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ATC awards playwright Erlina Ortiz for comedy 'La Egoista'
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ATC awards playwright Erlina Ortiz for comedy 'La Egoista'

2022 National Latine Playwrights Award goes to PA author

  • Director Abigail Grubb with performers Angelika Anastasio, Espi Rivadeneira, and Laura Padilla on stage, rehearsing a reading of 'La Egoista.'
    Andrew YoungDirector Abigail Grubb with performers Angelika Anastasio, Espi Rivadeneira, and Laura Padilla on stage, rehearsing a reading of 'La Egoista.'

After applying multiple years and being passed over, Erlina Ortiz has won Arizona Theatre Company's 2022 National Latine Playwrights Award with her comedy titled "La Egoista."

Ortiz, who is from Reading, Pa., said the inspiration for "La Egoista" — which translates into "The Selfish" — came from her own personal experiences being born into a Latino household and as someone who is chronically ill.

"I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease when I was 23 years old, so I was forced suddenly out of my life and forced to face my human body and the flaws that it had," Ortiz said. "That sort of jarring situation always stayed with me. Now I'm someone who always has to navigate this chronic illness. I wanted to write about my own experience being in the hospital."

One of the characters in the play goes through the same experience she went through. Ortiz said she had always wanted to write a play about a stand-up comedian. Her name is Josefina, and her personality is light, a bit irreverent and "doesn't take anything seriously." Her opposite is her sister Betsaida, who was diagnosed with the chronic illness, and a pious, religious person.

While Josefina makes people laugh with her comedic skits, Betsaida's health deteriorates. Ortiz said she wanted to make the sisters love each other and accept each other even through their differences. The play has surrealist elements and it employs elements such as magic and puppeteering. The play also walks the line of "how to find balance between the selfless and the selfish."

"As a Latina, women are expected to give so much and are expected to take over households when somebody is ill or when there's a crisis. That type of cultural trait is in these women and that's why it's called 'La Egoista.' When do you decide to be selfish and how is that the better choice like taking care of yourself first, which is not something we're taught as Latinas," she told the Tucson Sentinel.

Ortiz said that although it isn't specified in the play that the sisters are Latinas, she said anyone in the Latine community would be able to recognize the culture. It is important for Ortiz to add to the Latine narrative in the arts. When she was younger, she didn't know modern Latin playwrights existed and were working in the industry, she said.

It all changed for her when she saw "In The Heights," the hit Broadway musical by award-winning playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. She saw herself and the stories of her culture reflected through the music and the challenges they faced.

"It makes you feel bigger than you actually are and not smaller than you are, which is always what we're taught, is to just be smaller. If we don't tell the stories, who will?" Ortiz said. "And I hope that a young Latina gets to read my plays and realizes that her story is valid. Hopefully our stories will continue to not only be about poverty or crossing the border or gun violence or trauma, but continue to be about who we are as people in this world."

Ortiz's play was commissioned by Live & In Color. It was presented at the 2022 LTC Comedy Carnaval. She leads Power Street Theatre in Pennsylvania. Her play "Las Mujeres" received The Bonaly Award for Creation of Community Joy in 2018. In 2019, her play "Morir Sonyando" was nominated for six Barrymore Awards. She will be working on fully producing "La Egoista" by 2023.

The ATC award includes $2,500 and a workshop.

Bianca Morales is TucsonSentinel.com’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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