Theatre alum shares about research, life in Ireland as a Fulbright Scholar
Arizona State University alum Esther Almazán, who earned her MFA in dramatic writing in 2020 from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, has spent the past year researching and writing in Galway, Ireland, as a Fulbright Scholar. Her work focuses on studying the intersectionality between Native Americans and Native Irish.
Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Almazán received the Kennedy Center Latinx Playwriting Award for Distinguished Achievement, the ariZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence and the Gammage Theatre Scholar Award, and was a Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference semifinalist. Her original play “Indian School” was presented by ASU Theatre.
A culmination of her Fulbright research project, “A Yaqui and Béal: Yoeme and Irish in Conversation,” was presented on May 6 at the O’Donoghue Theatre as part of the Galway Theatre Festival. The theatrical piece combines family legends and wisdom from Irish and Yoeme elders, with conceived work that includes audience input.
“I decided to open it up to other people, not just me collecting verbatim interviews and staging those, but also opening it up to Irish playwrights,” she said. “Ireland is like the land of the playwright, so many of the greats come from here.”
Almazán said one challenge of this experience was simply getting settled into a new place, exacerbated by the housing crisis in Ireland: “For a minute I thought I was gonna have to live in my car!”
But after a lot of persistence and a chance meeting, Almazán found a place to live — a renovated storage space in a small town, with views of lush green hills right out her front door.
“It has everything I need. It's awesome. But I'm kind of in the middle of nowhere,” she said.
Almazán drove to the university four times a week to audit classes and work with students. She said after working as a playwright, it was out of her comfort zone to take acting classes again.
“I haven't been an actor for a very long time. I have been directing and playwriting, and that's my comfort zone now, but I am saying yes to everything,” she said. “I'm just saying yes and jumping in and learning and meeting people.”
Almazán was able to meet actors she needed for her production in her classes.
“I've got this amazing group of Irish students and one student from Luxembourg,” she said. “They're really eager and excited to work on this project.”
She said that she wanted to gather as many people as possible who were interested in working with her.
“I don't want it to be only through my lens. I want it to be through Irish lenses,” she said.
When not in class or rehearsal, Almazán has been exploring different areas in Ireland. She said that she’s seen numerous connections between her work in the United States and her research in Ireland. While visiting a local pub, the owner shared about the local industrial schools in Ireland.
“I spent three years at ASU, studying the Indian schools, which were industrial boarding schools where children were kidnapped and put in those places, and they found the graves of those children, all leading up to my play ‘Indian School,’” Almazán said. “The first place I walked into in Ireland tells me, ‘Children were dying in these industrial schools, where they were horribly abused and worked to death.’ Just like they were in the U.S. with Native American children.”
Another Irish friend taught her about the practice of preserving fairy rings.
“There's so much ancient history here, teaching us about the earth and how to preserve parts of it,” she said. “And that comes from ancient, ancient warnings to keep things the way they should be.”
Her final project included a variety of perspectives, including work that was devised as audiences entered the space.
“I have this really tremendous group of theater artists who will help devise in the lobby and then bring it on to the stage in real time,” she said. “I got to learn a lot about devising at ASU, with some of the most remarkable people, like Liz Lerman and Michael Rohd.”
Almazán said working with the people in Ireland has been one of the best parts of her experience as a Fulbright Scholar.
“One thing I will take away from this is the strength that I've gained from just being around the Irish people,” she said, “and the kindness that has been shown to me.”
University of Galway students enjoying a Sonoran meal and telling family stories.Photo courtesy Esther Almazán
Esther Almazán and cast at the Galway Theatre Festival launch.Photo courtesy Esther Almazán
The poster for Esther Almazán's Fulbright research project "A Yaqui and Béal: Yeome and Irish in Conversation."Image courtesy Esther Almazán