Sparking Inspiration with José Casas

José Casas. Photo courtesy of the artist.

FST has long believed that all children deserve an outlet to energize their creativity and inspire their imaginations.

That’s why we are so excited that José Casas, an award-winning author and professor of playwriting at the University of Michigan, is now bringing his creative spark to FST’s Playwright Collective.

We sat down with Casas to learn more about his love for Children’s Theatre and how he is bringing new life to a classic story.

You are one of our newest members of FST’s Playwright Collective. What projects are you currently working on with FST?

The play I am creating for FST is a bilingual adaptation of Frankenstein tentatively titled Frankie: The Untold Story of a Girl Frankenstein. It revolves around a 10-year-old genius scientist, Francesca Frankenstein, struggling with loneliness because her parents are scientists who travel the world doing research. She also struggles with making friends so, for the science fair, she decides to create a Frankenstein Monster to show that she doesn’t need to deal with anyone. She can just create her own friends.

What inspired your choice to work from the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a framework for your Children’s Theatre adaptation? Why this story? Why now?

I had read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and enjoyed it, and as I was thinking of a subject to choose for FST’s Playwrights Project, I saw the National Theatre’s adaptation, and I absolutely loved their focus on the relationship between Dr. Frankenstein and The Monster. It was that relationship that I wanted to explore.

I also chose a female protagonist to highlight women in science. I think it is important when you see the shortage of women in so many fields. I felt it was important to tell that story because it also reminds us of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but in a way that doesn’t preach.

You’ve said that 99.9% of your plays are bilingual. Why is this such an important stylistic choice for you? How do you weave languages together in your plays, while ensuring that your audiences are still able to follow your story?

I love writing bilingual plays because it is a reflection of my history and experiences. I also believe it is important to promote stories from marginalized communities that are lacking representation in today’s theatre.

For me, the language is essential because it specifically broadens the idea that this country has multiple narratives that reflect the true diversity of the world. I weave Spanish and English in a way that people, regardless of ethnicity, can follow.

Many of your plays—like somebody’s children—use lowercase in their titling convention. This seems to be a deliberate artistic choice. What’s your intention behind this titling structure?

In terms of the use of lowercase letters, literally, I just like the way it looks. I’m amused by peoples’ reactions and teachers, especially English teachers, who seem to hate it. However, lately, more of my scripts have been written in the normal formatting. I guess I am succumbing to peer pressure…LOL (as the youngsters would say).

Palabras Del Cielo: An Exploration of Latina/o Theatre for Young Audiences by José Casas

You also teach playwriting at the University of Michigan. What lessons do you find yourself most often sharing/reiterating with your students and aspiring up-and-coming playwrights?

I tell my students that playwriting is a very solitary endeavor, so when they get the chance to develop their work with a partnering organization, to do so. These opportunities offer a home to work, a space to imagine, and, most importantly, a chance to learn more through the insights of collaborators.

I also tell them to learn the rules so that, in the future, they can break them. I encourage my students to be brave, honest, and to always be the most fervent advocate of their work. They should never write plays they want to write but, instead, write plays they NEED to write.

José Casas is an award-winning playwright and professor at the University of Michigan. He is best known for his plays la offrenda and somebody’s children, both of which received Distinguished Play Awards from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. He is also the author of the book Palabras del Cielo: An Exploration of Latina/o Theatre for Young Audiences, which received the American Alliance for Theatre and Education’s Distinguished Book Award.