Cuban Theater Digital Archive

Dolores Prida

Author / playwright

Dolores Prida was born the oldest of three children in Caibarién, on the northern coast of Cuba. Soon after the 1959 revolution her father fled to the US in a boat, and two years later the family followed. Upon establishing residency in New York with her family, she began working in a bakery which would eventually lead to her first experience in publications as she would be delegated the position of newsletter writer after 6 years with the bakery. She subsequently took college courses where she studied literature and honed her writing abilities. She continued on into a very successful career in journalism, writing and editing for the daily Spanish-language paper, El Tiempo, as well as other publications such as Visión, Nuestro, and AHA!, the monthly newsletter of the Association of Hispanic Arts.
Prida had her first experience with the genre of theater in the mid 1970's. Coming from a small town in rural Cuba, Prida had had very little exposure to the genre and intially found theatre, especially musicals, to be "weird." Her first work experience in the genre was in in 1976 where she worked with a collective group, Teatro Popular, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Here Prida began her work in the logistical aspects of play productions. "I didn't write a play until I had been involved with other things: doing the props, doing the lights out of tomato cans, running the music cues," she once described. At Teatro Popular Prida identified with the theater company's concept of applying to broader audiences and creating "popular" plays, as opposed to the traditional concept of theater in Latin America which is usually reserved for the upper and middle-class portions of the population. Following her work with Teatro Popular, Prida went on to write over 10 plays which displayed issues that were most prevalent in her community in her life. Popular topics dealt with the issues of being a woman and feminine stereotypes as well as the concept of leading a bicultural life and the challenges presented to those straddling the fence between Hispanic and American culture. Prida's works include blingual scripts which feature both English and Spanish.

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    For more information please visit Dolores Prida's blog

     

    "Dolores Prida", in Jane T. Peterson and Suzanne Bennett. Women Playwrights of Diversity: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1997, 279-282. (excerpts)

    BIOGRAPHY

    Dolores Prida was born in Caibarién, Cuba. Not long after the revolution in 1959, her father fled to Miami in a boat; the rest of the family followed in 1961. Since Prida arrived in this country with nothing, she had to borrow money from her uncle to get to New York. The oldest of three children, Prida went to work in a bakery to earn money for the family. She advanced to office work within six months, and eventually she honed her journalism skills by editing the employee newsletter. Prida earned a degree in Latin American Literature from Hunter College in New York in 1969.

    Although theatre was not a part of Dolores Prida’s life in Cuba, she was exposed to the art in Manhattan where she saw her first play. In 1976 she had her first experience working in the theatre with the collective Teatro de Orilla in the Lower East Side and afterward wrote her first play. She honed her dramaturgical skills at DUO, an experimental theatre on East 4th Street. From DUO she moved on to INTAR, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, and Repertorio Español where she writes scripts in English, Spanish, and a bilingual combination.

    In addition to her theatre work, Prida has written for television and film. For the past ten years, Dolores Prida has been the editor of the newsletter for the Association of Hispanic Arts. She is a frequent lecturer and has taught play-writing at several colleges and universities. In 1989 she was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree by Mount Holyoke College for her contributions to the American theatre.

    PLAY DESCRIPTIONS

    Dolores Prida’s English or bilingual scripts include Beautiful Señoritas. In this early work, the playwright establishes her primary themes (feminism and biculturalism) which are treated in a style that juxtaposes broad humor with serious, thought-provoking issues. This play with music is a send-up of traditional feminine roles (beauty queens, cabaret performers, martyrs) as Girl receives a revue-like education in what it is to be a "real woman." In a series of musical numbers, Girl is instructed about how to catch a man and make him happy. The Girl emerges as an amalgam of her Latin heritage, but by the end she has been stripped of the stereotypical trappings to reveal a fresh face, a new woman alive with possibilities.

    Although Prida’s indebtedness to Bertolt Brecht was evident in the previous play, The Beggar’s Soap Opera (1979) is a full-fledged musical comedy tribute to Brecht’s The Three Penny Opera set among South Bronx “poverticians”.

    The bilingual play Coser y cantar (1981) is an exploration of a woman’s identity. The woman’s alter egos are depicted as two separate characters: She, the liberal, Americanized self; and Ella, the traditional Hispanic self. Their cultural divergence is accented by the fact that She speaks English and Ella speaks Spanish. The comedy of the warring selves gradually grows more serious in tone when the real world encroaches on their dreams and plans: first She’s lover phones to break up with her, and then the chaos (shooting and sirens) outside begins to invade their space. The play ends with both egos seeking a way out but unable to find the actual and metaphorical map for escape.

    Prida returns to the musical comedy form with Savings, a modern morality play about the gentrification of a multiethnic neighborhood. Italian, Asian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, African American, and Jewish neighbors will face displacement. Only when they unite as a community with threats to sue and picket and march do they stand a chance to retain their neighborhood.

    Prida’s other plays include La Era Latina, a bilingual musical comedy, and Crisp!, a commedia dell’arte musical comedy based on Jacinto Benavente’s Los intereses creados (the bonds of interest). Juan Bobo, a bilingual play with music for children, is based on the Puerto Rican folk character. Pantallas is a black comedy in Spanish on the subjects of Spanish soap operas and nuclear disaster. Her popular play in Spanish Botánica delineates three generations of Puerto Rican women who must grapple with generational and cultural gaps while managing a botánica (a religious and medicinal herb shop).

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