Austin Latino New Play Festival Spotlight: Director Emily Aguilar-Thomas

Emily Aguilar-Thomas was the director for Cielito Lindo and is a Master’s of Fine Arts Candidate (MFA) in Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities at the University of Texas at Austin. Her expected completion is May 2015. After the showing of the play, Emily gladly opened up for Teatro Vivo and gave insight into her job as a director, her connection to performances, and her love for theatre.

  1. What was the catalyst that influenced you to pursue theatre/fine arts in college and as a career?  

The school that I went to for elementary and middle school growing up in Arizona didn’t have theatre at all, so when I moved to a new school in New York in 7th grade I remember seeing my first ever theatre production.  It blew my mind. I thought, “I have to do this.” I always loved to sing, that’s how I started in the arts (my idol was Selena), but this was different.  So I was in the drama club all through junior high and high school, and decided I could never give theatre up– and shouldn’t have to.  I applied for scholarships and was fortunate enough to attend a university with a really strong theatre program. In college, I realized that I wasn’t seeing stories of my experience represented at all– professionally or at my school.  So for me, there are several things that have contributed to me pursuing theatre: I love the art form, I love what the art form is capable of, and I love that theatre is a vessel through which people can show and make stories visible that are often silenced. It’s an act of social justice putting the Latino/a and Chicano/a experience on stage.


  1. How did you become involved with Teatro Vivo? 

One of my professors and mentors, Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, introduced me to JoAnn Carreon Reyes with the hope that I could somehow become involved, last year. So that same year I served as the dramaturg for the ALNPF production of Quince…What?  This year JoAnn asked me if I was interested again, but as a director this time.  When I read Cielito Lindo, there were so many aspects of the script that I could relate to my own lived experiences. I was excited to be a part of the development process from a different angle.

  1. What was your main job as director for Cielito Lindo?  

I saw my main job as bringing the playwrights’ words to life, and helping the actors navigate how they might do that. I was really excited by the idea of 3 distinct worlds within this play– the Valdez family home, the romantic past for Effren and Dora, and the Playground where Sky/Florencia is bullied. So I wanted to make sure that since that was clearly something the playwright wanted, it was my job to make those worlds clear for the audience. I also thought it was important to be in dialogue with the dramaturg, Oscar Franco, to see how we might make the story and words more specific to this particular world and these particular characters.

  1. What is your favorite scene from Cielito Lindo? 

My favorite scene is when Sky/Florencia tells her Abuelo that she wants to be a bird. There’s this great dialogue around what it means to have two homes, or to know which one is your “real” home. To me that spoke to this split identity that many Mexican American’s have– we’re both American and also Mexican. So we’re balancing these two identity markers, and sometimes we are caught in between, or not sure which one we’re supposed to call “home.”

 5. What are you most excited about following graduation? 

Knowing what’s next! Being in grad school feels very in limbo for me.  I’m a student, an artist, a teacher, a wife. I want to know what’s coming next– what my job will be, where I’ll live– and focus on doing.

6. If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

Is this question going to get me a job? 🙂

I love doing many things, but there are a couple of things that I will always need to be working within– social justice, and theatre.

So, given that, I think my ideal job would be somehow creating opportunities for marginalized people to create and share their stories through theatre and the arts. An arts and/or cultural organization. Something in that realm.  

7. How do you think being Latina enhances and/or influences your experiences with performances that are geared toward or based upon the culture, lifestyle, and possible struggles of being Latino/a?  

I think in general people want to make and find connections– it’s how we build relationships.  When I’m seeing a show, I want to find things that I can connect to, that I can laugh at, that I can look at and say, “Yes, I know that. I recognize that.” I love when I see a show and I can relate to something– but it doesn’t happen enough. So when I do find something that I can connect to my lived experiences, it’s a delight! I feel proud, I feel included, I feel welcomed and valued. That’s why I love working with Teatro Vivo, and making theatre that honors those voices.

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