Fresno State student wins award for his play, ‘La Norteña’

Photo of Rodolfo Robles Cruz taken in Hi-Top coffee in Fresno California on Feb. 23, 2020 sitting at the place where he revised his play the day before it was submitted. Photo by: Leticia Leal

La Norteña,” a play written by Fresno State student Rodolfo Robles Cruz, won the one-act category award in the 2020 National Playwriting Program.

This was the very first play he had written. 

Cruz, 22, has acted for well over eight years, directed for three and has written one story one time about a year ago.

“I doubted that my story would ever get chosen.” Cruz said. 

He submitted his play to the competition on a whim after his professor encouraged him to do so the day before the deadline.

A year ago, he had a deadline for a small local competition called the Selma Originals.

He explained how he was in the middle of acting in a show where he didn’t have many lines.

“I would be in the first scene and then I would come back for the last scene so I had about an hour and a half long break,” he said. 

“I would perform and then run to the back and that’s where I started writing my script to my play.”

Months later, he heard about the deadline for the National Playwriting Program one day before he had to submit. 

“I had great feedback when my play was performed in Selma’s competition, people loved it and the reaction from the audience was great,” he said. 

He sat in a local coffee shop, Hi-Top Coffee, the entire day, revising his play before the deadline. 

Cruz submitted his 30-minute play into the one-act category and remembered saying to himself, “OK, let’s see what happens.”

The competition takes place around February every year and eight regions from all over the U.S. compete. All of these regions submit to categories like acting, directing and playwriting. 

Arizona, Central and Southern California, Hawaii, Southern Nevada, Utah and Guam are all part of region eight. 

There were many students who submitted to this competition, and students from all regions competed against each other.  

Cruz entered his play, “La Norteña,” to the Kennedy Center American College Festival (KCACTF) National Playwriting Program for the one-act category. 

He submitted his play blindly, which means the name and affiliations are stripped off to allow judgment to be solely based on the story alone. 

To announce the winners, Cruz attended a private awards ceremony with the people who competed in his region. 

Cruz was one of two winners. 

His play now has the chance to be performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

According to the synopsis, the play touches base on the disparity of Latinx individuals living on opposite sides of the border. 

It is a reflection of the lives of Mexican-Americans living in California. 

Cruz said two cousins from “two sides” come togethzer for a funeral, and throughout that time they grapple with “opposing views on opportunity, immigration and the authenticity of the Mexican experience relative to their location.”

“The play is about two cousins, one is American and one is Mexican. They both lead very different  lives,” said Cruz.

In the beginning, they try to become reacquanited, but slowly realize they have a lot of differences, mindsets, and philosophies in life.”

He said the ending is not happy.

 “Life isn’t about happy endings,” he said.

Cruz was born and partially raised in Morelia Michoacan, Mexico. 

Being born in Mexico is a huge part as to why Cruz focuses his culture on his work. 

“This is a lot of inspiration from where my work comes from, I like Latinx theater, Latinx writing and directing, which is a huge upcoming fraction of the forefront of theater right now,” said Cruz.

“We are so dominated by this England and European form of theater, so we label Latinx theater as like a sepate sub section.”

Cruz stated that a lot of people of color in theater and in movies are being shown to the forefront.

“I think it is a really exciting time to be the type of person I am, to be going into theater.”

Cruz has a passionate and love for acting and shared that he thinks he still wants to act, but he has now moved on to more of a writing bases of what he wants to do. 

“I have recieved so much vaildation and encouragement, and it was such a great experience to be able to have something that I actually wrote put on it’s feet, while competing on a national level,” said Cruz.

“I want to be a full-fledged rounded artist. I want to act in my stuff, produce and direct beause that is kind of what you need to do to be in this industry,” said Cruz.

“It is so interesting because now I am trying to really is cover what my writing process is,” said Cruz.

At a young age, he and members of his family came to America due to his father working in the U.S. and receiving residency.

Cruz has now lived here for 21 years.

He describes himself as someone who was never able to label himself with either side: American or Mexican.

“I never felt like I fit anywhere,” he said.

His play was inspired by the stories told to him by his parents, sisters, mom and aunts. 

“These were our stories!” he said. “People from this community deserve to have their voice be heard and their stories be told.” 

He said he wanted to write something that everyone could relate to, even if they weren’t a part of the Latinx community. 

After his accomplishments and recognition, Cruz says writing is something he may have passion for. 

He is striving to receive his Master of Arts Degree and hopes to become “a master of his artistic craft.”

“The play writer believes Fresno State’s theatre program is very underrated but says it is finally “gaining momentum.” 

Cruz was honored to have received the award, especially since the story was genuine.

   “I was able to tell a story from a lens of somebody like me, and people liked it!” he said.

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