Uno: Sin la tortilla y el frijol no hay revolución.  

Dos: Don’t f**k with our chicharrones, the lard in our tortillas de harina, the gravy of our enchiladas, the ooze inside our barbacoa, our red hot cheetos dipped in sour cream, our chamoy flavored raspas, the sal in our Chinese candies, the cremita on our elote, the grasa in our masa, and most of all, don’t mess with our processed yellow cheese!

Three: Don’t trust skinny people, and don’t eat at their houses.

—Excerpt of “Panza Girl Manifesto,” The Panza Monologues (Second Edition)

Earlier this summer, Virginia Grise, one of the two authors of The Panza Monologues, approached me about producing a New York City launch party for the second edition of her book. As a maker of socially engaged performance and a community-based producer for the past several years, I was thrilled to encounter The Panza Monologues (Second Edition) by Virginia Grise and Irma Mayorga. The book combines the text of the solo performance of the same name, the story of conversations and interviews that inspired the piece, the autobiographies of the two fierce theater makers who created it, and a colloquial and critically savvy social history of San Antonio, Texas; home of The Panza Monologues’s creation.

To me, this book is an act of radical dramaturgy—a theatrical piece framed by elements of activist structure, which functions as both a social and political statement. I fell into the role of producing years ago, while working with community-based organizations in South Los Angeles. Given my background and understanding of the value of community-based work, I found it thrilling to read The Panza Monologues. I agreed to produce a free event, with the book as its centerpiece, and make it part of Radical Evolution’s 2014-2015 season.

The book as a whole is a deeply moving, authentic, and relatable piece of writing. It begins by relating The Panza Monologues authors’ personal and social history, and then shifts gears into practical application, even including a DIY (do it yourself) production manual. The Panza Monologues illustrate the inherent value of theater and performance of and from a specific community and culture. It includes the “building blocks” behind Grise and Mayorga’s artistic process and the empowerment that comes from claiming the panza (belly)—both the spiritual being and the literal gut— and using it as a source of celebration. Within the Monologues, Virginia and Irma address issues such as childhood diabetes, sexual violence, abortion, lost love, hunger, and body image.

The collection offers a window into how to create politically powerful pieces, and at the same time empower populations who might not otherwise engage with live theater through creating work that matters to them, with them. This method also creates opportunities for less experienced performers to perform in front of their peers—often a life-altering experience—and encourages the exploration of live performance as a means of self-expression and community building. It makes the case for live theater as an essential part of the social fabric of any community.

As a producer, I was impressed and excited by the DIY production manual. It includes a wealth of information on producing—everything from how to request the rights from the co-authors when scheduling a performance to tips on securing a performance venue and promoting a production, and what to remember to do the day of a performance. Through demystifying the theatrical process and encouraging readers to take a look around and give it a try, Virginia and Irma are widening the circle of theater-makers; an important step toward ensuring a place for community-created theater within an ecology of culturally, socioeconomically, and educationally diverse art making. The approach taken in this book is not new, but is an important reminder that not everything has to be professionalized, codified and vetted—that what matters is not always a commercially marketable “product,” or outcome, but rather the act of creation and what it engenders in both creators and audiences. Sometimes we just want to feel—to laugh, to cry, and to have some fun.  

If this resonates with you, come join our Panza Party at 2pm on Saturday, September 13 at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. Virginia and Irma will read from the book, there will be music, and of course panza-licious snacks. I’m looking forward to taking part in the daring act of art and dramaturgy as embodied in this book, and hope you can join me.