For the past 17 years, Angela Cruz Martinez has been doing whatever she wants.
“I tell my Hispanic actors that I don’t care if it’s a Carol Oats play or Neil Simon or whatever, I’m going to put you in it,” Martinez said, referring to two Caucasian playwrights.
Martinez’s background as an American-born woman with Salvadorian heritage has played a significant role in the ways she tells stories through her directorial work. After being labeled the “brown director” at Fullerton College and after being the only female person of color in her stage directing program at UC Santa Barbara, she had first-hand experience with the lack of diversity within the world of theater.
Despite this, she has used her background as a strength rather than a weakness. Her directing style, which she describes as “dreamlike” takes inspiration from Spanish surrealism. One of her goals is to think outside the box and allow the audience to be involved in the play.
When she directed “Celtic Knot” at Chapman University in 2018, she cast a Hispanic actor in a lead role and a Vietnamese actor as well.
“I’ve done the research, and I wanted to bring diversity into this story,” Martinez said.
In addition to directing plays, Martinez has written a few as well, most notably, “Ni Una Mas.” Written in 2008, the story recalls the lives of women murdered during the infamous femicide in Juarez, Mexico. The actors wear black veils over their heads, shielding their identity from the crowd, highlighting their story.
Despite her prolific career, having been involved in 35 plays, Martinez said she could not have done it without her mentors at Fullerton College, and she encourages current students enrolled in the art department to do the same. She also advised students to find their own opportunities.
“At UC Santa Barbara, I didn’t know what came into me, but I needed to make myself known,” she said. “Within the first quarter, they already knew who I was, by the second quarter I was doing stage direction, which was unheard of over there.”
Right now, Martinez does customer service for a health insurance company while applying to MFA programs. She hopes that her education will allow her to evolve, teach, and be a mentor to students who also hope to pursue theater directing.
Her biggest challenge when finding jobs is competing against those with less experience than her and can consequently be paid less by theater companies.
“In the beginning, it was about showing them I had the skills, even though I had no experience,” she said. “Now, it’s about just finding the gigs, seeing who is willing to invest in someone like myself who’s been doing this for such a long time.”