NY Playwright Helps UTEP Students Create 'Monsters'
Last Updated on February 13, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published February 13, 2020
By UC Staff
Georgina Hernandez Escobar, a visiting professor of practice and a playwright in residence with the Department of Theatre and Dance, worked on a script for "Monsters We Create" with UTEP students.
INTERIOR: FOX FINE ARTS CENTER - ROOM D180
ENTER STAGE RIGHT: A hand flips up three switches and incandescent lights overhead warm the classroom. THEA 3320 (Playwriting I) is about to begin for the fall 2019 semester at The University of Texas at El Paso. INSTRUCTOR GEORGINA HERNANDEZ ESCOBAR enters.
ENTER STAGE LEFT: STUDENTS dressed in summer clothes filter into the room individually and in groups for a morning class. They seat themselves throughout the 1970s-era lecture hall in plastic rolling chairs with adjustable desktops.
ESCOBAR, a slim and stylish thirtysomething, reviews the 24 participants from a lectern in front of the class that has a desktop computer and telephone. Behind her is a blank whiteboard.
ESCOBAR engages in small talk before:
ESCOBAR: May I have everyone’s attention please?
The students settle down and focus their attention on Escobar.
ESCOBAR: My name is Georgina Escobar. This semester we have one job. Together, we will develop a script for a production that will open a five-day run at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in UTEP’s Studio Theatre.
STUDENT: What’s the subject Ms. Escobar?
Escobar attempts to keep her excitement professional as she pauses for dramatic effect.
ESCOBAR: What comes to mind when you think, “Monsters We Create”?
Artistic license aside, Escobar, a visiting professor of practice and a playwright in residence with the Department of Theatre and Dance, and members of the team that developed the script for “Monsters We Create,” were happy with the outcome.
Escobar discussed aspects of the cooperative method in her first-floor Prospect Hall office over a cup of lemongrass tea. The native of Juárez, Mexico, said one of the first things she told the students – mostly theater and creative writing majors – was that no idea was above reproach and every idea was subject to change if it enhanced the script.
The playwright, who earned her bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies from UTEP in 2006 and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico five years later, asked her students on the first day of class to bring in images and quotes that reflected their thoughts on the ambiguous title. Participants brought everything from the obvious to the obscure. Some examples were a photo of a prominent politician, a children’s book and a colorful house.
The collected elements helped the students conceptualize plot points, characters and the story outline, which they wrote onto a whiteboard. The class was like a writers’ room where creativity flourished.
“(The students) went beyond the obvious to the ‘what if,’” said Escobar, who has lived in New York since 2012. She specializes in science fiction, fantasy and the avant-garde. “That was astute of them.”
As the project progressed, the instructor divided the students into three groups that would focus on different aspects of the play from its structure to the dialogue to the rules of where the play is set. After some “passionate discussions” about character development and a suitable ending, the students accommodated their various voices and completed their script within the 15-week window.
“Monsters We Create” blossomed into a revolutionary production set in an alternate reality where a catastrophe has caused both U.S. coasts to collapse. There has been a mass migration to the Southwest and the government has turned into a dictatorship. Officials force women into sterilization camps to stem the country’s population growth to counter its linear food supply.
“The story is about lost hope and friendship,” Escobar said. “It’s not a traditional drama.”
The playwright, who took control of the script at the end of the fall 2019 semester, said she has done her best to maintain the script’s integrity, but admitted to some necessary changes as the play continued through production.
“Collaboration is how this industry works,” Escobar said.
The experience was a positive one for the students, who did not hesitate to share their ideas.
Hallie Borden, sophomore theater education major, wrote a few scripts on her own while in high school in San Antonio, Texas. She said she looked forward to a collaborative effort, but was concerned initially that the group was too large to work as one. As one of the group’s most prolific writers, she said she appreciated the immediate feedback. She quickly learned that her classmates were generous with praise and gentle with revisions.
“Writing is like baring your soul,” Borden said. “I had to let go of all fear.”
Brian Ceely, a junior theater performance major, called the process “fluid.” The student, who grew up in El Paso, said he has written several scripts; often with others. He praised his fellow playwright students for their participation and willingness to work for a common good, but added that Escobar was the main reason the project succeeded.
“Georgina was the one who pulled it all together into the narrative we ended up with,” Ceely said. “She was able to preserve and incorporate the voices of everyone who contributed.”
Ceely, one of six actors in the “Monsters” cast, said that the final script has improved from the version that Escobar and the class submitted.
Kim McKean, assistant professor of theatre performance and the play’s director, said she was most attracted to how the script illuminated what it means to connect — or disconnect — with friends and family when the planet and political landscape crumble around you.
“Some of our characters fight for change and resist, while others sit in complacency,” McKean said. “Directorially, I was interested in experimenting with how we could invite the audience, into the world of the play as participants rather than spectators.”
McKean said that as the play progresses, characters ask themselves how they arrived at that point, how they allowed it to happen, why they cannot make things better, and what do they do now.
“These are questions I am hoping the audience will ask themselves as well,” said the director, who was instrumental in Escobar’s return to UTEP for this project.
McKean said she met the playwright at a spring 2017 writers’ workshop at UTEP. Escobar’s talents and abilities, especially in the fantasy genre, impressed her so much that she began to look for an opportunity to bring her back to the University so she could lead a course to create an original play that the department would produce as part of its theater season.
She said she appreciated Escobar’s presence throughout the creative process, and that they constantly share ideas at rehearsals to enhance the script and the production.“Georgina has a keen awareness of the musicality of the script, and she creates wonderfully immersive worlds for her characters to inhabit,” McKean said.