Photo by Debra Lopez
I want to tell you about one of the most amazing actor/writers I know: Nilsa Reyna. I hope that she inspires you as much as she has inspired me.
Nilsa Reyna was a working Chicago actor with a great reputation for solid work when she was struck down by a stroke. She was an up and coming actor in the Chicago theatre scene, the artistic director of her own theatre company and had the whole world in front of her. Nilsa's search for answers was a long and difficult road, but at the end of it, she was a writer with a unique voice and story to tell.
The why's or how's weren't nearly as important as the personal journey that this medical crisis took her on. Nilsa's stroke turned her life upside down. But more importantly the journey it took Nilsa on changed the direction of her life, created amazing lessons for her which she chronicles in her solo play, "The Care I Need" which has received two developmental Off Broadway workshops.
Nilsa joined April's writers retreat a couple of years ago as soon as she moved to New York City from Chicago. She'd heard about April's work from Juan Villa, whose Jeff nominated solo show "Empanada for a Dream" was developed in April's weekly writing classes.
"April's strong, quiet, supportive presence was more vital to me exploring MY story than I would have thought. The safe environment she creates gave me freedom to be fully honest with myself in ways that surprised myself. In any interviews I give nationally about my solo play "Empanada For A Dream" (nominated for a Jeff Award for Best Solo Show), I make sure to mention April Yvette Thompson's name because the most complete stories in my award winning play were from her workshops. She has inspired me to help others tell their stories. She taught me that the same commitment I give to others, I should give to myself. I haven't looked back."
So with Juan's words in Nilsa's ears, she joined April's 2 Day Writers Retreat. She spent 16 hours writing, asking questions, learning about structure and learning just how much work was involved in writing your story.
But she didn't let the task overwhelm her. What April didn't know at the time was that during that writing class, Nilsa was still in recovery from her stroke. She wrote slower, but she wrote nonetheless and did a lot of deep listening.
A couple of years later, once Nilsa had established herself in NYC and had laid down a rough draft of the story, she contacted April for private coaching. She had gotten as far as she could on her own and had built in her own hard deadlines. She got the support of a theatre company behind her to develop her new solo show with a series of developmental workshops culminating in public readings.
This was both terrifying, but important to her finishing the work. If you know you got to do a public reading of your work in 60 days, you're not going to come up with any lame excuses to not write. So she and April met weekly for writing sessions.
The result is that in less than 3 months, Nilsa finished her first performance draft and had two off broadway readings of her play. She and her director found the amazing humor in Nilsa's story as well as her courage in telling the no-holds barred story of a woman who overcame tremendous odds and found the life that she truly wanted to be living as a result of the journey.
I have a special treat for you today.
It's an interview I had with Nilsa about her work.
Love, Light & Power,
April & TheWritersRoom
April Yvette Thompson