Theatre In Motion: Ballet, Playwriting, and Ethnoautobiography with Luz Lorenzana Twigg

Anastasia Ellis
May 17, 2023

In Theatre in Motion, we discuss theatre's movement across stages, through time, and within communities with its creators and practitioners. 

We talked about balletic influences, ethnoautobiography, and decentering whiteness in theatre with Playwriting student Luz Lorenzana Twigg, who is now preparing to graduate.

Luz Lorenzana Twigg is an emerging biracial/bicoastal playwright and lyrical poet from Santa Barbara, CA. She writes towards an integrity of tenderness, healing, and embodiment in the Filipinx diaspora and beyond, frequently using her braided blood as fertile ground for decolonial excavation, expression, and complication. Recent projects include a contemporary #metoo adaptation of Electra, which was workshopped at Columbia University in the spring of 2022, as well as a biopic of the life of Anaïs Nin. Her full-length, Platinum Record, was workshopped with MaArte Theatre Collective in San Diego. Her two-woman play Sinner/Saint, co-created with her frequent collaborator Danielle Draper, won a Santa Barbara Indy Award for Best Original Performance and was instrumental in creating dialogue at her conservative Christian alma mater around the intersection of faith and queerness. Her theatrical endeavors have taken her around the world, including two tours with Lit Moon Theatre Company on their recent Georgia, Armenia, and Macedonia trips. In 2018 she co-founded a theatre company, Roaming Theatre Collaborative, and oversaw two seasons of new works and cabarets.


Can you tell me about your personal theatre history?  

Luz Lorenzana Twigg: The deep cut of my personal history with theatre is with ballet first and foremost. I was a ballet dancer from the time I could walk until I graduated high school. I studied serious pre-professional training—I was in so many Nutcrackers. I got used to stage presence and performance and just everything about the stage that doesn't have to do with language. But I happened to also be a good writer, so when I got to college it did not occur to me to be a theatre major. I went to this tiny liberal arts college in the hills of Santa Barbara called Westmont, and I declared an English major and a dance minor. At Westmont, the only way you could get a dance minor was by taking theatre classes; I landed in Acting 1, and that was the beginning of the end.


University dance and theatre departments are often kept so separate, so it’s interesting to hear that your college combines the two. What was the program like?

LLT: The disciplines are combined mostly because they didn't have a dance department, so they collapsed it under the theatre department. In order to get my dance minor, I would technically receive a theatre minor with a dance emphasis. All of the dancers would take all their dance classes and then they’d have to take something like a theatre history class—which was not fun for a lot of people, but it was for me. I ended up doing a theatre major and an English major. So, all was well.


How did you ultimately decide on playwriting as the discipline you would pursue for your graduate degree?

LLT: While I was an undergrad, the theatre program had a student fringe festival and they would use all of their connections to MFA playwriting programs to get MFA playwrights to write tiny, 10-minute plays for us little undergraduate directors. I got to know a handful of MFA playwrights who are now doing really cool work; many of them are coming up on the development circuit right now. When I saw their work, I thought to myself: I know these are only 10-minute plays, but I could do that. Do you know the feeling when you just have the understanding in your bones that you are capable of something? It was that kind of a moment. I thought, oh, that's what playwriting is. Of course I have to do that. Then I just waited long enough to learn how to pay my rent and have something to write about and actually write a few plays.


Do you have a particular playwriting process, or does it change for each play that you write? How does your background in ballet influence you? 

LLT: I think when I am writing—and I don't know if this is necessarily present in the conception of the idea, because the conception of an idea is usually that I'm angry about something, I want to investigate my own anger, and I go about finding vehicles to do that—but once I'm writing a play, I find certain tempos within it. I grew up listening to a lot of ballet barre tapes. They have the andante, adagio, rond de jambes, and so on, and they're set to different tempos. I think that's just so ingrained in my bones that I find my dialogue intuitively through those kinds of tempos. There's something about the rhythm of the dialogue: it's probably a combination of my ballet background and watching a lot of Aaron Sorkin, or absorbing Aaron Sorkin through the air post West Wing. I think the foundation for my work rests somewhere between having a ballet background and the influence of the “walk and talk.”

I find that all of my dialogue has a really precise musicality to it, and the only way to explain it is, I try first to transcribe, as a body, what other bodies should be doing. That's sort of a weird thing. But I find the rhythm first before the actual words; the words come second.

To your question—wow, I'm discovering a lot about myself right now—when I write a play, usually the structure and the flow of it gets set first and then it's just about tweaking bits of dialogue. For example, in just about all of my plays, I found the scenes first, and the rhythm of those scenes, and it's only the rhetoric that changed in the editing process. I don't think I've ever just cut a scene because it didn’t fit. I created the ballet of the thing and then just moved around the choreography to fit. I think that's how my plays work.


Aside from Sorkin, do you have any external influences that have inspired or shaped your work, or that you find resonate with you as a theatre maker?

LLT: I hate answering this question because it all changes. I think there are some theatrical milestones—certain plays that are milestones that I've learned a lot from—but I wouldn't call them favorite plays, nor would I say that they are a touchpoint for a comparison to my work specifically. But I really do love what other contemporary playwrights are playing with. I love playwrights who are lyrical and poetic, and whose sensibilities start with realism and then rise from that. I would like to think that's what my plays also do, although it sort of depends on the genre that I'm working with. My thesis, The Trouble with Paradise, I call it my Annie Baker play because everything rests in the play’s gestural life: the steaming of the cappuccino, the clink of the cocktail shaker, and so on. It's funny because I rail against realism all the time and that's the play that was my thesis. 


Could you tell me a bit more about your thesis? How did the shows go?

LLT: It went so well. I think, after years of self-producing, I entered the process having a very thorough understanding of what I could pull off with the time and the resources that were available to me. I made sure that my rewriting process accommodated the rest of the affordances of production as opposed to the other way around. Which is not necessarily what you were encouraged to do, but I felt like I went in with a very strong draft and tried to frontload all of my rewrites so that we revised as little as possible in the room because they were working actors with day jobs, not those acting for living wages. There's only so much you can ask them to assimilate in a very compressed rehearsal process. I get three performances, not a month of previews, so I can't rip the play apart and put it back together again. The play is about a bunch of baristas, unionizing in the middle of a California wildfire to be specific. It's my love letter to the service industry.


Is it inspired by your experiences growing up in California?

LLT: Yes, I am a California die-hard. I grew up, I was raised, and I went to college in California. I only moved to New York in September of 2020, for Columbia. Ideally I would like to be bicoastal as I navigate my career after Columbia. I would like to build my theatre career here and then take my plays home to California. I also have a lot of quasi-academic work in California. I'm Filipino American and I know I have work to do in the Filipino American community, specifically in California because that's where my diaspora is and that's where most Filipino Americans are. They're in San Francisco and LA and a bit up in Seattle. I was just emailing with a friend and we want to start a community archive for Filipinos in California because our elders are dying and we need their stories. 


That sounds really exciting. Can you tell me more about your plans for your post-graduate work?

LLT: I'm being published! It’s my first foray into academic writing, which is really terrifying and intimidating, but I’ve contributed to an anthology. It's called Decentered Playwriting. It's a volume of short essays mostly written by practitioners, and some scholars, about learning how to decenter whiteness in the American theatrical canon, whether that be through teaching or praxis. It will be published sometime in the fall, by Routledge. 

I'm interested in what a Filipinx dramaturgy practice is and what that looks like. I'm taking my cues from a very specific group of Filipinx healing circles here in the diaspora in the US and Canada—North American Filipinx folks. There's a certain framework that the Center for Babaylan Studies uses, called ethnoautobiography, which is essentially deconstructing capitalism and colonialism by reconnecting to ancestry. That's done by engaging with the archive, creative writing, and oral history. Ethnoautobiography is a very wide container that contains many disciplines within it. I think there are thousands of ways you could use it in the theatre, as a way of not just understanding a play or making plays, but in the entire theatre creation process and its many moving parts.

I don't know exactly what that looks like because I haven't employed it yet on a new project, but I want to now start bridging the gap between these existing ideas and how they could be used in the theatre. I think that ethnoautobiography has two uses: to create a Filipino American aesthetic in the theatre, and more broadly for playwrights of any race, color, or orientation to decolonize whiteness. It's about learning to decolonize whiteness—whether that's internalized whiteness as a colonized brown person, or whether it's a white person whose family has been in the U.S. for generations and they have no connection to their heritage, but they want something to grasp onto and they don't know how to find it. Ethnoautobiography facilitates decolonization in a very elegant and curious way that is the least problematic method I've seen so far.


As a theatre goer, what excites you?

LLT: What excites me? That's a good question. I think I'm excited by new stories. I'm a playwright, so I'm horribly biased. But I’m most excited and most moved by seeing new stories and hearing new narratives that haven't been told. That’s what excites me most.