‘Encanta’ As a Celebration

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A generously donated illustration for my play, "Encanta"

In a previous post about my play Tulpa, or Anne&Me, I talked about the catharsis of finally expressing feelings and sharing experiences I had kept bottled up for a long time. That process was essential to healing from a lot of the wounds I carried from racism and sexism–particularly in the form of misogynoir–as well as from homophobia.

Evil Queen
The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) from ABC’s Once Upon A Time. You can see why I’m in love.

After writing Tulpa, I took a break from writing for a while. Then Once Upon A Time happened. More specifically, Regina Mills happened, and I’ve been smitten ever since. Lana Parrilla has single-handedly gotten me into watching serialized television again.

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There is a pattern with me that, if I like an actor enough, I will want to write things I can imagine them playing. Irritation with the status quo is a great way to provoke that respons in me. Frustrated with the increasing androcentrism, overwhelming whiteness, and cloying heteronormativity of the show, I began to imagine new possibilities for my favorite character.

That frustration led me to begin working on Encanta, a play that I’ve described as Moonstruck meets Kirikou and the Sorceress on the island of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

I chose to honor Lana Parrilla’s Latina heritage by making all the characters of Latinx descent and to celebreate LGBT identity by making all the characters–including the beach, the ocean, and the volcano– openly and happily LGBT.

The drama of the story doesn’t come from the struggle of being LGBT or Latinx. It comes from being human and being in love. The conflict comes from having passions and fears that are sometimes at odds with each other and with other people’s. It took me a while to realize how important that is.

In the stories about people of color and LGBT people that reach mainstream media, our identities too often become the source of strife. That sends a twisted, victim-blamey message that tells that being who we are is the reason why we are reviled, ignored, discriminated against, abused or killed. Internalizing that message can cause us to believe it is us being different from the dominant group that is the problem and not the dominant group’s attitudes toward those who are different.

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Encanta
Generously donated illustration for my play, Encanta. The besotted look on Penzima’s face and the volcano in the background are actually in the script.

With Encanta, I was determined to do differently. As the play took shape, I was determined to write a light, frothy, silly, romantic story that took place on an island where magic was real. It’s so rare for people of color and LGBT people to have stories like this told about us. When our stories are not about The Struggle (TM), mainstream media has trouble understanding why we exist in the narrative at all, let alone exist as characters central to the story. And when we’re talking about the fantasy genre, you would be hard-pressed to find main characters who are LGBT or people of color at all. I use the B and T there deliberately, as all the people in this play are gay and/or bi, and trans actors can portray any of these characters.

When I shared the various drafts with a few trusted people, they were delighted to discover a story of “pure escapist fun” where they could see themselves in the middle of romance and witty banter and magic and swordplay. People like us are generally put on the outskirts of a story, not front-and-center, so the people who read it were refreshed to find a story like that for us and about us. They don’t have to cross their fingers and hope the one LGBT person or person of color doesn’t die or find themselves unhappy and alone. They don’t have to stick up for the one character who is a person of color or LGBT because there are several LGBT people of color in the story.

Whereas writing Tulpa, or Anne&Me was an act of healing from the damage of racism, sexism, and homophobia, writing Encanta was a celebration. It celebrated love and passion between women, between people of color, and between LGBT people. Now, after some time away from it, I realize that it was also a celebration of the capacity of people marginalized by mainstream society to create selves and worlds anew.

I hope I can do it more often.

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Shawn C. Harris is a playwright who has written, developed, and produced plays on New York City's indie theatre scene. Her works consistently feature strong roles for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. Since 2008, she has been writing essays and sharing resources about theatre, social justice, and diversity on her blog, Love's Labors Lost. In 2010, Shawn founded Crossroads Theatre Project to develop plays that re-imagine the form and content of African diaspora theatre.