Christine Quintana Profile

Born to a Mexican American father and a Dutch-British-Canadian mother, Christine Quintana holds a unique set of throughlines that cross North America. Much like the countries themselves, Quintana’s hometowns and identities connect, yet hold differences that weigh deep in both the creation and forward momentum of Espejos: Clean. “The pressure of representation was sky high” she said of the play’s Canadian premieres. The math adds up: There are more Latinx people in the state of Florida than the entire country of Canada (1 million as of their 2016 census). Now living in East Vancouver, a Canadian city where less than 2% of the population is Latinx, Quintana felt the weight this story held on stage both personally and in the wider context of Canada’s theatre community. When voices are already underrepresented, the representation that finally does arrive falls under intense scrutiny.

An Angeleno by birth, Quintana anticipated the varied responses her play would create, from audience to audience, and city to city. With the US in between and few Latinx migrants, Vancouver wouldn’t have the reference of Mexican culture that an American audience would. An American audience likely wouldn’t know what the Canadian prairies are when Sarah, a Vancouver local, references them. Yet Quintana pressed forward, and as Espejos: Clean premiered, the connections became clear. Audience members of multiple cultures said they resonated with the assumptions Adriana, the manager of a Cancún resort’s housekeeping staff, had to deal with. Others found cringey and sometimes comic familiarity in Sarah’s attempts to connect in a country she knows little of. “It goes to show how artificial these borders are,” Quintana said. Her play connected her with American Latinx audiences in particular, a bond forming as many in the community felt served for the first time by the American Theatre. “I never imagined the play would have this kind of life.” 

The path to seeing Espejos: Clean realized on stage was never clearly set. Quintana was told by a mentor that the play wouldn’t work—period. With direct address as its primary form, alongside the translation, the assumption was audiences wouldn’t want to follow along, and producing houses wouldn’t want to try. “I don’t think that’s true,” Quintana had replied, kindly and firmly. “We live in a multilingual world. The faster theatre can catch up to that, the better.” Language wasn’t the only boundary Quintana hoped her work would push. When discussing how audiences might receive this play, Quintana wanted to subvert  the assumption that she would tell the audience how to think about her characters. Instead, she hoped to engage audiences who want to be challenged. She prefers the audience arrive ready to deeply listen and form their own understanding of these characters. As she sees it, “there are many ways to engage in passive entertainment and the theatre isn’t one of them.” With four shows premiering and two more going up this season in Canada and the US, it seems audiences and producing houses are ready for the challenge too.

Quintana’s work runs the gambit. With romance comedies (Someone Like You), high school dramas (Selfie), and her latest, El Terremoto, where three sisters deal with the balance of life, grief, and devastating natural disasters, every show seems to seek a different audience. Yet the core of Quintana’s work is clear in her characters’ pursuit of connection, either with themselves or others. To Quintana, her work is “all about how we can hold multiple truths, multiple identities, [and] depolarize our views of ourselves and each other.” Her interest is neither in letting folks off the hook nor villainizing everyone, but providing a bridge to the experiences we don’t realize we share. In an interview in 2021, Quintana was asked to describe herself. Her answer then: “an anxious do-gooder; an earnest pessimist.” The two descriptions are in-tune with her characters in Espejos: Clean. Sarah works double time to offer apologies to the staff dealing with her mess. Adriana believes nothing awaits us after death, and hard work is where she should invest now. When asked if Quintana now had a different answer, she stood firm, much like her characters. “I stand by that,” she said, laughing. “Just with two more years of fatigue.”

—Divinia Shorter

Learn more about Christine Quintana and how she built Espejos: Clean here.