Four Questions With Playwright Ana Nogueira

Tania Thompson
 | Nov 23, 2020
Ana Nogueira
Ana Nogueira

About Ana Nogueira

She is a screenwriter, playwright and actor living in Brooklyn, New York. Her play, Empathitrax, received its world premiere in New York at HERE Arts Center in September 2016, with the acclaimed theatre company, Colt Coeur. The play also received a workshop production as part of the Unfiltered Series at Ensemble Studio Theatre, where she is an alumna of the Obie Award-winning writers group, Youngblood. Her most recent play, Here She Is, Boys, was selected for the 2018 Pacific Playwrights Festival at South Coast Repertory. (It's title was originally Mask Only.) She wrote it under the Elizabeth George Emerging Writers Playwrights Commission. In November 2019, it had its first New York reading at the off- Broadway theatre company, MCC, where it will have its world premiere production in the summer of 2021. As an actress, she has appeared in multiple off-Broadway productions, most recently in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice at The New Group. She can currently be seen on the critically acclaimed Starz series “Hightown.” Born and raised in Philadelphia, she is an alumna of the Boston Conservatory, where she earned a BFA in musical theatre.

A couple of years ago, South Coast Repertory audiences got to know playwright Ana Nogueira through a Pacific Playwrights Festival reading of Mask Only. Her other theatre credits include Empathitrax, which had an off-Broadway run at Colt Coeur, among other productions. In addition to being a writer, the Philadelphia-born Nogueira is an actor with credits that include “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods” and “Hightown.” In this Q&A, she talks about her favorite place to write, the moment she knew she wanted to be a playwright and more.

What’s your favorite place to write?
Editor’s Note: Pre-pandemic, Nogueirastated that her favorite place to write was a mix of public and private places, with her top choice being writing while riding New York’s subways. She found energy with people around and the low hum of conversation.

Ana Nogueira: Of course, writing on the subway hasn't been an option during lockdown, but it remains my favorite place to write. I cannot wait to return to the rumble of the city, where packed subway cars make for great ideas. As a New Yorker, I have full expectation that our city will be back and better than ever in the next couple years. When I'm home alone and trying to write, I just end up taking a nap; there's no energy for me to feed off. I also have to set strict rules for myself. I hide my phone (literally putting it in a cabinet) and I have an app that turns off my internet for an allotted period of time. Also, I need snacks! I’m very picky! I guess the place that makes all of this [my writing] possible, with the least effort on my part, is the subway. As long as you can find a seat, it's one of the best places to write in New York. Plus, having to finish writing a scene is one of the best ways to keep yourself from feeling homicidal towards the MTA [Metropolitan Transit Authority] for all the delays!

As a kid, what story did you read in secret?
AN: I wish I had been cool enough to read something in secret—that sounds like a badass move for a child! There was no Lady Chatterly's Lover under the covers with a flashlight happening for me. Everything I read, I read in public.

When did you know that you wanted to be a playwright?
AN: I absolutely stumbled into this job. I'm an actress as well and that's what I spent my life working towards and studying. My mother was always telling me that I was a writer, but I ignored her because it felt like she was telling me I wasn't a good enough actress (she wasn't saying that—I’m just overly sensitive!). When I was in my mid-20s, I had an idea for a play and I sort of gave myself the challenge to see if I could finish it. It was really just an exercise, but I clearly fell in love with the process. Writing is hard work and takes a ton of discipline, but there is also this liminal space that you can slip into, where time expands and the play seems to be writing itself through you. It is quite a delicate state and it can't be forced; but, when it happens to you, you want to try to make it happen again and again. Add to that the joy of working with actors and a director on something you wrote and you have a job that's sort of an addiction.

What play changed your life?
AN: There are so many, but the first one that really shifted my perspective was Into the Woods. I was obsessed with it as a child. I would build forts in the TV room so I could camp out and watch the PBS “Great Performances” VHS tape of it on loop. I was really young, probably 8 years old, and I think the mixture of familiar subject matter (fairy tales) and the deeply universal and complicated adult themes simultaneously drew me in and also forced me to rise to a new level of thought. I think about this a lot: the way too much musical theatre panders to its audience, to its fan base, without forcing them to step outside of their comfort zone. The great musicals do and I believe that's why they've withstood the test of time and deserve a place in the history books next to Shakespeare and Chekhov and all the rest. I think falling in love with Into the Woods at such a young age put me on a lifelong search for theatre that balances darkness and light. I'm always trying to find that sweet spot.