A Theatre Kid's Mission To Put the RGV in the Spotlight

Words by Aime Mira
Edited By Abigail Vela

Growing up as a theatre kid in the RGV in the early 2010s, there were few people or organizations to look up to besides the iconic Valente Rodriguez. There was an unspoken format on how our theatre careers would go: college and then straight into the teaching field, but those who didn’t want to use their degree for teaching were left with the question of “what’s next?”

Now, in 2023, those same people who were navigating the barren theatre scene are creating it: Making businesses with their creative degrees like MDA Acting and All Star Theatre, designing costumes on Broadway, acting on the silver screen, and even, at times, working with peace-building educators in Iraq— such is the case for Brisa Areli Muñoz.

There are so many “inherent skills that theatre practitioners get that are not just about putting up a show,” Brisa expressed, “They are about working well with each other; it’s about being able to identify problems and solutions. It’s about speaking to the world around us.”

Brisa grew up in the velvet seats of the fine arts auditorium at UTPA, listening to her parents yell out directions to the dancers of the Ballet Folklórico with gum in her hair at the age of 3. The RGV native has directed and created work at The Kennedy Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Center Theatre Group, and The Public Theater and has recently been named the Artistic Director of the Musical Theatre Factory in NYC.

Brisa’s theatrical work far expands what traditional theatre expresses, and she shared with us what that means…

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How did you begin your theatre career?

I changed my mind eight times. I think I went through journalism, museum studies, classical, medical humanities, pre-med, and neuroscience. Which meant I had to take lots of hours. I would go to UTRGV for summer school and, during that time, helped develop 13 O’Clock Theatre, a grassroots theatre that existed in the Valley in 2008, and that’s how I got most of my theatre experience.

Courtesy of Brisa Areli Muñoz

When did you discover that theatre could be more than entertainment?

It wasn’t until I was a senior at Baylor University that I was like, “What I’m going to do with these majors?” Someone came up to me and said, “Have you ever heard of applied theatre?” He gave me this book by Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, and he revealed to me that theatre could be more than just entertainment.

What felt so liberating was that this tool [theatre] could be used for so much more. I now do work as a consultant sometimes, not even in theatre; I build cross sectors in different fields that need creative space. I’ve worked with NGOs, international and national mediators, and peace-building educators in Iraq and social work.

Have you been able to use your theatre tools for social justice work?

It feels like now there is no way that I do work anymore that isn’t inherently attached to social justice. I had the privilege of working with this incredible playwright and performer Alex Alpharaoh on WET: A DACAmented Journey.

I got this random call from LA. Somehow, they found out about my name. He said, “Just so you know, my piece is not political,” and my response was, “I hear what you mean, in that you mean that you don’t want this piece to end up being so polarizing that it alienates people from listening to your profound story.” But I had to challenge him on this. He was a DACA recipient and about to travel all across the country in Trump’s America. There was fear of deportation every time.

I had to pause and say, “this work is political; it means that you need protection,” and so my job as a director would be, how can we safely get you to tell this story and how can we be mindful and thoughtful of how challenging it might be for you to move around and stay safe? So we took it on this national tour, and it’s living and thriving. 

How does it feel to be a theatre kid in the RGV to an Artistic Director in NYC?

It feels very humbling. I have always worked to center gratitude in my practice because I understand what a privilege it is to sit in a position like this, and I deeply credit my parents. They were the legacy leaders. They were the ones who showed me what was possible.

What words can you give to people who doubt theatre kids of the RGV?

Artists are massively untapped resources of potential to make our communities stronger.
Whether that be putting up art, bringing folks together, or that might be, “my skills are not limited to just putting up a play. I can be deeply involved in my community.” 

An Open Invitation for One Nation, One Project

Recently, the City of Edinburg has been selected as 1 of 18 cities to participate in One Nation, One Project. Brisa has partnered with the City of Edinburg for this project, which will include an experience that will be put out for the community in 2024. 

Brisa says, “This is an open invitation to be involved in this process. If you are interested in being involved, find me on Facebook or Instagram. It is still my commitment to find ways to bring knowledge and tools back home and allow them to benefit the Valley and not just New York City.”

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