Carlos Murillo at Adventure Stage

Playwright

Carlos Murillo is an internationally produced, Chicago based playwright, director, and educator. He is the recipient of a 2015 Doris Duke Impact Award for his work in theatre as well as a 2016 Mellon National Playwright Residency Program fellowship at Adventure Stage. His body of work has been widely produced throughout the United States and Europe. Most recently, his play I Come from Arizona premiered at The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. His trilogy, The Javier Plays, published by 53rd State Press in 2016, was called by American Theatre “an absolutely extraordinary achievement from a writer at the height of his powers". His plays include: Killing of a Gentleman Defender, Augusta and Noble, Your Name Will Follow You Home, A Thick Description of Harry Smith, Diagram of a Paper Airplane, Mayday Mayday Tuesday, dark play or stories for boys, Mimesophobia, A Human Interest Story, Offspring of the Cold War, Schadenfreude, and others. They have been seen at Repertorio Español, P73, the NYC Summer Playwrights Festival, En Garde Arts, Soho Rep, New Dramatists and The Public Theatre New Work Now! Festival in NYC. In Chicago his work has been seen at The Goodman, Steppenwolf First Look, Collaboraction, Adventure Stage, Walkabout Theatre, Theatre 7, and Chicago Playworks. In LA his plays have been seen at Theatre @ Boston Court, Circle X, and Son of Semele Ensemble. His plays have been commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Goodman, Steppenwolf, Berkeley Rep, Playwrights Horizons, The Public Theater, South Coast Rep, the University of Iowa International Writers Program, and have been developed at the Sundance Theatre Lab, The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, The Bay Area Playwrights Festival, New Dramatists, the Latinx Theatre Commons Carnaval, and others. His work has been published by Dramatists Play Service, Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing, Smith & Kraus, and Theatre Forum. Awards include: the Met Life Nuestros Voces Award from Repertorio Español, the Frederick Lowe Award from New Dramatists, the Ofner Prize from The Goodman, the Otis Guernsey Award from the William Inge theatre Festival, a Distinguished Play Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, The Kernodle New Play Award from University of Arkansas, two National Latino Playwriting Awards from Arizona Theatre Company, and a Jerome Fellowship from The Playwrights’ Center.

As a director he recently staged Maria Irene Fornes’ What of the Night? with Stage Left and Cor Theatre in Chicago as well as the world premiere of Honey Girls by Grace Grindell at The Theatre School of DePaul University, where he also staged works by Sam Shepard, Jason Grote, Nilo Cruz, David Edgar, Ike Holter, and others.

Carlos is a full professor at The Theatre School of DePaul University where he heads the BFA Playwriting Program. A proud alumnus of New Dramatists, he currently serves on the Board of Directors of the MacDowell Colony. Carlos lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife, the director Lisa Portes, and their two children Eva and Carlitos.

Theatre

Adventure Stage Chicago (ASC) creates and tells heroic stories about young people. ASC is one of several community-engaged programs of the Northwestern University Settlement House. Uniquely involving our West Town neighbors into the creation process, ASC’s original productions contain themes and ideas that are developed with input from community members. ASC also offers: the in-classroom arts residency program Neighborhood Bridges; Trailblazers, a youth mentoring program for ages eleven to fifteen; summer drama camps and drama instruction in Head Start. This is our twelfth season.

Residency Activity

Adventure Stage and I applied for a Mellon residency based on the success of our first collaboration in 2013 on Augusta and Noble, a TYA play about Gabi, a Mexican American teenager in Chicago who, as she begins her high school journey, learns the story of her parents’ status as undocumented immigrants. The play was based on a year of community engaged research and development in which we talked to local families served by the Northwestern Settlement, a 125 year old organization that serves immigrant and financially challenged families in Chicago, and is the parent organization to Adventure Stage. The project t was very successful and inspired us to apply to formalize the relationship and develop a more systematic approach to developing community engaged plays.

Early on in the residency, we worked towards dovetailing more organically the missions of Adventure and Settlement House. The overarching goal of the many services provided by Settlement House is “to disrupt generational poverty” by assisting the community in overcoming the markers of generational poverty, namely low literacy rates, food inequity, inadequate housing, problems of physical and mental health, low performing schools, and social isolation. Through the residency we conceived a three-year cycle of seasons, each devoted to tackling one of the markers of generational poverty, in which we would produce an extant and an original work commissioned specifically on the season’s theme. The first season (2017-18) focused on Literacy, the second (2018-19) on Hunger, and the third (2019-20) on Shelter.

Since new work was central to fulfilling this new model, I worked with the company to develop an eighteen month-long community-engaged commissioning, development and production program for Chicago playwrights to write new plays inspired by the season’s theme. This program entailed identifying Chicago playwrights who were interested in engaging directly throughout the process with students in Chicago Public Schools and the charter schools run by the Settlement, families of those students, as well as folks served by the Settlement and other Chicago community organizations. The commissioned writers would spend several months interacting with these constituencies for story circles, workshops and other activities aimed at providing touchstones for the writer to begin their plays. Over time, drafts of the pieces were shared with these same constituents for their input as the play developed from first draft to production ready works.

During the residency we produced three plays that arose from that process: Roots in the Alley by Carlos Murillo, adapted from source material by Lucas Baisch was produced in the Literacy season; The Stranger and the Shadow, a puppet piece written by Kay Kron with Rough House Theatre that was presented as part of the Chicago International Puppetry Festival, and Fast Food Chain by Andrew Marikis, both of which were produced as part of the Hunger season. In 2019-20 Adventure Stage will continue producing themed seasons, this one focusing on Shelter and extant plays related to the theme.

As with any new initiative, the commissioning and development program was not without its growing pains, but that we shepherded three original projects from concept to production during the residency is no small feat, especially given the size and limited resources of the organization.

Other activities during the course of the residency included close involvement in season selection and planning, attending TYA conferences (TYA USA in the Bay Area in 2017 and AATE in New Orleans in 2018).

In addition, I reaped enormous benefits from the NPRP Microfund, which financed research trips to Guatemala and Del Rio, Texas, as well as a trip to London to attend a production of my play Mayday Mayday Tuesday that was part of the New Writing Season at Rose Bruford College, as well as to meet theatre professionals in that city.

How has this residency changed the theatre, and how has this residency changed the playwright? — March 2018

More from the Residency

Six Months In
Essay

Six Months In

Lessons from Carlos Murillo’s Residency at Adventure Stage

13 March 2017

Adventure Stage Artistic Director Tom Arvetis and Playwright in Residency Carlos Murillo discuss how Carlos’ perspective has affected the company’s goals and operations.

Making Augusta and Noble
Essay

Making Augusta and Noble

Laying the Groundwork for a Residency

19 October 2016

Playwright Carlos Murillo writes about how he and Adventure Stage Artistic Director Tom Arvetis created an original play for and about the young people of Chicago’s West Town neighborhood.

Interview with playwright Carlos Murillo on The Javier Plays
Essay

Interview with playwright Carlos Murillo on The Javier Plays

29 July 2016

Sarah Matusek talks to Playwright Carlos Murillo about his trilogy the Javier Plays, inspired by the life and work of the late Javier C.

Playwright Residency
Essay

Playwright Residency

Why Carlos Murillo? Why Adventure Stage?

29 July 2016

Tom Arvetis, Producing Artistic Director of Adventure Stage in Chicago and playwright-in-residence Carlos Murillo discuss their participation in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s National Playwright Residency Program.