Four Questions With PPF Playwright Christine Quintana

Tania Thompson
 | May 24, 2021
Christine Quintana
Playwright​ ​​Christine Quintana.

South Coast Repertory's Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) has been a launching pad for many plays and playwrights, including David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime, Lynn Nottage's Intimate Apparel and Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee.

Among the five readings at the 2021 digital festival is Clean by Christine Quintana. The story is about two women from different worlds who meet in the fake paradise of a Mexican resort. Adriana, who works at the hotel, and Sarah, who's there for her sister’s wedding. Torrential rain, a father’s death and the mistakes of a night bring them together … but whatever they have in common, many cultural borders separate them.

In an email exchange, Quintana talked about her favorite places to write, the moment she knew she wanted to be a playwright, how her unconventional parents helped shape her view of life and more.

Banff Writing Stapce
Quintana's writing spot at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.

About ​Christine Quintana

She was born in Los Angeles to a Mexican-American father and a Dutch-British-Canadian mother. Quintana is now a grateful visitor to the Unceded Coast Salish Territories, commonly known as Vancouver, B.C. A playwright, actor and producer, Quintana received the Siminovitch Protégé Prize for Playwriting (2017) from Marcus Youssef and was the Urjo Kareda Emerging Artist Resident at Tarragon Theatre. Her creation and performing highlights include Never The Last (co-created with Molly MacKinnon, produced by Delinquent Theatre, recipient of five Jessie Richardson Theatre Award nominations including Outstanding Production and Outstanding New Script and winner of Significant Artistic Achievement); Selfie (commissioned by Théâtre la Seizième in French and Young People’s Theatre in English, winner of the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Theatre for Young Audiences Play, the Sydney Risk Prize for Outstanding Script by an Emerging Playwright and the Tom Hendry Award for TYA); and the immersive digital production, Good Things To Do (Rumble Theatre, rEvolver Festival and FoldA). Quintana is a proud founding member of the Canadian Latinx Theatre Artist Coalition. She holds a BFA in acting from the University of British Columbia.

What’s your favorite place to write?

Pre-pandemic, I was lucky enough to have a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity, on Treaty 7 territory. The Centre is an incredible place—a purpose-built artist retreat nestled in the mountains of Banff. The Playwrights Lab furnishes playwrights with dedicated writing space, in addition to a full meal plan and beautiful accommodations, so all one needs to do is focus on their art. I snapped this picture while I was working there in February 2020 in the Evamy Studio—snow falling, sun shining, deer meandering outside the window. We were on the brink of change, and didn't truly know it. I was among one of the last artists to complete a residency

I live on the unceded territories of the Musqueam Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations, also known as Vancouver. Since the pandemic I've been mostly working from home—I share a two-bedroom place with a partner and a roommate, so things are tight. My desk is about four feet away from my bed, which obliterates any attempt at separating work and rest. I've discovered new inspiration in screen-free, notebook-free walks—that fresh air and meandering thoughts are as good a workspace as any.

As a child, did you read stories in secret?

My parents were both punk rockers and super cool people, and so my guilty pleasure was musical theatre. I used to take cast recordings out from the library and hide out in the basement to listen to them and sing along. I can still sing every word of the entire three-hour long score of Les Miserables! It was patently uncool. It still is...

When did you know you wanted to be a playwright?

This is a hard one to answer. I got hooked on theatre at age 8—I'm an actor and playwright, and I split my practice between the two—I've never considered another life. I think I need both because they balance the degrees of exposure. As an actor, your body and your voice are on display. When I come home after a show, I can still feel dozens of eyes on me and I find that challenging—I'm not the kind who likes the spotlight. As a playwright, your soul and life are on display in ways that might be more obscured or indirect, but you feel, nonetheless, vulnerable and raw. I couldn't do one full time. The balance makes it possible for me.

What play changed your life?

When I was 14, I saw a production of Cul De Sac by Daniel MacIvor, who is one of Canada's most prolific and gifted playwrights. I don't know who sold me a ticket—I came to the theatre alone, a dorky young teen—because the play is FULL of drugs, sex, violence; but I'm so glad they did. Daniel wrote and performed the piece and it was the first multiple-character play I'd seen. I watched him flip seamlessly between characters, building a world with words and movement in an economic and powerful way. I sat in my seat long after the show. I didn't know that's what theatre could do. It opened my mind to the possibilities of theatricality.

What should audiences know about Clean?

Clean is, in part, about how our experiences, memories and lived experiences inextricably shape how we perceive our present. The play itself is a result of a stacking of different lenses.

The play came out of a visit to a Cancun resort where my father and aunt worked in sales—I was so struck by the uncomfortable contradictions of the resort. I'm LA-born, Mexican-American on my dad's side but, since I grew up in East Vancouver, my views and experiences of Mexico will always be through the eyes of an outsider. The translation and adaptation by Paula Zelaya Cervantes, who lives and works in Mexico City, has offered a different lens on the piece.

The character of Sarah is a white Canadian woman who is deeply steeped in the settler culture of Canada, which has intersections with class privilege and a culture of silence—a world in which many theatre practitioners in Canada are deeply embedded, and in which I spend a lot of time. All of these lenses are part of the storytelling of Clean.

Watch this video interview with Quintana for #PPFPlaywrights.

Learn more about Clean and the 2021 Pacific Playwrights Festival.