Julianna Gonzalez, originally from New Jersey, now calls the Detroit area her home and in a relatively short period of time has had an impact through her work with the Black and Brown Theatre company which is led by her close friend, colleague and Artistic Director of the Theatre, Emilio Rodriguez. I have come to admire her perspective and commitment to the arts, specifically her view on the power of storytelling.
She worked in theatre and lived in locales as varied as Massachusetts, Washington D.C. Portland, Oregon as well as Bogota, Colombia. When asked why she moved to the Detroit area she stated “…a reason why I came here is that Detroit felt like the right place to be for someone who values community, collaboration, creativity, and diversity. I knew about Emilio (Rodriguez) before ever meeting him! While working with Milagro Theater in Portland, I mentioned that I was moving to Detroit and the team was adamant that I meet Emilio once I got there. His play ‘Swimming While Drowning’ had been produced at Milagro earlier that year, I believe. And when I finally arrived to Detroit in 2018, others I met in the literary and theater world here mentioned that I should meet him as well. So, I reached out to him and we met up to go see one of his plays (Mamacita) and we’ve been friends ever since.”
As to her role in the Black and Brown Theatre, she responded, “I don’t think I’d give myself an official title for my work with Black and Brown Theatre. I’ve occupied several roles, and ultimately I am honored to have a relationship with the people, the important work that it does, the stories it tells, the opportunities it offers.” She goes on to explain she is a playwright, stage manager, and “anything else” the group needs to be done at any given moment.
In high school she fell in love with theater. This would be enhanced by her studies at Vassar College in New York where one of the professors she studied under the internationally known Talaya Delany, whom she credits for playing a key influence on her. At Vassar she began writing plays, majored in drama and English receiving a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Drama.
Upon graduating from college, she went on to say, “I lived in Washington DC for a while. I left when my mother passed away and moved back to my hometown (Paterson, NJ) to be with my dad. Then I moved to NYC for a few years, working in publishing before heading out to live abroad in Colombia for a while and moved to Portland, Oregon upon my return to the states.” While living in North Hampton, Massachusetts she was involved with the Iron Horse music venue. In Bogotá, Columbia she became active with literary groups and the Bohemian community known as La Candelaria.
It was during her time in Portland that she worked with the Milagro Theatre as its Assistant Director where she worked on the nationally acclaimed musical Oye Oya by Rebecca Martinez. As she described it is a retelling of the Tempest. It was in Portland that Oye Oya held its world premiere.
Julianna Gonzalez works with artists outside of Michigan while based here in Detroit. The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio performed her play “A Columbus Christmas Carol” which in turn was an adaptation of her “Blessed: A Christmas Carol Adaptation” set in Detroit. Both were adaptations of the Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol” that provided a black and brown lens to the work and included moments of Spanish dialogue. As she noted on The Contemporary Theatre of Ohio’s webpage “I can’t imagine a more important chore right now, as an artist to reflect all of the beautiful and hard parts of the communities of which I am a part.”
She reflected on the fact that during the pandemic the Black and Brown Theatre looked inward leading to a productive period for the company. They are now focusing on developing works they can take to schools and similar venues. They hope to elevate a Detroit perspective in the stories they tell. One of their recent productions has been “Juan Bobo: Quiero Mas” in Spanish and Patois which has been presented in a number of schools. She is quite proud of that work and stated “Juan Bobo is an exciting theater piece that everyone should keep an eye out for. A bilingual musical retelling of an iconic Caribbean children’s story.”
She mentioned they are increasing their educational outreach efforts. “One of the programs that Black and Brown Theater has is called Our Voices and it offers classes to students of all ages in how to write and put up a play. I’ve been fortunate to be one of the teachers for some of those sessions.” This includes working with participants in Spanish and English.
As we neared the end of our conversation, I asked her what motivates her. She replied, “I love meeting people and as an artist, my main interest is the community and furthering accessibility to creativity. Theatre focuses on stories. Thus, I value the importance of story-telling as an art form.”
Currently you can find Julianna stage managing the show “Material Advantage” by Sean Paraventi at Matrix Theater in Southwest Detroit.
In the near future I hope to conduct a joint interview with Emilio Rodriguez Black and Brown Theatre’s Artistic Director and Julianna so that we can learn more about the Black and Brown Theatre. In the meantime, for more information on Julianna Gonzalez you can easily find her online. For the Black and Brown Theatre you can go to their website at https://www.blackandbrowntheatre.org/ An added plus is that you can view a number of their video clips on their YouTube channel “Black and Brown Theatre” https://www.youtube.com/@blackandbrowntheatre2801.