Octavio Solis returns to mark 10 years of Playwriting Program

Playwright and actor Octavio Solis plays Arrival Agent in Disney Pixar’s blockbuster hit Coco.

MARFA — Marfa Live Arts announces the return of renowned playwright Octavio Solis for the 2021 Playwriting Program this coming spring at Marfa High School.

Considered by many to be one of the most prominent Latino playwrights in America, Solis’ work details and transcends the Mexican American experience. The El Paso native has written and directed over 20 plays (Mother Road, Quixote Nuevo, Lydia) that have been performed throughout the country, earning numerous awards from the Kennedy Center, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Playwrights’ Center.

Aside from writing plays, Solis served as a consultant on Disney-Pixar’s blockbuster hit Coco, which draws heavily on the themes of Día de Muertos. “We were there from the beginning to ensure that the culture was represented accurately. They had us look at every aspect of the film. We became the firewall between something that could be cooked up just for sales and something that was authentic to the culture. Disney-Pixar wanted to get it right.”

Solis continues, “It was a way for general American audiences to relate to someone that looks like me in a way that is so immediate, visceral and humane. That’s what’s so puzzling and so disturbing about the times we are living in, that a film like Coco can attract such a wide audience, and yet at the same time a lot of that audience is demonizing us. It’s very hard to see that. I don’t understand.” His work on the film earned him the Imagen Award for Consultant in 2018.

In Coco, Solis also voiced the Arrival Agent, who ushers the young boy Miguel into The Land of the Dead. A public holiday in Mexico, Día de Muertos is celebrated on November 1-2, and is devoted to remembering and praying for friends and family who have passed away. Some Mexican academics believe the holiday has indigenous pre-Hispanic roots, while others believe it was a Spanish tradition rebranded to commemorate Aztec heritage.

Solis’ first workshop with Marfa Live Arts was a part of a month-long artist-in-residency program. The school workshop, he said, introduced students to the art of playwriting.

“I like that Marfa Live Arts is on a mission to bring art and writing to the kids of working families in the area,” Solis said. Recounting his first visit to the city, “We had them tap into their lives. To hear their voices. To tell us what they thought we needed to hear. I think what Marfa Live Arts Director Jennie Lyn Hamilton created is very special.” The students, Solis added, quickly caught on and delved into themselves during the program, using the art of playwriting to express themselves in ways foreign to them. “There was one session where the kids read and got emotional about what they wrote. It was powerful and electric. It was cathartic for the kids, giving expression to their voices. I was deeply blown away.”

For Hamilton, the return of Solis to the program is a reason for excitement. “Octavio is phenomenal, we are thrilled he will be working with our youth again,” she said. “I’ve followed his career since I first saw his tour de force El Paso Blue at the Milagro Theatre in Portland, Oregon in 2000. His portrayal of our border region rings so true with its intense and layered complexity. His upbringing along the Rio Grande definitely influences all his work.”

The 2021 program will bookend the first decade of the program with Solis, who was the first Marfa Live Arts playwright-in-residence to work with Marfa High School students.