Critic Spotlight: September 2020

Critic Spotlight: September 2020

Cristina Pla-Guzman

Miami-area critic, drama teacher, actress, director

Outlets: American TheatreBroadway World (BWW Review)

Cristina Pla-Guzman

What drew you to criticism?

I have been acting for 20-something years and I’ve been teaching high school-aged students for almost as long. I have an absolute passion for everything theater. I had never thought about criticism as something that I could do or something that I like that was even an option for me. And it’s funny because that’s what I feel like I do all day, right? We work on pieces and critique them and make them better and that’s a part of my every single day experience. 

Then maybe two or three years ago they were looking for critics to cover different shows that were happening here in South Florida, and I was like why have I never thought about this before? 

What is your teaching background?

I’ve been a teacher now for 16 years. I taught a community theater for children called Goodlet Theatre here in Hialeah, Florida, then I worked at another theater, and I naturally progressed into teaching at an actual school. I’ve taught every single age from 4 to 18. The last 13 years have been geared towards high school.

How does your being a teacher inform your criticism?

It’s really interesting because I think about it like constantly seeing theater from a child’s eyes. I still think that I want to go watch theater. I am a fan, you know? I’m so happy that that’s never gone away for me. 

So it’s almost like I can savor the experience of watching as an audience member, but also have the idea of what it took to be able to make that look so flawless and so easy. And when I see something executed really well… I live in those spaces and I love to be able to see the things that maybe the regular person might not recognize when they’re watching something. I got married to the theater a long, long time ago. And so I feel like how can it not inform everything?

You were a 2019 fellow of the O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Critics Institute. How was that important?

That was mind-boggling. I mean, two weeks, from the wee hours in the morning until late at night when you were writing, completely surrounded by new work — it’s super exciting, right? I got to see plays that no one has seen yet that are still in the works. 

There was very little sleeping, because we were writing constantly, and when we shared what we were writing, it was almost like a grad school course. We would write every single night and have the entire group read our critiques in the morning. 

And they flew in teachers from everywhere. So, you know, we had the New York Times there, we had people from NPR, the greatest of the greats. So it was really intimidating, but also a really amazing experience.

Assuming theater survives the pandemic shutdowns, what do you think companies should take from all of this?

It’s not if theater is gonna make it through; theater is going to make it through. There’s a hunger to be back. There’s a hunger to be doing this again. People are finding ways to create. New work is happening. 

There’s this outcry of people demanding more equality, more diversity. I feel that the time that we’re in right now is going to echo back into the work that we see. I always tell my students theater mirrors real life. So it’s not even a question for me: theater is going to be inspired from what’s happening now. 

The best thing that we can do as theater practitioners is to be paying attention. Once this is over, this is not the time to just say, ‘Let’s do ‘Guys and Dolls’ again.” We are what we practice and what we love. I’m honestly thinking that we’ll come back as a stronger community. 

How much of that can you do in the context of a high school? 

I’m really blessed to be in a school where we do theater for social change as one of our programs. We’ve done things like “Rent” and were able to tie it into what our counselors are doing inside of our classes and have this amazing conversation with the school and in small groups. I feel like I have a duty to talk about those things. I have this incredible power to influence my students. 

This next generation of all of these theater kids are going to be some of the most knowledgeable and passionate audiences. They will treasure what they’re seeing and also be thinking about the social movements that are happening now, a lot of which are coming from the youth. 

You have to listen to, what is it that they’re worried about? What is it that they care about? That’s going to be your next ticket that you’re going to sell after this is over. I really, truly feel that those 20-somethings are gonna want theater that speaks to them.

Would you share a piece you’re particularly proud of?

June 23, 2020, American Theatre Magazine, “Miami’s New Drama’s Marquee, Marching in Place for Black Lives.”

— interviewed by Karen Topham, member, ATCA Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee

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