With ‘Vida’ ready to air, Chicago TV series may be next for Tanya Saracho

SHARE With ‘Vida’ ready to air, Chicago TV series may be next for Tanya Saracho
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Tanya Saracho (center) celebrates the premiere of “Vida” with stars Mishel Prada (left) and Melissa Barrera at a Tuesday night party in Los Angeles. | Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

Hey Chicago — Tanya Saracho wants to thank you for all the messages and social media posts showing posters for her new TV series, “Vida,” all around the city.

“I’ve been getting pictures from people — when they’re at the Morse stop, the Belmont stop and on the Dan Ryan— of ‘Vida’ posters,” the former Chicago playwright said. “I’ve been geeking out. Geeking out!”

Saracho, co-founder of Chicago’s Teatro Luna, the first all-Latina theater company in the nation, said the photos are nice reminders of the city she misses constantly while working in Los Angeles.

“Vida” debuts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on Starz. Saracho created the half-hour drama and serves as an executive producer and show runner. It follows stints writing for such shows as “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Looking,”“Girls” and“Devious Maids.”

Saracho credits Teatro Luna with preparing her to become a show runner for “Vida.” As the company’s artistic director, Saracho had to apply for grants and drive a van around the Midwest when the company went on tour to raise money. She jumped in to help design or paint sets, work the box office and even act — all while writing the plays.

“Strangely enough, that experience kind of trained me for the mayhem that is saying all the yes’s and no’s as a show runner,” she said.

Apparently she’s pulled it off. She’s set a three-year overall deal with Starz to develop new projects for the network while continuing with “Vida.”

The series tells the story of two estranged Mexican-American sisters who, after their mother’s death, return home to the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, where the series is filmed. Emma (Mishel Prada) and her younger sister, Lyn (Melissa Barrera), confront secrets from their family’s past along with the gentrification of their old neighborhood as they take ownership of their mother’s building.

Melissa Barrera (left) and Mishel Prada play estranged sisters reunited in East Los Angeles in the new series “Vida.” | STARZ

Melissa Barrera (left) and Mishel Prada play estranged sisters reunited in East Los Angeles in the new series “Vida.” | STARZ

“Vida” unapologetically focuses on the Latina community without translating for a mainstream audience. Saracho says its refreshing to be able to do that for television, too.

“In lots of ways I’ve been trying to tell stories this way since I started writing plays: a female-centered story with queer, Latinx gaze,” the Mexican-born writer said. “To be allowed to be elegant about it and not have to ‘teach’ Latin culture is everything.”

Saracho’s writing career took off almost immediately after the former Texan moved to Chicago in 1998. With her college roommate, the then 22-year-old moved into a Roscoe Village apartment where she would live until heading to Los Angeles in 2015.

Shortly after the move to Chicago, Saracho had a reading of one of her early plays at the Victory Gardens Theater (before it moved into the Biograph Theater) on Lincoln Avenue.

She was shocked when she couldn’t find eight Latino actors for the reading and had to call on friends to help her out.

“I was like, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m gonna start a company, because I cannot find eight [actors] in the city with a quarter Latinx population?’ ” she said. With Coya Paz, “I started my theater company within the year.”

Tanya Saracho (lower right) poses with Teatro Luna ensemble members in 2003. | SUN-TIMES FILE

Tanya Saracho (lower right) poses with Teatro Luna ensemble members in 2003. | SUN-TIMES FILE

By 2001, Saracho and Teatro Luna were telling stories that mattered to her focusing on Latin culture and characters. Her plays have been staged at other Chicago theaters such as the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Teatro Vista and Victory Gardens, as well as theaters nationwide.

Local theater-goers will recognize aspects of her Chicago stage work in “Vida,” she said, because the city flavors nearly everything she writes.

“Almost every character has something” from Chicago that stuck with Saracho. “Every character is me, especially before moving to L.A.,” she said.

While Saracho’s love affair with Chicago remains as strong as ever, she does miss being in the city.

“I am so homesick every day of the week,” she said. “When you say you’re in Chicago, I’m like so jelly because … it’s the best city — just the topography, the smell, the people. When I go back I’m like, ‘This is where I belong!’ ”

If all goes according to her plan, she will be back — and with a new TV project. Saracho is creating another series, “Brujas,” based on her 2007 play “Enfrascada,” and hopes to shoot it in Chicago.

Like the play, “Brujas” will explore the relationships of four Afro-Caribbean/Latina women in Chicago as well as the community that’s growing around the Bruja movement. The global movement sprang from the desire of Latina feminists to reconnect with their heritage through indigenous practices, music, style, nightlife and art.

Saracho has been concentrating on “Vida,” but with filming completed on the first season she will turn her attention to “Brujas.”

“We’re still in development with it,” she confirmed. “But that is my hope and wish — to come back home with ‘Brujas.’ ”

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