Latina playwright Gabriela Lopez de Dennis debuts at the Ford Theatre

Her name isn't well known, yet, but very soon the world will know about Gabriela López de Dennis, one of handful of upcoming Latino playwrights staking her place in theater. The youthful 32-year-old scribe, of Mexican descent, began her love affair with the theater began when she saw "The House of Bernarda Alba" by Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca. Born and raised in Los Angeles, a rarity in this city, de Dennis is known for being ‘an insane multi-tasker'. She acts, writes and runs her own a graphic design business for the last10 years. A communication arts graduate from the Otis College of Art and Design, López, who cites Dorothy Parker and Rod Serling as her favorite writers, is a screenwriting fellow of this year's Film Independent's Project:Involve, an 8-month program program designed for filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. Tomorrow afternoon, she debuts her magnum opus "Hoop Girls" at the summer annual "The [Inside] Performances" Series  at the John Anson Ford Theatres in Hollywood, where creative types share their work.

Mexican-American playwright Gabriela López de Dennis proudly shows off her hoop dreams.

MEM: Go into detail on what "Hoop Girls" is all about and where did the idea came from?
GLD: "Hoop Girls" is a collage of short scenes, monologues and vignettes with one uniting theme: hoop earrings. The narrator comes in and out between scenes with short interludes.During these interludes she breaks down what each different size hoop earring means, for example, what a 1-inch hoop earring is all about versus a 4-inch hoop. All in all giving them a scale on the "look at me" factor and the "hazard level," meaning, will it get caught on your clothes! It's very fun, comedic but also dramatic.

There is an energetic scene between teenagers Sophia and Mercedes who day dream a lot, always late for class, and love enormous hoops. Esther is 60-year-old woman who reminisces about wearing hoops in her youth and what a fox she was. Liberty is a young girl who cannot wait to be a teenager so she can wear big hoops like her aunt Letí who is a force to be reckoned with. Georgina is in her 30s who doesn't like wearing hoops because it gives bad memories her about her estranged mother who always wore them. Real women I've met throughout the years inspired all these stories and they deal with such topics as friendship, forgiveness, and pursuing your dreams. Along with taking this journey through different sizes of hoop earrings, it also takes you on a journey through the circle of life for women from every stage of their lives and how hoops play a part.  I realized during rehearsals that  my play is a love letter to women who love wearing hoop earrings.

I don't remember the exact moment of how I came up with the idea since it was so long ago, but I remember just being fascinated on this thought, on this accessory that I have worn since birth. I wanted to speak about other women who wear them and this unspoken thing when you see a woman with big hoops. And how it's not just a Latina or a black or a white thing but a woman thing. A universal thing. A beautiful and delicate object that makes us feel awesome.

The emerging playwright showing her huge smile for a bright future.

MEM: In your opinion, what is the significance of wearing hoop earrings other than it looks fabulous than plain old earrings?
GLD: I think wearing hoops is a force, a feeling. It's that feeling that everyone gets when they wear them, which made it significant to me. It also has to do with the shape. It's a subconscious connection for us to creation, and our bodies, and being a symbol for a woman. How women are the creators in life, and are so in tune with that shape, i.e. the moon, the sun, Venus, stars, womb, the egg. And it looks absolutely fabulous, especially the big ones. But I thought, ‘what is it all that many women hold them so dear to their heart?' That's what I try to explore in this play.

MEM: How many characters are in your piece and what do each character represent?
GLD: There are 15 characters total, played by six actresses of diverse ethnicities. They double up the various roles playing anything from a 12-year-old, to a 60-year-old woman to The Circle itself. Some have short solo monologues and some have short scenes together.

MEM: How long had you worked on your piece and what changes did you make during the revision stages?
GLD: I've been working on it since 2004 or 2005 and it has taken a lot of shapes. I was so happy when I finally had my catharsis after pulling my hair out for months trying to get it right and have it feel right to me. I was looking for honesty and a true connection and I did go through several drafts and changes adding then later leaving out characters. Most likely I will probably go through some tweaking especially after the Ford reading.

MEM: When you started writing "Hoop Girls" did it come out the way you planned or did it take you in another direction?
GLD: No it didn't come out the way I planned, nothing in life ever does, and yes it took me on many directions. But also, when I started writing it, as I do most projects, I started with the seed of the idea, and delved into it and did research and journaling and made it a very organic experience. I usually let the story unfold and become what it wants to become, what it should become, and find its home and try not force any particular thing to happen. But, rather, find a place for it that will best serve the words and the story.

Gabriela López de Dennis is ready for her close up.

MEM: When were you first introduced to theater?
GLD: My parents were groovy art lovers so art, literature, music, theatre—in particular from my dad's influence—was always a big part of my life. I was always yearning to express myself at a very young age and my mom was very encouraging on trying new things and expressing myself. My first play was in 2nd or 3rd grade. I played Mary in some Christmas nativity story and this girl in my class was complaining to our teacher why did I get to play the best part (with the most popular boy in our class as Joseph. [she laughs] I don't think I quite understood what the play was about but I understood that it was getting out there and getting a reaction from people whether it was to make them laugh or cry.

MEM: Which play or musical inspired you to become a playwright?
GLD: The first play I read that really inspired me was Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba at a very young age. I used to love looking through my dad's library. He had tons of books and I loved how he held this great respect and honor for them. And so I stumbled across this play [The House of Bernarda Alba] and it freaked the heck out of me, but it really had a great impact on me. I thought, " What a weird story. I wanna write this stuff!" I read Ray Bradbury's short story "All Summer in a Day" and also inspired me.  It haunted me for years. In middle school we had some of the cast members from "Les Miserables" perform for us in our chorus class and that was exciting too. That still remains one of my favorite musicals. The song "On My Own" always makes me teary-eyed. It wasn't so much about that musical, but the genre of theatre that intrigued me.

MEM: What is exacgly is Collaboratory and how is the connected to "The Pursuit Of" and "Apparitions of the Virgin Mary".
GLD: Collaboratory was a summer residency I was invited to participate in with Great Leap under Dan Kwong. In the course of a summer, several performance artists collaborated on a piece with the theme being family and childhood memories.  "The Pursuit Of…" was my on stage piece where all my biggest sci-fi influences—"The Twilight Zone", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", " The Land of the Lost,"  "E.T.",  "The Jetsons", — came togheter and unfolded in my writing for the stage. It's a story of a woman who suffers from low self-esteem and body issues and gets suckered into this futuristic machine that promises her eternal life, endless wealth, plastic surgery galore. In the end, the machine simply wants to eat her and make her into a machine as well.

"Apparitions of the Virgin Mary" is about a futuristic Catholic church made up of such things as putting a quarter in a machine to get your daily blessings or to forgive yourself for your own sins, which plays off the me-me-me convenience factor of society. It's told through three alter egos of Mary: Mary the Tycoon, who's selling the Virgin Mary to the highest bidder; Mary's Sadness who's the Mary in the future saddened by a world gone array from materialistic pursuits; and Present Day Mary who urgently tries to give us a message to avoid what's going to happen in the future. The piece deals with the daily gods we kneel down to everyday, like fast food, plastic surgery, money, that if we're not careful it will eat us alive. I remember around the time when I was performing it, I heard a news flash of this Japanese man who was literally trying to buy the Vírgen de Guadalupe icon, which I thought was interesting. He thought he could buy all the rights to this image and obtains full custody and royalties to it. So that whenever you bought a Vírgen de Guadalupe candle, you'd be paying royalties to him. Pa-lease! I'm sure that didn't go over well for him.

The emerging López de Dennis is one of a chosen few to be accepted in the Film Independent screenwriting program.

MEM: Do you find it easier in being an actress, like your role as Rosali in the play ‘Real Women Have Curves' or find it more fulfilling to write?
GLD: I love acting and everything about it, because I love the physicality of it and how you get drowned in to become this character. It's therapy. But I know in my heart that writing is my true passion and it never lets me down and it's where I get the most joy out of in life. I do like the opportunitity in combining the two.

MEM: How important, in your opinion, is it for Latinos to have a voice in theater?
GLD: It's very important for Latinos to keep telling their stories and keep writing the stories and roles they want to see which best represents them. Change will happen behind the camera, backstage, behind the scenes. It all starts with writers. But beyond that, it's extremely important for all people to tell their stories.  All of us have seen too much of the same thing for too long. Our world is richer than what we've seen so far. The old school generation had their share, and now it's time for us, the new risk-taking generation to step up, make it happen and stir some change.

MEM: What plays would you like to see more of?
GLD: I'd like to see more diversity, more stories of other cultures told in an honoring way and not stereotypical. Not necessarily only Latino, but different stories and cultures which I find fascinating. I'd also like to see more new great musical classics being made, rather than continuing to remake old pieces.

MEM: Is there a difference in writing between a male and female Latino? Have you noticed any subtleties or anything obvious?
GLD: I don't look for that. I don't look at a piece and want to know if a woman wrote it for instance, off the bat, or vice-versa. I just look for good stories that inspire me, regardless of which sex wrote it.

MEM: Is anyone else in your family a writer or actor?
GLD: My dad is a songwriter. My mom wrote poetry but she won't share. And my younger sister Daniela is an incredible writer who doesn't write or share enough. 

MEM: What is your company Soap Design about?
GLD: Soap Design is a graphic design firm based out of Silver Lake which my business partner Keith Tamashiro and I started ten years ago. I design  all things entertainment, music packaging, on-stage theatre playbills, posters, key art, logos, things like that. It's the visual arts side of me that gets nourished every day. I can tell stories through images when I'm at Soap. I also paint and do collage work.

MEM: Why do you love writing so much?
GLD: It feels right to me and I've always loved it. No matter what happens, I can always tell stories and daydream and that gets me through the day. It's an escape, and it's therapeutic. It's great to have a therapist that sleeps by my nightstand every night and is always there to listen.

"Hoop Girls" debuts at the John Anson Ford Theatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East , Hollywood , Saturday, July 14 at 1 p.m. Free on-site parking. Tickets are $5 and can be reserved by calling (323) GO1-FORD (461-3673 ) or visit www.FordTheatres.org.
 

 

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