Elaine Romero has never had a problem putting words to paper. She’s been making those transfers since she was small child.
“I’ve always written,” she says. “In high school, it was mostly poetry and short stories,” she says. “But her awakening as a playwright happened during her freshman year in college.
“The semester before I took a theater course, I had taken a fiction course. I met with one of my professors and told him, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can only think in dialogue.’ He told me to write a play. I wrote my first one at 18.”
She’s never stopped.
Over the course of a 20-plus-year career, most of them as playwright-in-residence at Arizona Theatre Company (ATC), her work, her name and her reputation have reverberated across the international theater community.
That impact will become even clearer during March, when her body of work drives a monthlong celebration dubbed “RomeroFest,” the brainchild of Arizona Theatre Company Artistic Director Sean Daniels.
“In the American theater, we foolishly only do celebrations of a body of work when a playwright dies or moves away. Let’s not wait for either with Elaine,” Daniels says.
“Elaine Romero is an internationally produced and recognized playwright who chose to make Tucson her home. It’s time for us to start celebrating the artists who are here, and how better to do that but by experiencing her work. She is an important voice of our generation — and just a ton of fun. So, who doesn’t want more Elaine around?”
And that she will be when 16 theater companies in the United States and Mexico present her plays in digital readings, performances and even a film.
“RomeroFest,” presented by ATC and Tucson-based Winding Road Theater Ensemble and The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, will launch at 7 p.m. Monday, March 1, live event hosted by ATC featuring a town hall-type panel discussion about Romero’s work and its impact.
The launch event and each of the plays presented for free by ATC can be viewed at arizonatheatre.org and on YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo. Viewers can watch presentations by other theaters, including Childsplay in Tempe, by visiting arizonatheatre.org/romerofest.
When Sean Daniels first uttered the word “RomeroFest,” I thought he was joking. I think we all chuckled for a second,” Romero says.
“I never dreamed anyone in the American theater would give such precise attention to my work, especially launched from here in Arizona, where sometimes I have felt particularly anonymous.”
That may change with presentations by theater companies in Phoenix, Tucson, Mexico City, Colorado Springs, New York City, Portland, Raleigh, North Carolina, and South Bend, Indiana.
“I had often dreamed of seeing my plays next to each other — to better understand how they are in conversation with one another, but also to better understand each one individually more,” Romero says.
“A playwright is not in a position to say, ‘Hey, I’ve written all these plays. It’s really my life’s work. Pay attention to me.’ A playwright can only keep doing the work and pray that people see the quality of what they have created — that folks have the curiosity to see their plays as part of a larger body of work — that theatres see their commitment to refining the work — that others will be excited about the voice of the writer and the voice of their plays.”
Her connection to and deep love for the theater became clear through her mentors and the discovery of “what it means to write a play and how a play lives and breathes in those three dimensions,” she explains. “I’ve always been attracted to that three-dimensional world where writing could live in a bigger way.”
Daniels will direct two of the plays: “Halsted,” presented by ATC on March 10, and “Wetback,” presented by Winding Road Theater Ensemble on March 15.
Among Romero’s most important works are those included in her war pentalogy.
“When I was 5 years old, my uncle was killed in the Vietnam War,” she says of her motivation. “I have written the war plays to understand what happened to my cousins, my extended family, my country, our world, and to him.”
Her play “Barrio Hollywood” was the first in publisher Samuel French’s 175-year history to be published in English and Spanish acting editions.
In addition to the plays being presented during “RomeroFest,” each Friday episode of ATC’s livestreaming podcast “Hang & Focus” will feature guests associated with the productions.