Andrew Saito

Andrew Saito
Name:
Andrew Saito

A writer and educator on ecological and cultural diversity, who has worked with Mayan artists in Guatemala, productions including ‘Stegosaurus (or) Three Cheers for Climate Change’


I’m a writer (theatre, tv, fiction) and educator who cares deeply about both ecological and cultural diversity. For too long, the ‘environment’ and social / racial justice have seemed siloed in two distinct camps. I understand the historic reasons for these, and am glad that that divide is starting to be bridged. My work typically centers on either or both concerns. I believe that we need to learn to listen deeply — to nature, and to one another. The same economic and political forces that are driving species to extinction are also causing the death of indigenous languages all over the globe. For me, diversity is at the heart of beauty, and, therefore, the defense of beauty is one of our most urgent calls.

I was raised in Los Angeles, the grandson of survivors of the Manzanar internment camp. I earned my BA in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley and my MFA at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. My life and career have been winding, and taken me all over the world. I speak four langauges, and have lived in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Cuba, as well as Papua New Guinea as a Fulbright Scholar. I was the full-time Andrew W. Mellon Resident Playwright at San Francisco’s Cutting Ball Theater (2013 – 2016), which produced my plays ‘Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night’ and ‘Mount Misery: A Comedy of Enhanced Interrogations,’ as well as my translation of ‘Life is a Dream,’ by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Other productions: ‘Stegosaurus (or) Three Cheers for Climate Change’ (FaultLine Theater); ‘El Río’ (Brava/BACCE); ‘Men of Rab’inal,’ created with Lakin Valdez (workshop production at El Teatro Campesino and La Peña Cultural Center); and ‘Br’er Peach’ (AlterTheater and The Parsnip Ship).

FaultLine Theater in San Francisco presented the world premiere of ‘Stegosaurus (Or) Three Cheers for Climate Change’ in 2015, livestreamed on the global, commons-based peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv.

‘Men of Rab’inal’ involved five trips to Rabinal, Guatemala. While these trips were conducted ostensibly to conduct research, I ended up forging deep relationships with the Mayan actor-dancers and musicians who are the culture bearers of the ‘Rabinal Achi,’ a prehispanic Mayan dance-drama that predates the Spanish conquest, and was declared by UNESCO in 2005 to be intangible cultural patrimony of humanity. Core to this work was reciprocity, and transparently communicating our goals and intentions, and acknowledging our hosts as experts of their own cultural knowledge and history. Returning over multiple visits was key to building trust and demonstrating our commitment. As part of practicing reciprocity, we provided the Rabinal Achi ensemble with three things they asked for: professional theatre, training, training in prehispanic Mayan musical instruments (we hired a Mayan instrument maker / ethnomusicologist from another part of Guatemala to give workshops), and new, modern sound equipment. Again, key to this work was listening and following our hosts’ lead.

I have been a resident writer at Djerassi, Montalvo Arts Center, Blue Mountain Center, and Arquetopia Foundation, and have worked extensively with Mayan artists and communities in Guatemala, as well as in criminal justice reform and climate change. An alumnus of the ViacomCBS Writers Mentoring Program and a professor of Applied Theater at SUNY Purchase, I am currently commissioned by Montalvo Arts Center to write a play about African American soldiers who created propagandist radio dramas for the Japanese military during World War II.

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