon the courage to write boldly and authentically? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below! 

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23 comments on “The Courage to Write Performance Art: An Interview with Adelina Anthony

  1. Christina says:

    What a great interview!

    The questions and answers were so genuine it was almost like being in the same room.

    Keep up the interview section Ollin, and the best of luck to you Adelina!

    • Ollin says:

      Glad you enjoyed the new interview section, Christina. I enjoyed it very much, too. I was hesitant to do interviews, because often I found them boring or too “promotional” on other blogs, and then I realized: Hey, I don’t have to do them like that. I could actually make them deep and useful to my readers with my questions.

      So yeah. I hope to do a new interview once a month.

  2. Conor Ebbs says:

    Very inspiring and full of wisdom.

    “I can only stay true to my art and my life if I accept my contradictions and complexity”.
    How true.

    Thank you for this.

    Conor

  3. Lefteris says:

    Great interview. Just watched Adelina’s video on the comediva website. She’s a great performer, talented and beautiful. Thanks Ollin. Keep up;)

  4. Oliver says:

    I am not writing about a topic that is overlooked by the mainstream, nor do I have the courage to write boldly and authentically, but I did want to say that I found this interview inspiring. I especially liked Adelina’s comment, “Also, if you come from a place of seeing writing as a life’s work—a journey of growth—then use that knowledge to help you over the hurdles.” I understand where she’s coming from when she talks about how her soul would wither and eventually make her sick. I suppressed my creative tendencies for decades because of some “well intentioned” (I suppose) teachers and family who felt there was more to be gained in life by pursuing traditional career avenues. (As in, get a job that brings money, prestige, and stability.) Long story short, I’m now nurturing my creative side and by doing so am bringing myself back to better health (physically, mentally, and emotionally). I shall be poor, unknown, and unstable for the rest of my life, but I shall be happy because creativity is my life’s work– like it or not. So thanks for this interview Ollin. By presenting it you helped at least one person on this planet. 🙂 Not bad for a days’ work, huh? 😉

  5. Ollin says:

    Adelina, what struck me most was what you said about viewing your work in the context of a community. That really reminded me of what motivated me in the past, and it’s a great reminder going forward. Knowing that I am speaking on behalf of a community who needs me really gets me going and makes me feel less like I’m alone.

    As always, gracias for your wisdom, inspiration, and leadership, hermana. Thank you for taking time to do this interview!

  6. Chantal Rodriguez says:

    I love Adelina Anthony! Her work is amazing and she is simply fabulous! To top if off she is so deeply connected to her communities that it makes her an even more powerful artist and activist!

    During graduate school I was struggling very much and she was kind enough to have lunch with me so I could pick her brain about her experiences in grad school and her choices to follow her passion and not conform to the mainstream. It meant so much that she would take time to act as a mentor in the midst of her crazy schedule.

    love love love this post!

    • Ollin says:

      Oh yes. I so forgot to add that Adelina is not only a friend but a very important mentor and role model in my life. She is such a kind, caring and loving soul, and anyone who knows her personally feels very blessed I am sure.

  7. Great interview! I am totally inspired. It’s my (not so secret) desire to do more performance art, or speaking with a creative edge, or…not sure what to call it, but Adelina’s model is a great one.

    I’ll keep her advice in mind when I’m ready to write for the mic.

    Thanks for great content, as always, Ollin!

  8. Fantastic interview, Ollin. You are correct, Adelina is a once-in-a-lifetime artist. I like to call her the Quintessential Queer Xicana Artist of our generation. Adelina’s work is transformative, visionary, rooted in community history, contemporary joys and struggles, and a belief that a communities of color future of thriving is not only possible, it is necessary.

  9. I am happy to read folks have found this interview meaningful. The art-making process usually means developing a healthy relationship with one-self (solitude versus loneliness). But it’s also about how we connect and share with others. I appreciate how your blog, Ollin, allows artists and artists-in-the-closet to reconnect with shared values. (And Chantal–I loved having lunch with you down near my old Inglewood neighborhood!)

    Sás,
    Adelina

  10. Linda Chavez says:

    If there were an Adelina Anthony fan club I’d definitely be president, or at least treasurer or something! I’m sure plenty of folks would get in line for president of the Adelina Anthony fan club, so I might have to fight for a spot.😉

    Ade, you are a constant inspiration and have made such a significant impact in so many lives, including my own, but you know that.🙂 It was such a wonderful surprise to have two of my favorite people cross artistic worlds, you and Ollin. Love to you both!

  11. Dear Ollin and Adelina,

    What a treasure trove of information you have here! This is a very thoughful and thought provoking interview. I especially liked”I can only stay true to my art if I accept my contradictions and complexities” Wow! Truly writing and life do intersect and you showed it.. Thank you both for opening your hearts to us. In doing so, you give others permission to do the same. Great job!

  12. marisa says:

    Ollin: Thank you for the great interview; it’s so important to document the lives of our storytellers. We reap the benefits of Adelina Anthony’s gifts whether she is playing the sacred clown disarming us with her humor or opening our hearts through her dramatic work – both take us on a journey that leaves an indelible mark on our souls. Her work enlightens, provokes and most importantly heals.

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