NYC Writer Helps Puerto Rican Playwrights Recover From Hurricanes

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A report by Brendan Krisel for Patch.

Bronx resident Tere Martinez has visited her native Puerto Rico three times since the island was rocked by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September. The last time she visited, Martinez helped more than a dozen of the island’s playwrights receive tens of thousands in emergency grant money.

Martinez partnered with Midtown Manhattan-based the Midtown Manhattan-based Dramatists Guild Foundation to help 16 writers receive a total of $45,5000, the foundation’s Tessa Raden said. The awards were distributed as part of the guild’s emergency grants program, which helps writers who have fallen on hard times.

The first two times Martinez visited Puerto Rico she went to bring supplies to her family members living there. Martinez runs educational theater programs in the South Bronx and had long desired to bring the programs to Puerto Rico. In the aftermath of Hurricans Irma and Maria, programs that help kids realize how they can influence their communities were more important than ever, Martinez said.

Before flying to the island, she reached out to the Dramatists Guild to see if the organization had any ongoing programs in Puerto Rico.

“They have always been great, very helpful with things like contracts,” Martinez said. “So I looked at the guild and said ‘I wonder who I can talk to.'”

It just so happened that the Dramatists Guild Foundation was searching for a connection to Puerto Rico when Martinez contacted them, Raden said. The foundation had desired to help playwrights on the island, but didn’t really know where to start, Raden said.

Martinez and Raden met in New York City and discussed how the foundation’s emergency grants program would be able to help writers in Puerto Rico. Raden showed Martinez how she could best aid the playwrights in securing grant money.

“We were so happy there was already a system in place to help,” Raden said.

During Martinez’s trip to Puerto Rico she met with 16 playwrights, showed them how to apply for the grants and assessed their needs, she said. The Dramatists Guild Foundation didn’t make the application process too onerous, which made it possible for all of the playwrights to receive funding, Martinez said.

“When they found out what they awarded people were like in tears, they were so grateful,” Martinez said. “It was unbelievable.”

The grants — which were automatically wire transferred into playwright’s bank accounts — allowed playwrights to finish already started projects or begin ones that had to be postponed due to the storm. The money also went toward personal needs such as supplies, power and medical costs.

One grant recipient, an 83-year-old woman, was able to pay for her cataract surgery and get somebody to take care of her afterward due to the grant, Martinez said. Another playwright’s theater company was able to stage a production of three original plays that was twice postponed due to the storms, Martinez said.

Because the hurricanes affected Puerto Ricans in many different ways, the flexible nature of the emergency grant program was extremely helpful to the writers, Martinez said.

“Something really wonderful about the grant is that the playwrights can do whatever they want with that money,” Martinez said. “There was no limitations on it.”

Photo: Marisé “Tata” Álvarez Hernandez and Kairiana Nuñez Santaliz in “Tuya” by Kisha Tikina Burgos. Photo courtesy Teatro la azotea.

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