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Q&A with UH Alumnus, Critically Acclaimed Playwright of 'Luchadora!'

Alvaro Saar Rios (B.A. Creative Writing ’01) talks about his creative process and how Texas continues to inspire his work.

To set the stage for “Luchadora!,” imagine the Chinese legend of Mulan unfolding in the vibrant world of lucha libre — Mexican wrestling. With the discovery of an old wrestling mask, Lupita, a Latina grandmother in Wisconsin, recalls her life as a teenage tomboy in small town Texas. The audience is transported with her back in time to 1968 where she rides bikes, sells flowers at her father’s stand, obsesses over lucha libre and meets a magical mask maker who helps her change the course of her future.

This imaginative work, created by University of Houston alumnus and critically acclaimed playwright Alvaro Saar Rios (B.A. Creative Writing ’01), has been called “the most exciting father-daughter saga this side of the Pecos” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and deemed “inspiring and relevant to young people” (HowlRound). “Luchadora!” opens at the UH School of Theatre & Dance on November 17 and runs through November 19, 2017. Rios, an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, will visit campus the week of the premiere to work with students in the creative writing and theatre programs. Learn more about his creative process below!

Selected excerpts from an interview with the Lunar Cougar originally published in 2016. Read the full interview here.

Lunar Cougar: How did you transition from writing songs, poetry and stories to writing plays?

Alvaro Saar Rios: I started completely by chance. A friend of mine needed a play because couldn’t get the royalties to the play he wanted in time. He asked me if I’d write one for him — I told him I’d never done it. I didn’t read plays. I didn’t write plays. He said, but you’re a writer. So I told him I’d try, and it was a great experience. I’ve learned that I have a better handle on being a playwright than a poet, but they are closely related. Coming from a poet’s perspective in playwriting is definitely valuable — just look at Shakespeare. I love how poetry informs the writing and the creation of dialogue.

My last class before I graduated was the only playwriting class I took as an undergraduate. I was supposed to graduate in 2000, but during that semester I found out that I got into the Edward Albee playwriting class, and that wasn’t until spring 2001, so I waited to graduate until afterward. But then I returned in 2004 because Lanford Wilson was teaching a playwriting class.

How has growing up in Houston influenced your work?

I write about Houston all the time! The longer I’ve been away from it, the more I write about it. If I’m not writing about Houston, I’m writing about Texas, especially because I don’t see plays that are genuinely about Houston, or even about Texas. And people want to see them, even up here in Milwaukee!

As a playwright, I can’t deny that those are my stories. In creative writing class, they tell you all the time, write what you know. What do I know? I know Houston, I know Texas. And that’s what I love writing about.

What advice would you share with current or prospective UH students, or aspiring theater artists and writers?

I have to break this down into two: my advice to UH students is to finish. I went to school with some very smart people, but not a lot of them finished their degree, for various reasons. Some did go back eventually, which is great, but just do it — because that piece of paper will open up so many doors.

In terms of aspiring theater artists and writers: say yes to everything. Maybe that’s advice for all students, too. That’s exactly what’s gotten me to where I am today. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to write an opera for the Houston Grand Opera, or radio essays for NPR. But doing those things improved my writing in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It’s definitely led me to where I am today.