Tanya Shaffer: Writer, Performer, Traveler
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Brigadista
by Tanya Shaffer
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"You gringos are so funny. It's not enough we provide you with coffee, sugar, cheap labor all these years, now we owe you inspiration, too?"
Tanya's first full-length, multi-actor play, "Brigadista," follows Debbie Sanders, an enthusiastic young North American activist, on a darkly comic journey to Nicaragua in 1990 to pick coffee, observe the elections, and "try to give something back." Dreams and reality brush and intertwine as Debbie is repeatedly forced to confront the sharp contradictions inherent in her role as a North American tourist in war-weary Nicaragua. Coming face to face with her limits and preconceptions, Debbie wrestles cynicism and disillusionment, finally learning, as a phantom Sandino advises her, to "fill yourself from your own well." Slides and audio tapes from the Nicaraguan presidential campaign create an authentic backdrop for this personal and political coming-of-age.

"Brigadista" was developed in conjunction with El Teatro de la Esperanza's Playwrights' Lab. It received its world premiere production from Mosaic Theatre Project at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor, Michigan, directed by Rick Sperling. That production toured to numerous Midwestern cities and to Toronto. "Brigadista" was then produced by Larger than Life Productions at the Capp Street Center in San Francisco, California. That production, directed by Wilma Bonet, toured to twenty-one cities across the United States.
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Press / Testimonials
"Refreshing, comic, and a commendably self-critical look at the attitudes and postures North American leftists unwittingly project as they struggle to help the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua… Ms. Shaffer has made some very comic choices without dulling the political point of her work…Her message that North American radicals must not extract their raison d'être from third world struggles hits the mark in these uncertain times."
- Dan Chumley, San Francisco Mime Troupe
"Exceptionally fine theatre…A poignant mixture of humor and profound truths. It delights us, yet it makes us understand the pain of Nicaragua and our nation's role in that pain. We laugh hard, mostly at ourselves."
- Tobi Hanna-Davies, Assistant Director, Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice
"The play's humor balances so well against the ironies in the characters' lives that the audience literally does laugh and cry at the same time…There is nothing sanctimonious here, just an important story, told well, with a sense of humor and musicality that give you a feeling of hope. No small feat in today's theatre or in today's world."
- James J. Moran, Managing Director, Attic Theatre
"...Accomplished its goal of changing perceptions of current history in Nicaragua...As Debbie's assumptions about life in Nicaragua disappear, ours slowly do as well."
- Annie Frey, The Williams Record
"An enjoyable experience… Debbie's ultra-enthusiasm instigates laughter, while her image of herself as a crusader for social justice sweeps over the audience and causes a shiver of embarrassment…The human relationships hit home."
- Justine Unatin, The Michigan Daily
"...A uniquely entertaining, thought-provoking perspective on the experience of North American activists in Nicaragua."
- Rodrigo Duarte-Clark, Artistic Director, El Teatro de la Esperanza
"A powerful, moving piece of theatre…Vividly recreated the climate of the 1990 elections… Funny, touching, and accurate."
- Bill Mack, Regional Organizer, Pacific Southwest Region, Nicaragua Network
"Presents the very essence of political/personal transformation...Forces the viewer to grapple with prevalent contradictions in North American's views on Central American issues…A powerful, empowering work."
- Rhonda Collins, Nicaragua Solidarity Coalition
"As the central character changes and matures, we change with her… Exemplifies on stage the dictum that the personal is always political… Its lessons have stayed with me."
- James E. Hart, Deputy Director, Detroit Council of the Arts
"A witty and sensitive account of Nicaragua during the 1990 elections… Beautifully written."
- Theodore Natsoulas, Chairman, Committee for Peace and Social Justice, University of Toledo
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