On magic, politics and bullying

This is Eavesdrop, a series of conversations between artists, playwrights and audience members. Today we listen in on a chat between Local Theater Company co-founders Pesha Rudnick and Megan Mathews about preparations for the launch of Home in the Heart: An Adaptation for Students of Sandra Cisneros's "The House on Mango Street". The program will be presented this February 2017 at the Boulder Public Library.


For the past few years, Megan, you have spearheaded Local Theater Company's operations--basically, running the nonprofit. But this winter, you tackle a new role: writer and director of Local's educational theater production of Home in the Heart: An Adaptation for Students of Sandra Cisneros's "The House on Mango Street" for middle and high school audiences, in partnership with the Boulder Public Library. We begin rehearsals in just two weeks! I'm curious about what you're most excited about as you explore the text? What has been most challenging about adapting this book to stage?


It is hard to articulate just how much fun it is to be immersed in a text as beautiful and masterfully crafted as this one--Cisneros’s genius in general, but in "The House on Mango Street" in particular, lies in her ability to articulate the poetic, the sublime, the mythic in the everyday objects and events that make up her protagonist’s life. Cisneros has documented how, at that age (and perhaps really at any age) things and gestures--the right shoes, a sack lunch, nicknames, a coveted spot on the schoolyard, where/when/if we can get our homework done, being invited (or not), to hang out with someone you admire, a seemingly insignificant comment or glance from another student, teacher, or neighbor--these things can have such huge stakes, and can affect us so deeply. And because of their power, things become magic, in the truest sense of the word. They have the ability to influence the course of events in ways we are incapable of either explaining or ignoring.

Trying to keep up with the main character, Esperanza, as she navigates these wonders, and finds her own tools of magic--in her individuality, her uncanny powers of observation, her ability to see and say what others around her can only feel, and ultimately in her ability to put all of that on paper--is exhilarating, truly an honor, and to be totally honest, really intimidating.  

For me, this is why adaptations are compelling and challenging. Ultimately, this is a perfect book, without any extra words or misplaced events. It’s architecture is so precise. The chapters are incredibly lean, like poems, but as a reader you’re never lost... you always know exactly where you are and who you’re with because the preceding chapters have given you all the clues and landmarks you need to find your way. Un-stitching the chapters from each other in order to create a script for the stage is a challenge--it’s so easy to accidentally pull the wrong thread!


Gosh, Megan. Bringing this novel to stage is a herculean task. Our agreement with Cisneros stipulates that we can only use her words; we can’t add or paraphrase the book. I imagine trying to trim or cut is downright painful. Your goal is present it on stage with one actor and musician in under 50 minutes. I can’t wait to see the magic you harness! I know you well enough to know it’s going to be gorgeous, all while honoring the story.

Historically, Local has made a commitment to bringing new American stories to the stage. Why is this story more important than ever to tell today?


Esperanza is a hero, an American hero--and one we need to see more of on the stage. She is fiercely loyal and egalitarian. She is admirably tolerant of those who are different, although deeply critical of bullies and the intolerant (she has no tolerance for the intolerant!). And she is willing to put herself in harm’s way to protect people in danger, despite being smaller, younger, and physically weaker than those she’s standing up to. She models the ideology and behavior at the core of American democracy. We can all--girls and boys, men and women--learn from her courage.

As you mentioned, Local has always been fiercely committed to developing brand new American plays that reflect contemporary American stories, and that look and sound like America today. As a traditionally white dominated and often segregated art form, theater practitioners across the country have the opportunity to reset our cultural and racial default setting--in casting, authorship, and leadership. This is important now more than ever.   


Here, here! And, I might add, we’re excited to expand Local’s reach to include young people in Boulder--middle and high school audiences who may have read the book or are preparing to read it following our production. This is a theater and literacy program, but the kids don’t need to know our pedagogy.  They just need great storytelling.   

I can’t help but notice that bullying is on your mind.  We’ve just come from a vicious election process where our leaders are guilty of a shameful display of bullying. Young people know what’s going on. Is it our job to model empathy and understanding?


Yes. And as American citizens we have challenging and potentially dangerous work ahead of us--to preserve and safeguard civil liberties for all. But as artists, we know that profundity and beauty only emerge when we willingly embrace discomfort, vulnerability, and the unknown. This is true for great art, this is true for healing, and this is true for democracy.


Home in the Heart: An Adaptation for Students of Sandra Cisneros's "The House on Mango Street" runs Feb 1-10, 2017 at the Boulder Public Library in the Canyon Theater. Performances take place during the day as a field trip for middle and high school students. If you, or someone you know, is a teacher interested in bringing students (6th-12th grade) please contact Sophie Hernando Kofman at sophie@localtheatercompany.org or submit a booking request here. The production is free to student audiences.

There will be one performance open to the public on Wednesday, Feb 8 at 6pm, followed by an audience conversation based on the themes in the play. The public performance is free. Get a free ticket here.