Writer, director, producer, and performer Josefina López is best known for authoring the play and co-authoring the film Real Women Have Curves. Her works have been produced at over 100 theaters around the country, and she is the author of a number of books. She is also founding artistic director of CASA 0101 Theater and co-owner of Casa Fina Restaurant & Cantina, both of which are located in Boyle Heights—where she immigrated to from Mexico at age five. Before visiting Zócalo for “Can Boyle Heights Save America?,” she talked in the green room about how she writes, her love of travel, and what we gain from world premieres of new plays.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten since COVID-19 quarantine began?
I went to a Japanese restaurant in Ecuador, and they had sushi meets Ecuadorean food, and I thought that was great. I loved the combination of Ecuadorean flavors and Japanese flavors.
You’ve written for the stage, the screen, the page—how do you decide what format a story requires?
I’m a very visual writer, so I get images. Or sometimes I get really angry about something, and I make a statement. And then I decide, how fast do I want to get this message out there? Usually I can produce theater in three to four months, and I can write plays very quickly. Obviously with a movie it has to be a very powerful statement, it has to be very well thought-out. Sometimes I go, “Oh my God, this is a song,” or “Oh, this is a poem.” I don’t limit it; I say, what are you, and what’s the best way of getting this message out?
How or where do you come up with your best ideas?
Everything you’re ever going to write that’s important and meaningful as a writer is a trauma that is at least 10 years old that is ready to be explored. It’s stuck in your unconscious mind, which is bringing it up; otherwise, it becomes a disease. That’s oftentimes why we write, and why I write. The other thing is, I write very fast, so I channel a lot of the work I write. I really believe now that a lot of the work I write I’ve already written before I incarnate it.
If you had one more hour in the day, what would you do with it?
Exercise and drink a lot of water. I have attention deficit disorder, which means my brain is very fast and it’s very hungry, and it constantly needs stimulation. I am so fricking productive that it’s scary. Exercise and drinking a lot of water—that’s what’s missing in my day.
What’s your earliest memory?
I was 4 or 5 years old, and my father was leaving the U.S. I was born in Mexico, and my dad would come visit us whenever he could get away, because he was undocumented. I remember asking him to please not leave, because I was so sad. We didn’t know when he’d be able to come back, and it was also dangerous. When I was a child I didn’t know any of that; I just knew that I missed him.
What’s the last song that got stuck in your head?
“Hello” by Adele.
What work of art has made the biggest impact on you?
Luis Valdez’s play I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges. I saw that when I was 17 years old, and it was all about all the stereotypes of Latinos in Hollywood. It was the first time I had seen myself reflected on stage. It was the first time that I saw Latinos as normal people. And I understood why Latinos always had to play the bad guys, why we’re always the riff raff: We’re the bad guys in the white man’s story. And that’s never going to change, because white guys need to play the heroes. We’re the supporting characters in their story. That really just kind of woke me up, and I said, I’m the protagonist of my own life.
If you didn’t live in L.A., where do you think you would be?
My dream life would be that every three months I would live in a different city. I love to travel; I get so bored all the time. Having to learn a new culture every three months, a new language—that would keep me awake and aware and excited.
What are you most looking forward to about returning to live theater after the pandemic?
World premieres of plays by new playwrights. Every two months we would have a world premiere of a play, and I’d just see how lit up actors are after a show ends. And how, when they’re so moved and inspired, audiences don’t want to go away. I miss being around all that inspiration and creativity and community.