Interview with Lisa Loomer

Telling the Stories

Revolutionary Worker #1227, February 1, 2004, posted at

Playwright Lisa Loomer, has written works such as The Waiting Room, Expecting Isabel and the script for the film Girl Interrupted. Her latest work, Living Out, is based on the lives and experiences of immigrant Latina women who work as nannies. Living Out has been performed in Los Angeles, New York, and most recently in Seattle. Carlo Botero conducted an e- mail interview on the eve of the play's premiere at the Seattle Repertory Theater.

Carlo Botero: The Artistic Director for the Center Theatre Group of L.A. wrote in the Performances Magazine , "Lisa discovers and creates situations that not only bring to dramatic life the most urgent issues (often those matters that our society hesitates even to acknowledge much less address) but she illuminates her subjects in all their complexity."

I wanted to explore that a little bit. What prompted you to write a play based on the lives and experiences of immigrant Latina women who work as housekeepers and nannies?

Lisa Loomer: I felt that within the very human, very personal story of a Latina nanny and an Anglo mom I could explore larger issues of race, power, and citizenship that impact Anglo/Latino relations in general in this country.

CB: How did you gain such a keen insight into the lives of the nannies?

Lisa Loomer: I talked to them! I have a young child and I spent a lot of time in the park, talking, listening, sometimes eavesdropping. My son had a nanny for a while, and through her I got to know a few women quite well. I also did one or two formal interviews. And my family lives in Mexico so I know several people there who are not nannies but do go back and forth to the U.S. for work.

CB: I think that with this play, you are telling a very personal story for me and many people I know. Are there any particular stories that you remember?

Lisa Loomer: Well, a lot those stories are woven into the play. What else sticks in my mind? A Salvadoran woman who told me that she stepped over bodies in the street on her way to school as a child. A woman who could not return to El Salvador for her father's funeral because she was not a U.S. citizen and could not travel. Hell, you hear a story every day. Someone just asked me if they could use my address for their car insurance because the rates are so high in their (Latino and African-American) neighborhood.

CB: Have you gotten any feedback from the women that you interviewed?

Lisa Loomer: Yes. They all came to see the play. It is a very exciting thing to see something so close to your life up on a stage. It means your life is important. It means that people will "see" you. There are so many people in this country who feel unseen. The very idea that you are not a citizen, that you are "illegal" or "alien" means that society is refusing to see you as a full and equal human being. Just look at those words! I think all of us tend to make people who are not "like us". the "other." This is something I really wanted to look at with this play. Generally, when someone is "the other," you see them as "less than" in some way. You do not acknowledge their full humanity. (So a dead Iraqi child can become "collateral damage.") We have cultural differences to be sure. And there are inequities in terms of class, race, and power. It would be na‹ve to say these don't exist. But our basic the same. For instance. there is nothing "illegal" or "alien" about the need to work and take care of your children.

CB: How have audiences across the country reacted to watching the play? Have responses from Los Angeles been stronger because of its significant proletarian Latino immigrant population?

Lisa Loomer: New York audiences were just as passionate about the issues as Angelenos. They recognize themselves just as easily. There is a huge Latino population in New York (an, interestingly, a huge recent influx of Mexicans and Central Americans). But beyond that, I think that people get this idea of making someone "the other"--and that this applies to the relationship between any dominant culture and its immigrant population.

The play is in Seattle now and there will be a bilingual performance for a predominantly Spanish- speaking audience. The play will run in Minneapolis in a few months in both English and English/ Spanish. In other words, the scenes that would be in Spanish between the nannies, and the scenes between the Salvadoran nanny and her husband will all be in Spanish. So hopefully, when I am asked about "audience" reaction, I will be able to talk about a broader audience.

CB: In writing this play about immigrant Latina women, you say you wanted to explore the larger issues of race, class, power, and citizenship. When did you realize that you wanted to tell these kinds of stories?

Lisa Loomer: I've always been inspired by "issues," different ones at different times. But I tend to get pissed off and then inspired.

CB: You commented that "it is a very exciting thing to see something so close to your life up on a stage. It means that your life is important...There are so many people in this country who feel unseen." I was very moved by your response to this question, because I saw my mom's life reflected in the character Ana. In this society the people at the bottom are not considered worth knowing about. Where other writers (or other people in the realm of the arts) see nothing, you see poetry. Can you expand on that?

Lisa Loomer: Perspective. What you see and why you see it, would be a complex thing to explain or define. I see--and don't see--what I see because of the sum of my particular life experiences. My experience has been pretty complex, I suppose, in that I've lived in different places, in different cultures, and among different "classes."

"Living out" and "living in" are terms applied to nanny jobs. Interestingly, though, the meaning the terms evoke does have to do with living outside the mainstream culture.