Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Libraries fight summer slide, host reading program

Young people celebrated the start of summer during the Summer Reading Program Kickoff Party, held at the Valley Ranch Library on Wednesday, May 31.

The library launched the start of its summer reading program with a carnival for students, which included games, treats, and a magic juggling show. All four branches of Irving public libraries will be participating in the program, designed to encourage kids of all ages to read throughout the summer.

Young people 12 and up are asked to read a book of their choosing for 20 minutes a day for 40 days. Every five days, they can earn a prize by showing a librarian their completed log.

Malani Heaton, management analyst for the Valley Ranch Library, explained the program helps students develop the habit of reading on a daily basis.

“That’s why the children’s program is built on having the children read 20 minutes a day,” Heaton said. “We really want to get them in the habit of reading every day, not just ‘OK, I’ve got to hurry up and finish my five books.’ It’s more about reading a little bit every day, so they can stay in that practice.”

In addition to the reading challenges, all branches of the library will feature free programs and activities for children and adults based on the theme “Build a Better World.” Children’s activities range from magic shows and science experiments, to LEGO challenges and live animal shows, all of which are designed to help kids learn more about the world around them.

Teen readers have their own theme for this year’s reading challenge: “Out of This World.”

“Their challenge is to read for five hours, and for every five hours they read they can then get a prize, but they can only do that once a week,” Heaton said. “We do have some teens who are voracious readers, and they’ll come in and they’ve read 25 hours that week, but they can only cash in five hours a week.”

Teens can also participate in a number of crafts, movie screenings and other space-themed events throughout the summer.

Studies have shown that students who do not read during the summer have a harder time keeping up when they resume classes in the fall. Marianne Follis, manager of the Valley Ranch Library, explained this ‘slide’ is why they encourage students to keep reading throughout the summer months.

“We think it’s so important for kids to read all summer long,” Follis said. “There’s something called the ‘summer slide,’ and if children don’t actively read during the summer, they can regress six months to a year in their reading level. We try to have as many fun things and incentives as we can to bring students into the library and get them excited about reading.”

Heaton has seen the effects of the ‘summer slide’ first hand.

“I used to be a teacher,” she said. “At the beginning of the school year, the first six weeks you spend trying to recover what they lost during the summer and get back to the same level they were when they left school. Studies have shown that kids who read during the summer, they don’t slide back as much.”

Adults can also participate by reading four books of their choosing, or by reading with or to their children. The idea behind summer reading programs is to excite people of all ages about reading and to encourage families to read together.

“Even if your child can’t read, you can read to them, and they can earn prizes that way,” Follis said. “It’s so important for early literacy for parents to read to their little ones, and also it’s important for parents to model that reading is important.”

Everyone interested in joining the Summer Reading Program can sign up at any branch of the Irving public libraries.

Mark your calendar!

Beach Party
June 16, 7 –  10 PM

Make a splash and cool off with some fun away from the sun at the South Irving Library. Enjoy making beach-y crafts, playing summer games, posing for a photo as you catch a wave and ride the tide, and watching Disney’s Moana (2016, PG).

Juneteenth Celebration
June 17, 5 to 8 PM

This year’s celebration will pay homage to museums that share information about the origin of the Juneteenth holiday. In addition, the celebration will include a free community picnic and concerts sponsored by In-N-Out Burger. Tributes to the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center and the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. are planned. Outdoor games, a vendor marketplace and children activities will be available. Residents are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets for concerts.

Concert Series 4 Kids
June 22, 10 AM

The music of AndyRo is just half the fun, the event has so much more going on. Before the show starts kids can check out the playground and participate in a craft activity. There will be a concession stand available; however, outside food and drinks are allowed. Covered seating is limited, attendees are

Irving Concert Series
June 23, 7 to 8:45 PM

The Irving Concert Series will highlight several genres with a New Orleans influence including jazz, big brass, Cajun and more. Food vendors will serve up dishes with flavors straight from NOLA.

All shows and are held at the Whistlestop Plaza, 123 W. Irving Blvd., Irving, TX 75060. Admission and parking are free. Seating is not provided, visitors are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs. Outside food and beverages are allowed. Mardi Gras beads will also be passed out, while supplies last.

Lyric Stage leaving Irving

A popular theater company has taken its final bow in Irving.

Lyric Stage made its home at the Irving Arts Center since its first production in 1993 and has brought some of Broadway’s most famous and beloved shows to the city. But now, after 24 years, Lyric Stage is leaving Irving and has found a new home at the historic Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas.

Along with the new venue comes a new producer. Shane Peterman will become Lyric Stage’s producer at the start of their 25th season. He has been the associate producer for Lyric Stage for the past three years and worked with the company as an actor since 1997.

Peterman explained that the reason for the company leaving Irving is two-fold. First, staying would have a negative impact on their bottom line.

“It was a business decision first and foremost,” Peterman said. “A combination of factors affected our bottom line moving forward as a theater company. The money issue was, unfortunately, even with an arts 501c (3) organization, you have to pay attention to your bottom line.”

Secondly, the company felt they were not getting the recognition and support from the city they felt they deserved.

“We felt like we were not being viewed as a nationally recognized theater company with the city and, therefore, not receiving the benefits of having that recognition and doing the work that we were doing,” Peterman said. “I’m not suggesting the Irving Arts Center hasn’t been a wonderful home for the last 24 years. It’s really just about a fresh take on the art that we produce.”

Peterman had several discussions with the Irving Arts Center and its executive director Todd Hawkins leading up to the decision to move. During those discussions, Peterman shared with Hawkins the difficulties he faced in securing city support.

“When I approached Todd Hawkins, I was telling him about my vision and what I wanted to do and letting him know that the grant process and the different hoops that you have to jump through are not hoops that other theater companies around the country, including Watertower Theater, have to jump through in order to have city backing,” Peterman said.

“Watertower Theater gets over $450,000 a year from the city of Addison. We were not getting near even half of that. We were lucky to get maybe a third of that through the grant process, and it was a tedious process. I would never suggest or discount how much that money has helped us. But what was a concern for me was that [money] was simply not enough backing from the city to subsidize our increased costs all across the board and for us to just continue to do what it is we do.”

Peterman, along with the company’s founder Steven Jones, then began looking for a new place for Lyric Stage to call home. After much searching, they settled on the Majestic Theater.

“I began to look last year at different theaters and different options,” Peterman said. “[Steven Jones] and I decided that the Majestic would be a great home for the kind of shows we produce. It’s an old, historic, beautiful theater that was built in the 1920s. There were twelve theaters built around the turn of the century, and it’s the only one that’s still standing. Anyone who has grown up or knows anything about Dallas knows the Majestic.”

Although Peterman is excited about the move to the Majestic, he still has some regrets about leaving Irving.

“Have we been supported by the city the way that other theater companies around the country have been supported?” Peterman asked. “Probably not. That was a huge factor for us, and it was an unfortunate one, but that’s OK. Nothing lasts forever, and we are just grateful for the great 24 years, and we’re excited for the future.”

Irving Arts Center Executive Director Todd Hawkins released the following statement about the departure of Lyric Stage.

“Irving Arts Center has enjoyed working with Lyric Stage from its very inception. The relationship dates back to 1993, when Lyric Stage became one of the arts center’s resident organizations. Like all of our resident organizations, Lyric is an independent 501c (3) governed by a board of directors. While it is not our preference, the Irving Arts Center board and staff respect the decision made by Lyric’s board of directors. We wish them great success as they pursue their future plans.”

Pure Country will be Lyric Stage’s final show at the Irving Arts Center and will run from June 9 – 18. Tickets for the show can be purchased through Lyric Stage or through the Irving Arts Center. Lyric Stage will then kick off its 25th season on Sept. 29 with Dallas Divas at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Their first performance at the Majestic Theater will be Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in mid-November.

Dragon Boat Festival brings dragons, Asian culture to Irving

Dragons glided across the waters of Lake Carolyn during the annual DFW Dragon Boat, Kite and Lantern Festival held on Sunday, May 21 at the Las Colinas Urban Center.

Sponsored by the non-profit Marco Polo World Foundation, the event promotes intercultural understanding through the sharing of activities such as Dragon Boat racing, kite flying, and a Chinese lantern riddle. The Dragon Boat festival is the foundation’s biggest outreach.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the boat races, where teams of 20 competed in rowing 40-foot long “Dragon Boats” across a 250-meter course on the lake. Diana Wang Madsen, the founder and president of the Marco Polo World Foundation, moved to the US from China in 2001. When she first arrived in Irving, she decided to bring Dragon Boats to DFW and specifically to Lake Carolyn.

“I saw the lake and thought it was a wonderful idea,” Madsen said. “I thought if I can bring the Dragon Boats racing here, it would be great because it’s so pretty here.”

She added that the lake is smaller than most lakes used for Dragon Boat racing, but it works to their advantage.

“I know a lot of Dragon Boat races go to the bigger lake,” Madsen said. “But they’re so big, people cannot see [the boats] and that makes it less exciting. This is a great location for our event.”

Mike Kerkmann, the owner of Pan-Am Dragon Boats and program director for this year’s Dragon Boat races, explained while Dragon Boating has taken off in the U.S. over the last 20 years, the sport itself is actually more than 2,000 years old.

“When the Chinese started immigrating into Western countries in the 80s in a big way, they brought their culture with them,” Kerkmann said. “We have Halloween and Valentine’s Day [for example]. They have the Harvest Moon Festival, and they have the Dragon Boat Festival.”

Part of the reason Dragon Boating has become so popular in the West is because it provides a fun and unique team-building opportunity.

“All the right metaphors are there: you pull together and everybody’s got to be together in order to win,” Kerkmann said.

Brandon Roach and Shannon Luppino, personal trainers from Camp Gladiator, were part of a team consisting of other trainers, Kimberly-Clark employees and members of the Irving Fire Department. This was their first time competing in the Dragon Boat Races. Roach was happy to have the chance to work-out in a new and exciting way.

“It was a great workout” Roach said. “It was also kind of exciting seeing the crowds of people running through [the lake.] I’ve lived here for a year and haven’t gotten out on this water yet, so that was a lot of fun.”

Luppino enjoyed the teamwork and social aspects of the races.

“I think it was really cool to work out with a bunch of people I’ve never met before,” Luppino said. “We’re just in a boat, full of people of random occupations, and kind of all working together to achieve a goal.”

Kerkmann explained that people from all occupations and all walks of life were competing in the day’s races.

“Most of the teams here are novice, new corporate and community teams,” Kerkmann said. “Most people have never done it before and they’re representing their companies. We’ve got banks, insurance companies, accounting firms, law firms, all kinds of businesses here using this day as a sort of ‘company picnic’ and a corporate team-building opportunity.”

Although the Dragon Boats were the main attraction, there were also numerous other activities celebrating Asian culture. At the kite festival, professional and amateur flyers took to the skies to show off their favorite kites.

On stage, various acts performed traditional Asian songs and dances as well as put on a fashion show. Lion dancers and drummers paraded through the streets lined with vendors and crafts.

Madsen said events like the Dragon Boat Festival help people learn about many different cultures and illustrate the mission of the Marco Polo World Foundation.

“We are promoting culture and bringing everyone together,” Madsen said. “That’s our mission.”

Taste of Irving serves more than food

The smells of burgers and barbecue filled the air of Cimarron Park on Saturday afternoon, May 19. Food trucks and restaurant vendors from all over the city were in attendance for the fourth annual Taste of Irving event.

The celebration featured over 20 different food vendors selling a wide variety of food, local merchants selling handmade items, cooking demonstrations, live musical performances, and activities for children.

“The purpose of any of our events is to introduce Irving to people who aren’t familiar with everything that it has to offer,” Jasmine Lee, special events coordinator for the City of Irving, said. “With a theme like Taste of Irving, we can support and recognize our local restaurants and our local crafts and artist vendors. It’s a way to bring everybody together and the community can come and have fun as well.”

The one day event draws over 5,000 people each year.

“Every year our surveys tell us people want more,” Lee said. “The great thing about this festival is that it’s really affordable; of course parking and admission are free. All of the food is sold for $5 or less, so it makes this an easy event for families to come out and enjoy and hopefully find a new favorite restaurant.”

A restaurant that has participated in Taste of Irving since the beginning is Aspen Creek. Aspen Creek managing partner Chad Tuck decided to participate in Taste of Irving when he took over the restaurant four years ago.

“I’ve done festivals like this before,” Tuck said. “It’s a good way to get some exposure. It’s been an awesome thing to be a part of, being able to get out there in the community, letting people know who we are and what we’re about.”

Aside from having food and merchant vendors, the festival also brought in performers for their main and second stages.

The main stage had musical performances from three different bands, The Obscure Dignitaries, Bollywood Productions and Havana NRG. The theme for the main stage was cultural music.

The second stage, or the culinary stage, featured chef instructors and culinary students from the Art Institute of Dallas, providing live demonstrations of various menu items from the student-run restaurant, the Chef’s Gallery.

“After every demonstration they hand out free samples to the first 50 people so people can actually get some free food at Taste of Irving in addition to the low cost food from the vendors,” Lee said.

LeAnn Thompson attended Taste of Irving specifically for the culinary demonstrations.

“I immediately came to the demonstration,” Thompson said. “With me being a chef, I’m interested in the culinary end of it.”

Culinary demonstrator Mark Scharninghausen, a current student at the Art Institute, demonstrated how to cook couscous with minced herbs and sautéed shrimp with pesto.

“It’s a really simple dish, it’s tasty, it’s really easy, and you can make it in less than 30 minutes at home,” Scharninghausen said.

This was Scharninghausen’s second time at the Taste of Irving doing live demonstrations and he hopes people realize that cooking is not something to be intimidated by.

“I hope they pick up a little bit more knowledge about cooking and seeing that it isn’t as scary as everybody thinks it is,” Scharninghausen said. “Some of the dishes they see look really, really fancy, but they’re actually fairly simple to make. It’s all about presentation.”

Taste of Irving has become an annual tradition for Irving residents, and with the amount of success it’s garnered it will only continue to grow.

“The event has been a success all four years,” Lee said. “We’ve been really fortunate. We’ve always had a great crowd, it’s really enjoyed, and Irving comes out in full force.”

Julie Murphy, Jeramey Kraatz celebrate launch of new books

Young adult authors Julie Murphy and Jeramey Kraatz celebrated the simultaneous launch of their new books at a release party held at the South Irving Library on Tuesday, May 9.

Julie Murphy is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin’. Her newest book, Ramona Blue tells the story of Ramona, a very tall girl with blue hair, and how she is beginning to question her future, her sexuality, and her place in life.

“As she’s entering into her senior year, Ramona is starting to feel as though she’s kind of outgrowing her life,” Murphy said. “She’s much too tall for this trailer that she lives in, she is starting to wonder if she’s going to be stuck here forever taking care of her sister, she’s trying not to begrudge her sister of this, but it’s still really hard because even when we love our families, sometimes they’re a burden, and there’s just no getting past that.”

Murphy added that this book, like her previous work Dumplin’, was a very personal story for her.

“I hate when people call books ‘important,’ but it really was an important book for me to write personally,” Murphy said. “I feel like if Dumplin’ represented everything that you can physically see about me, Ramona represents everything that you cannot [see]. It was a really personal experience, and I’m glad it’s out there.”

Meanwhile, Jeramey Kraatz, author of The Cloak Society series, launched a brand new series of books with Space Runners: The Moon Platoon, the first in a four-part series.

“It’s about this kid named Benny Love, he’s the main character,” Kraatz said. “He wins one of one hundred scholarships to go to the Lunar Taj, which is a giant, sort of Willy Wonka-esque resort on the moon. They fly cars up there, because why not? Once they get up there, an asteroid storm hits, and they find out there are some “moon secrets” and maybe not everything is as it seems, and maybe aliens aren’t the only bad guys.”

The series will be Kraatz’s first foray into an outer space setting, and he humorously added that the experience has been a major learning curve for him as an author.

“If you ever want to write a book, don’t set it in the year 2085 and also on the moon, because you’re going to be on Wikipedia all the time trying to figure out how gravity works,” Kraatz joked. “Even though you think you know [what you’re talking about], your copy editors are still going to be so mad at you and start linking you to NASA articles.”

Mary Hinson, the senior library assistant of teen services at South Irving Library, explained that Murphy and Kraaatz both have books coming out around the same time, which prompted the double launch party. She added that both authors have also been friends with each other and with the library for many years.

“Julie and Jeramey are two of DFW’s local YA and middle-grade authors, and they’re good friends with us here in the library,” Hinson said. “They come out and do events to help us encourage our teens to come out to our programs, and they give back to the community. We love doing these author events for them, so we can give them a really good time.”

Hinson added that author-based events like the launch party are vitally important to getting more young people interested in reading.

“Authors becoming people who can have one-on-one interactions, whether through author visits or through social media, helps kids create a connection to stories,” Hinson said. “That not only reminds them of their own lives, but help them experience other people’s lives as well.”

Mark your calendar!

Blood Drive
June 3, noon – 6 p.m.

Gift of Life Blood Drives held in conjunction with Carter Bloodcare at the Irving Mall. The Carter Bus will be parked at the south entrance near Las Lupes Restaurant. The blood donations will benefit the children who are treated at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.

Irving Heritage House
June 4, 3pm – 5pm

In a bedroom called “The Bride’s Room,” wedding gowns spanning several decades, are displayed in the Irving Heritage House, located at 303 South O’Connor. Docent led tours begin at 3pm and 4pm. Admission is free. Group tours may also be scheduled on alternate days. The Heritage House is a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark.

Adult English Literacy Summer Academy
June 5-29, 1:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Irving ISD will host a free Adult English Literacy Summer Academy during the month of June. Classes will meet Monday-Thursday, at the Irving ISD Administrative Annex (820 N. O’Connor Road, Irving, TX 75061). Topics include family literacy, ESL, GED basic literacy skills, citizenship and civics lessons, entrepreneurship, computer literacy and conversations. Register in person at the Administrative Annex on the first day of class. Please bring a government-issued form of identification (social security card, driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, Texas ID, residency card). For more information, call 972-600-3770.

Irving Concert Series
June 9, 7 to 8:45 p.m.

The Irving Concert Series will highlight several genres with a New Orleans influence including jazz, big brass, Cajun and more. Food vendors will serve up dishes with flavors straight from NOLA.

All shows and are held at the Whistlestop Plaza, 123 W. Irving Blvd., Irving, TX 75060. Admission and parking are free. Seating is not provided, visitors are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs. Outside food and beverages are allowed. Mardi Gras beads will also be passed out, while supplies last.

Program celebrates good kids in middle school

A group of outstanding Irving ISD middle school students received recognition at the Celebrate Good Kids program held at the Irving Masonic Lodge on Tuesday, April 25.

Created by the Irving Masonic Lodge five years ago, the Celebrate Good Kids program honors both students and educators in Irving ISD with the lodge’s prestigious Lamar Award. The award is named after Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of Texas often referred to as “the Father of Public Education in Texas.” The program is one of many similar award ceremonies held all over Texas.

Past Master David Gisler said there are not many ceremonies that honor middle school students.

“The Masonic fraternity has long supported public schools,” Gisler said. “In the early days, most lodges were in two-story buildings. The lodge met on the second floor and encouraged churches or schools to meet on the first floor. In fact, in many cases, the Masons started the school and even paid the teachers’ salaries.”

Each year, one 8th grade student from each Irving ISD’s eight middle schools is selected by the faculty to receive this award. Faculty representatives came forward during the program to introduce their recipient and explain why the students were selected for the award, as well as sharing some of their teachers’ comments and praises with the crowd.

Mark Hinkson, 8th grade assistant principal of de Zavala Middle School, feels programs like Celebrate Good Kids help to acknowledge the often-overlooked students in Irving ISD.

“I’d like to thank the Masons for this opportunity that they give us every year,” Hinkson said. “Too many good students do everything right and are overlooked in this district. We’re trying to correct that and this [program] is one of those steps.”

Kathleen Dang from Houston Middle School received the award. Her principal, Jeffery Dorman, shared with the crowd a number of her academic and musical achievements. Dang herself was humble about her achievements, but also happy to receive the Lamar Award.

“I feel very privileged to receive this recognition,” Dang said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support that my teacher, my previous teachers, my family and my friends have given me. I’m very happy for that. Maybe they overdid their descriptions of me, but I’m very grateful for them.”

Alondra Godoy Escobar from Bowie Middle School was another recipient of the Lamar Award.

“When they first told me [about the award] I was like, ‘Are you sure it’s me?’ because I‘m not in school much,” Escobar said. “But I feel incredible because even with all of my doctor’s appointments that I have, I still try to be in school. Bowie has been the greatest experience of my life, and I will never forget it, and I will really miss it.”

Additional students honored at the program were Eric Martinez Limon of Austin Middle School, Ashli Gafford of Lady Bird Johnson Middle School, Eduardo Serrano of de Zavala Middle School, Sakina Bivili of Travis Middle School, Samira Velaquez of Crockett Middle School and Thara Thekkedath of Lamar Middle School.

The program also recognized two Irving ISD teachers. Dennis Ramon, an algebra teacher at MacArthur High School, was awarded Secondary Teacher of the Year. Angela Snyder, a PE teacher at Townsell Elementary School, was awarded Elementary Teacher of the Year.

New plaques unveiled at Founder’s Plaza

Founder’s Plaza received a new timeline display during a re-dedication ceremony held at Centennial Park on Wednesday, May 3.

Three new plaques detailing the first 100 years of the city of Irving’s history were unveiled during the ceremony. The plaques, which replaced older metal plaques, were made from black granite and feature not only a written timeline, but also photographs. The plaques, which took more than eight months to create, were installed in April, but were officially unveiled that morning.

City Councilman Oscar Ward was one of many city officials present at the rededication ceremony. He gave a brief overview of the new plaques.

“This fantastic timeline includes detailed stories of the people who helped shape this community into the lively, robust, and diverse city it is today,” Ward said. “As residents, we enjoy the results of their dedication on a daily basis. Without their vision and planning, we would not have the beautiful, exciting commuter and pedestrian-friendly place to call home.”

The plaza, as well as the rest of the park, was first opened on Oct. 3, 2003 as part of Irving’s centennial celebration. However, as Councilman John Danish explained, time soon took its toll on the plaza.

“The original dedicated plaques did a great job of telling the story of Irving for its first 100 years. But like time itself, the brass timeline began to weather, became difficult to decipher, and eventually lost a little bit of its luster,” Danish said. “Now, Greg Brown [the artist] has presented the city with three incredible black polished granite plaques that will breathe new life into our city’s history.”

Danish went on say that these new plaques will hopefully inspire Irving citizens both old and new to learn more about and take pride in their city.

“Nowadays our residents, many of them recently moved to Irving, don’t know much of our city’s history. I believe artifacts like this will come with a sense of pride and ownership in our city,” Danish said. “What better way to instill community than by cultivating the early interests in our new surroundings? I encourage everyone to invite their friends, families, neighbors and colleagues to come down to the Heritage District and see all of the inspiring work that’s taking place down here.”

Dr. Lea Bailey, president elect of the Irving Heritage Society, spoke to the educational aspects of the timeline.

“I believe it is necessary to captivate students of all ages and make connections in order to maintain our curiosity and interest in continuous learning,” Bailey said. “These plaques, which are housed in this serene and beautiful plaza, will do just that. Irving’s residents and visitors will have the opportunity to learn of our city’s great founders and how the people mirrored this town’s growth, development, and refinement.”

Elena Blake, a member of the original Centennial Task Force, was present at the original plaza dedication back in 2003. She hopes that these new plaques will inspire more people to visit the park.

“2003 is when we had a lot of activity in celebration of our 100th birthday,” Blake said. “I have a lot of fond memories of doing all this, and I’m hoping that people will come now and visit and read these plaques. It’s a wonderful history, and I’ve just been honored to come back to the re-dedication.”

Bailey also hopes that more Irving citizens will become interested in learning about the city they live in.

“We hope that [these plaques] will instill inspiration and enlightenment for generations of future Irvingites,” she said. “There is no clearer path to the future that commemorating the past.”

“From Dusk till Dawn” series writer inspires students

The University of Texas at Arlington’s film department presented a lecture featuring screenwriter and producer Marcel Rodriguez. Among Rodriguez’s most famous writings are films such as Shark Boy and Lava Girl, Machete Kills, and the ongoing TV series From Dusk Till Dawn.

“The first skill you need is storytelling ability,” Rodriguez said. “That’s different than writing. It means you’re able to understand how story works and all the elements of that. Writing is the second skill that you need, which is actually writing words on paper, printing, organizing, underlining, bolding, generally making things clear to people, and expressing yourself well through language. The third skill is learning how to deal with people, which I think is important, because it’s a business that requires a lot of collaboration.”

“Classes sometimes get very centered on projects,” said Daniel Garcia, a Peruvian filmmaker and professor of film at UTA. “It gets disconnected from what’s going on outside. In screenwriting in particular, an industry that doesn’t have a lot of local connections, it’s important to have screenwriters, to have filmmakers, to have all kinds of people from the outside explain things that aren’t explained in class.

While the films Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Machete Kills may seem radically different, Rodriguez talked about their similarities and how writing action is a skill that can be applied across genres.

“The kids’ stuff was just what I was told to work on at the time, but it was always a part of me,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if I would’ve done that if I hadn’t been asked to do it, but it’s really all in the same soup. I mean, action is just another skillset that I had. Shark Boy and Lava Girl is, frankly, an action show. It’s really the same genre as Machete Kills, but it’s just got kids in it, so they’re really not that far apart.”

Latin American characters and themes are featured heavily in Rodriguez’ work, and the filmmaker admitted that the current political landscape reflects in some of his past projects.

“I’m not really tapped into the Latino professionals, but I do know people are going to be writing about it,” Rodriguez said. “If you remember Machete Kills, they had a wall already built in that movie. I wrote about that as a joke, because I didn’t think it would ever happen. I thought it might happen, but it was really a sci-fi version of our universe. Now they’re going to build it, so it’s kind of funny that I already wrote it.”

Rodriguez has worked across film and TV and takes on the challenge of transitioning between mediums.

“The hardest part of the whole process was realizing that I was now having to perform at a professional level in a medium that I didn’t understand,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t a TV man, I wrote features. The idea of being asked to write on a TV show, at the speed that I was asked to, seemed terrifying at the time when I went in until I realized that this process was there to support you as a writer. I was going to make up for the things I didn’t know, and then you get through it, because it’s not just you writing, it’s you and six other people. After that, anything else that came my way, I knew I could do it because that was so hard.”

Rodriguez’ most recent project has been as a staff writer for the TV series adaptation of From Dusk till Dawn, which is based upon the 1996 horror/action film of the same name. Learning as much as one can about the genre and figuring out what hasn’t been done, he said, is important to being an original storyteller.

“Like any other industry, any other profession, it is the process,” he said. “If you became a historian, you would read all the history that you were able and decide what history had not been told. It’s the same in horror.

“The truth is, everything I’m saying sounds very intellectual, but if someone asked me how to write a horror screenplay, I would ask them what they are scared of. Then, everything comes from that question. What are you afraid of? What really, truly makes human beings afraid? That’s the purpose of horror, to explore the idea of what makes us afraid. Secondly, what is true evil to you? That’s the second question. If you can answer those two questions you’ll write forever.”