In Dialogue with Poli Olavarria
Updated: Nov 14
It was almost by happenstance that Danse Macabre, a play by Poli Olavarria (class of ‘23), was written, submitted, and accepted to the New York Winter Festival, where it will premiere this November. With humor, Poli sheds light on the story of its inception and the early stages of her career.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve recently submitted a play to a festival in New York. It’s since been accepted. Could you tell us the story of this?
As you do, I was looking around for jobs and saw a play festival that I could submit for. They were looking for short plays, and I thought I could send the first act of this play I had written. When I heard back a week later, I had forgotten I had submitted the play. The congratulations email surprised me; I thought, “Oh, right, I did this thing!” I contacted Jon-Michael about rehearsal space, and you reached out for an interview.
I love the accidental nature of this story; that’s sometimes how it is. As an Academy graduate, you’re a trained actress but find yourself working as a writer soon after graduating. Why have you found yourself doing this?
I always loved the freedom it gave me. I write because I love stories…I write songs, ideas, and concepts, too. Before attending The Academy, I was in New York for an exchange program. I took a playwriting class there. It was so inspiring for me because I’d never learned how to sit down and write something, and the teacher just started with the basics; there’s one prop and two characters, and everything has to deal with that. It was a struggle…I didn’t do well with that, but it taught me that you can be creative and get the story started. Because of that class, I’d written this play on my computer for years, just sitting there. At The Academy, one of the first things I had to do was write a play. Without saying too much, I had run out of time and forgotten about this assignment. [Laughs.] I found this other one I’d written, and it was that moment of “This isn’t that bad!” I realized I could do something like this.
As a recent grad who has jumped into writing, is that sense of flexibility and openness vital to you? Do you find it’s important to keep options open?
Yes, part of why I love acting is because it combines everything I’m interested in together. I’ve never been the type of person who just wants one thing. I love reading, writing, directing, music, and art; this was a great way to assemble everything. Writing is like every idea you have when acting, just written on paper.
When I first arrived in the States, I was typecast as a Latin stereotype. The roles I got were sometimes…so against my personality, like sex workers and strippers. They were fun to play with, but I was not seen as more than their idea of where I was from. I was never cast as that in my home country. They were these stereotypes that I had to play. I knew I could be good at other roles, but people wouldn’t see me as anything besides being Hispanic. I wrote roles for myself instead.
Do you have advice for young actors? Seeing as your circumstances were quite extraordinary, I think people would like to hear it.
Continue learning. That’s something I’ll do forever. Don't take for granted what you're able to do. I come from a country where actors don’t have a voice and where the respect for theatre and arts was taken away during a dictatorship. We have to fight for everything, and I’m used to that. You might have some props, but you don’t have someone to do the lights for you, you know? Continue working and learning. And anyone telling you that you can’t do it is wrong.
On the other end, what might you say to your younger self?
[Laughs.] Oh, you’re just driving in the knife looking for things, aren’t you?
It’s a cruel question, I know.
[A pause.] This is not the part where dreams come true. This is where you get the tools to make the dreams real.
Are there any additional projects you’d like to mention? How might people contact you or find out more about you?
This project is my baby. A lot of alumni are involved: Lillie Anne Gordon (‘23) is directing, Isaias Badilla (‘22) is playing the part of Sebastian, and Isabella Vigil (‘23) is stage managing. We run at the New York Winter Festival from the 16th, 18th, and 19th of November.
Tickets and more information are available here.