Welcome to Ask an Admin, a series in which we talk with theatre administrators working in Minnesota to learn about their backgrounds, their jobs, and what snacks they keep in their desks.
AnaSofía Villanueva: Artistic Associate at History Theatre
Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position (schooling, training, past work/life experience, mentors, etc.).
I am thrilled to be the new Artistic Associate at History Theatre after having spent nearly two decades working on the artistic side of theater. I recently assistant directed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Mixed Blood Theatre and Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías at the Guthrie Theater. I had an informal reading of my play, Tengo Voz, at the Mixed Blood Theatre with a full production premiering in Theatre Coup d’Etat’s upcoming season. Prior to my move to the Twin Cities last year, I directed References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot by José Rivera, for which I was awarded the Society of Directors and Choreographers Fellowship Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. I will receive my Bachelor's in Theater Arts with an emphasis in Directing from the University of Idaho. While in residence there, the university produced three plays that I wrote: Amor del Alma, Exotic, and Pollux. While continuing my twin passions of directing and playwriting, I am eager to also work with Ron Peluso and the History Theatre staff in supporting new works that expose the intimately complex question of what it means to be American.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
During the first rehearsal of my first production when I was a teenager, I observed what was then to me a foreign process of people who came together to tell and show a story. I was especially in awe of the holder of the story: the one whose job it was to shape the narrative. I went home that night to tell my mother that I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was going to be a director.
What’s the best part of your job?
Working with Ron Peluso, the Artistic Director at History Theatre, who is funny, extremely encouraging, and never lets you forget the importance of looking at our interconnected histories to better understand our present.
When did you know you wanted to work in theatre/the arts?
My first inclination toward theater was as a preteen watching the film adaptation of Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez with my father. The beautiful-brutal story made such an impact on my spirit that elements of that play emerge in all of my work.
What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre/the arts?
I am continuously surprised by the desire of theater-makers to engage and disrupt the imaginary yet powerful borders that tend to block empathy in so many of us.
Who gave you the best advice you’ve ever received, and what was that advice?
I recently attended the event, “Living the Dream: Undoing Racism Through the Arts” at Mixed Blood where a panelist of female theater-makers spoke. One of the panelists was Marcela Lorca, the new Artistic Director of Ten Thousand Things. She cited a survey from 2016 that revealed that there were only 15 women artistic directors of the 74 LORT regional theaters in the U.S., and only one was a woman of color. She then spoke of her career trajectory. Hers began with an intense study of “traditional” theater, but then she changed direction to embrace other forms of storytelling, which inadequately categorized her work as solely “surrealism.” Now, as a woman of color Artistic Director, she’s come to a place in her career where in retrospect she’s found that women of color theater artists “must stay true to our art, but [also] learn how to play the game.”
What’s the best/your favorite production you’ve seen in the Twin Cities in the last year?
My favorite play I’ve seen this past year was, surprisingly, the over-the-top farce, Two Mile Hollow by Leah Nanako Winkler and directed by Randy Reyes as a Mu Performing Arts and Mixed Blood co-production. Winkler is a hilarious and incredibly smart young playwright who flips the script on colorblind casting and shines a light on whose stories are being privileged over others.
You’re stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with (living or dead)?
After much deliberation, I was able to come to the difficult decision that it would make the most sense to select a director, playwright, and actor to take with me to the island in order to continue to make plays so that we could share them with others if we were ever rescued. My dream team would include: Will Davis, the former Artistic Director at the recently closed American Theater Company in Chicago. His work continuously pushes the bounds of what American theater can be. The Swedish playwright, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, would make the cut because of his political and gritty-poetic world-building. Lastly, but certainly not least, Brian Quijada, as a multifaceted and charismatic performer based in New York would have to join our desert ensemble.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in arts administration/your position?
Administrative work can get you bogged down with such things as contracts, music rights, coordinating multiple schedules, all entrenched in long hours in an office staring into the draining blue light of your computer screen. So it is important to not lose sight of why we were drawn to theater in the first place. Whether to make social change, share your story, or connect with the world, we are the ones who make that possible.
Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?
Coffee. I don’t know if that qualifies as a snack, but the answer is still coffee.