Andrew Siañez-De La O ‘17 wrote a Boston bucket list following his college graduation. At the top of his list sat a playwriting fellowship at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, but Siañez-De La O never took that prospect seriously as he saw it as an impossible feat.
Siañez-De La O applied to the program in December 2018 with a play he wrote titled Borderline. He described the play as a hybrid of Stranger Things, The Thing, and life on the southern border of the U.S. Borderline was Siañez-De La O’s response to the Huntington’s application prompt: “What play defined them as a writer at the time they wrote it?”
“[Borderline is] about children in the desert being chased by a monster,” Siañez-De La O said. “So, I pitched it as, ‘All kids are told ghost stories. Like, we are all told things that are supposed to teach us lessons. But for specifically children of color, and especially on the border, those ghost stories are meant to prepare you for very real things.'”
Out of 74 applicants, Siañez-De La O learned in August that he earned a spot in the 2019–21 four-person cohort of Huntington playwriting fellows. The theatre company made a public announcement on October 23, after the cohort met for the first time in August.
Charles Haugland, director of new work at the Huntington, manages the fellowship program.
“[Siañez-De La O’s] play had a really distinctive voice and an unusual approach to looking at that experience and those issues, and we really responded to it,” Haugland said in an interview.
Immediately following his graduation, Siañez-De La O received a spot in a residency program through the Echo Theater Company in Los Angeles, where he wrote Borderline. Afteward, he worked with Pipeline Theatre Company in New York for a year, with whom he wrote a children’s play. Next, he workshopped one of his plays with the Milagro Theatre in Portland, Oregon.
“I am really excited,” Siañez-De La O said. “It took a while to set in, but the Huntington is a really big name, and just being able to be in the same room as them and be able to say, ‘I’m a Huntington fellow.’ That’s cool.”
Siañez-De La O’s achievement follows in the footsteps of another Emerson alumni.
MJ Halberstadt ‘13 participated in the 2017–19 cohort of Huntington fellows. Siañez-De La O and Halberstadt pointed out the lack of a formal playwriting program at Emerson, where one professor teaches two courses in playwriting.
Halberstadt said he learned a lot about himself as a playwright and the plays he worked on during the fellowship.
“I learned very useful things about a couple of my plays, and I’ll integrate those lessons into each of those scripts, but those are ephemeral and the relationships are longer lasting,” Halberstadt said.
During the fellowship, Haugland said Siañez-De La O will engage in writer group meetings and table readings to critique his and his cohorts work, while simultaneously working to foster a long-term relationship with the Huntington. However, the fellows do not produce a performance at the Huntington.
Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Siañez-De La O said he drew inspiration from his experience living alongside the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I literally grew up a stone’s throw from the border,” he said. “Like, you could look down the street and you could see the fence.”
When he thinks of El Paso, Siañez-De La O said he envisions a beautiful culture, pleasant people, and the place where he and his parents innocently bickered over him attending art school. In conjunction with others’ interpretation of the border, his voice finds its angle in grounding the area’s mythos while concurrently relishing in its magic and mystery.
“How do you approach these topics without, not necessarily angering someone, but doing it justice?” he asked. “I think that’s why I approach a lot of my work with the sense of, like, fantasy or science fiction, where I can sort of separate reality for a moment and be able to talk about these topics.”
Siañez-De La O said he feels grateful for his opportunity to tell stories that reflect his experience growing up so close to the Mexican border.
“I think that is the beautiful thing with theater, too,” Siañez-De La O said. “I mean, someone is going to walk into a theater and accept the given circumstances, so you can sort of play with things a little. So you can tell a really real and heart-wrenching story, but then also have it be about monsters, and gods, and the border.“