'FADE' Perspectives: Why ARE writers' rooms so drab?

FADE Jerry Ruiz and Timothy R. Mackabee. Photo by John Moore. ‘FADE’ Perspectives conversation on Feb. 5 at The Jones Theatre, from left:

Director Jerry Ruiz, Scenic Designer Timothy R. Mackabee and DCPA Literary Manager Doug Langworthy. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Perspectives is a series of free panel conversations moderated by DCPA Theatre Company Literary Manager Douglas Langworthy. They take place from 6 p.m. to 6:45 on the evening of each production’s first preview performance. The next Perspectives will be held April 8 (discussing Sweeney Todd) in the Jones Theatre. No reservations necessary.


In Tanya Saracho’s world-premiere play FADE, opening Friday (Feb. 12) in the Ricketson Theatre, Mexican-born Lucia is hired to write for a Latina TV character in a cutthroat Hollywood TV studio. She soon discovers that the Latino studio custodian, Abel, has a windfall of plot ideas. As their friendship grows, his stories start to blur with hers, with unexpected consequences.

Here’s some of what we learned from Literary Manager Douglas Langworthy’s conversation with FADE Director Jerry Ruiz and Scenic Designer Timothy R. Mackabee. The production’s two actors, you soon will learn, were off learning brand new lines for Saracho’s play. They are Mariana Fernández as Lucia and Eddie Martinez as Abel.

1 Perspectives Why are TV writers’ rooms so drab? FADE is set in a TV writer’s office in Los Angeles. And TV writers’ rooms are not just drab. “They are crappy,” says Mackabee, who has the opportunity to work on several TV shows. “The funny thing about these rooms is that they are made for creative people do wonderful things, and they are the most awful rooms you could ever want to be in in your life.” Considering the budgets these shows have, who go so cheap on the aesthetics? “Usually a show rents a space to work and then you go out and rent a bunch of horrible Ikea furniture because the show might last only one season – and that’s it. So there is never money or effort spent on these spaces because they are so temporary in nature.”

Macakabee’s scenic design for FADE intentionally makes the Lucia’s work space very cramped. “We are only using about a third of the Ricketson Theatre stage because we want it to be claustrophobic,” he said. “These two cannot get away from each other.”

For this production, Club Denver (located just outside of the Ricketson Theatre lobby), will be curated to look like a TV writing room, complete lousy furniture and bad lighting, to give the audience a sense of the play’s environment even before walking into the theatre. 

2 Perspectives What is the meaning of the title? “Originally, I think Tanya chose FADE because ‘fade to black’ is a common TV term,” Ruiz said. “But I also think it refers to our protagonist. Lucia comes into this job with a very clear sense of purpose. She has a mission she wants to accomplish on this TV show. But along the way, she gets so caught up in trying to survive in this shark-tank environment that she begins to lose sight of that. So her clarity of vision starts to fade away.”

John Moore’s 2015 video interview with ‘FADE’ playwright Tanya Saracho.

3 Perspectives

Hispanic vs. Latino: What’s in a name? There is a moment in FADE when those two terms are bandied about. And both generate controversy. “Hispanic is an official term. It’s the one that is used on the U.S. census,” said Ruiz. “But a lot of people don’t like that term politically because the root of the word is ‘Hispania,’ and that goes back to colonial Hispanic roots. A lot of us who are here in the Americas are from a Mestizo lineage – that is a combination of indigenous people who were already here and the colonists who came from Spain. So it is very complicated for us to say, ‘Oh, we are Hispanic,’ like we are some offshoot of Spain. Many people really don’t like to think of themselves that way.”

When ‘Latino’ came along as a term, many preferred it to Hispanic because it reflects a cultural identity and a pride in being from the Americas, whether that mean South America or Mexico or Central America. “But Latino is such a huge umbrella term,” Ruiz said. “There are different nationalities, different customs and very different cultures within that term – so it’s not like all Latinos are the same.”

That’s part of what FADE is exploring, Ruiz added: “How these two people who identify as Latina or Latina come from completely different backgrounds and experiences.”

4 Perspectives Get me rewrite! FADE may become the textbook example of the DCPA’s new-play development program at work. The process starts more than a year before a developing work is introduced as a reading at the annual Colorado New Play Summit. And the work continues, in some cases, until Opening Night. “When Tanya arrived in Denver last year for the New Play Summit, she really had about the first 50 pages of the play done, so she had a whole ending section to figure out,” Ruiz said. “She did quite a bit of work while she was here, and then the Denver Center conducted a workshop in Los Angeles last summer. All during this time, Tanya was doing more work on it, and she continued to flesh it out. By the time we got here to Denver for rehearsals about a month ago, she had a very solid draft of the script. And now we are starting to make one last pass at rewrites.”

Ruiz was speaking on Feb. 5, just before the first preview performance of FADE, and one week before the official opening on Friday (Feb. 12). About six new pages of dialogue were added that day, and the actors were off learning their new lines. What’s fascinating to learn is how rewrites can greatly impact other parts of the creative process. Even those thought done.

“These new rewrites happen in the first few scenes of the play, and they really impact how we get to know the main character,” Ruiz said. “So when I was reading these new pages, the first thing I said was, ‘Well, we are going to have to get her some new clothes.’ I went to the costume designer (Meghan Anderson Doyle) last night and I said, ‘Hey, guess what? We’ve got these new pages. And there is a whole different tone now. These costumes are not going to work.’ And bam, she went out shopping this morning, and now there are completely different costumes in the first half of the show. All of that happened today.”  

That anecdote, Ruiz says, demonstrates how a new play “is very much a living organism that is evolving and changing and growing.”

5 Perspectives Is FADE autobiographical? In part. Saracho is a writer on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, primarily to help transform the Mexican-born protagonist played by Karla Souza into a complicated and fully fleshed character. But her first job was writing for HBO’s Devious Maids. “Tanya is a very funny writer, but she has a serious sense of politics about Latino and Latina identity,” Ruiz said. “So I think her experience on Devious Maids was somewhat troubling. She was suddenly in a show that was probably perpetuating a lot of the stereotypes that she had spent her whole theatre career trying to combat or challenge. I think FADE very much came out of that space of feeling unsure of how to navigate the world of network television while feeling conflicted between what she had to do as a writer on the staff and her own personal artistic values.”

FADE in Denver

Photos from the making of ‘FADE’ in Denver. To see the full gallery, click the forward button on the photo above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

FADE: Ticket information

  • By Tanya Saracho
  • Through March 13
  • Ricketson Theatre
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • TTY: 303-893-9582
  • Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at DenverCenter.Org.

  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of FADE:

    FADE 600A question is posed at the latest Perspectives.

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