By Jailene Adorno
Melinda Lopez is the Huntington Theatre Company’s first-ever playwright-in-residence. Before she was named “One of Boston’s Most Important Writers” and before Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared an entire day after her, Melinda Lopez was an actress. She got her start acting in Shakespearean plays. The more involved she became, the more she started to fall in love with the process.
“In supporting other people’s visions, I realized I had a vision,” says Lopez.
Lopez soon discovered how passionate she was about writing. She found the perfect outlet to tell bi-cultural and bilingual stories that had become barred from Cuba. Because she understood how plays worked from the inside out, she was able create the kind of characters that she knew actors would enjoy playing.
It is a true privilege when someone decides to produce a playwright’s work. However, many plays don’t leave the page from which they’ve been written. Anyone who writes a play can be a playwright—but once it is produced, it takes on a life of its own.
“It’s very different seeing something on the page and seeing it three-dimensional,” says Lopez.
Because she tries to write in a very personal way, many of Lopez’s plays have been centered around Cuba and Cuban-Americans. Growing up, Lopez remembers having a very distinct set of rules and behavior for home and school. That contrast comes alive in her plays as she tells the kind of stories that are more complicated.
“I get interested in politics, loss, and diaspora,” says Lopez. “And really trying to honor the voices inside that experience.”
Scene from Becoming Cuba
Her goal was to develop complex Latina characters because that’s not something that she saw a lot of on stage. By doing so, she’s written highly-acclaimed plays such as Sonia Flew (2004), Becoming Cuba (2014), and Mala (2016).
Her writing has had a significant impact on the city of Boston by bringing new and multifaceted voices front and center. She writes the kind of plays that people can create discussions around, the kind of work that really makes you think.
“I’ve always felt that I was in the right place at the right time,” says Lopez. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done. It’s a great honor.”
In addition to acting and writing, Lopez teaches theatre and performance at Wellesley College, and play writing at Boston University. One thing she always tells her students is to stand behind their work in its greatness and in its flaws.
“Your play doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. “It has to be yours.”
Lopez is currently starring in Heidi Schreck’s Grand Concourse, where she plays Shelley—a nun working at a soup kitchen in the Bronx. Toward the beginning of the play, Shelley is unable to pray; however, when a young girl comes to volunteer at the soup kitchen, everything changes. Grand Concourse brings marginalized people to the stage, to tell their stories.