No Pandemic Slow-down for Playwright Melinda Lopez

March 23, 2021


Theatre Works Hartford poster announcing Mr. Parent by Melinda Lopez


If the performing arts reflect society’s mood and outlook, Melinda Lopez’s optimism and workload are signs that good times are on the horizon.

Bedford’s nationally-known playwright said Monday, “I see lots of signs of hope. Of course, it all depends on the vaccination rates, and public safety. But I am feeling optimistic!”

Lopez, a Bedford High School graduate, received the 2019 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Achievement, recognizing her 20-year career as a playwright, performer, and educator. She has three shows in development this spring, including one that you can watch at home through Friday:

  • Mr. Parent, described as “a hilarious, joyful, and heartbreakingly honest peek into the kids, adults, and systems of the Boston Public Schools.” The play is available via on-demand screening from the Hartford Theater Works through Friday:
  • A reading of a work in progress, Young Nerds of Color (working title). The play “focuses on female and BIPOC scientists: the “successes and setbacks and racism they’ve experienced – overt and covert.”
  • A new play “specifically for this moment,” portraying two siblings conversing on Zoom during the pandemic that features the playwright’s Cuban family recipe for black beans.

Lopez has been artist-in-residence with the Huntington Theater Co. of Boston for several years. She said she is part of the planning process for a seven-show season starting in the fall. “We hope that we will be in rehearsal by the end of summer.”

Some two years ago, she said, she began collaborating with award-winning Boston actor – and former teacher — Maurice Parent and director Megan Sandberg-Zakian. “We sat in a room and recorded him telling stories about his time in the Boston Public Schools. Out of that, I crafted a play with a narrative,” which became Mr. Parent.

Lopez said the play is about “the journey of an individual coming to terms with how they can make the most impact, who grows exponentially as a person during his time as a teacher and ultimately realizes he needs to make theater.”

Parent is founder of the Front Porch Arts Collective, which describes itself as “a black theatre company committed to advancing racial equity in Boston through theater.” He “took one calling and turned it into being an artist—I think it’s really an inspiring story,” Lopez said.

There was a public reading at a festival in 2019, and then live theater halted with the onset of Covid-19. Several months later Lopez heard from Hartford Theater Works about adding the production to its virtual series. “They were gracious, inviting us to be part of that.”

Young Nerds of Color is a centerpiece of Central Square Theater’s Brit d’Arbeloff Women and Science Theater Festival, opening on April 7 and running through April 27.

Lopez said the play, developed over two years with Central Square, is based on interviews with scientists who are women and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). She explores “the story science tells about itself in terms of equity. Is science neutral? It’s an amazing listening tour, entirely their words—physicists, psychologists, astronomers, astrophysicists.” The play is being filmed for virtual performances.

“Both of these plays ideally are to be performed live,” Lopez said. Young Nerds of Color “is programmed into the 2022 spring season at Central Square. Hopefully, we will all meet together.”

Lopez said she is also developing a play with the performer Joel Perez for the Huntington specifically to be shown on the Zoom platform. Perez, originally from Lawrence, has a glittering resume′ as a performer and writer in New York theatre.

The play is “a fictional piece about a brother and a sister who are connected over Zoom and cooking a pot of black beans. The sister is imparting the secret family recipe,” Lopez described. “It’s a funny and moving account of life in quarantine for these two characters.  They both experienced loss and are looking to start a new phase in their lives.”

The play is scheduled to air in May. “We don’t have a title for it yet,” Lopez said. “It’s going to be filmed beautifully, with the intention of making it feel like we are living with these characters in their homes.”

Lopez is confident that when the danger has passed, “people will come back out. But I also think the screen isn’t going away, primarily because it equalizes access in such a wonderful way. I have students whose parents live on the other coast who are going to be able to see their kids.”

“But I also believe that people are starving for connection,” she continued. “Once we are vaccinated and our loved ones are vaccinated, we will be going to the theater in masks. And maybe the actors will be in masks, but they will be back.”

Lopez teaches theater courses at Northeastern University, and recently “we rehearsed As You Like It in person, following all the protocols. The only thing we couldn’t have was an audience. It was just so nice to be able to work in person safely. It was really inspiring.”

She added that the students wore clear masks. For the viewer, the masks “do disappear after a while.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763

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