Over the course of the next year, five artists and their partner nonprofit organizations will bring engaging arts projects to communities throughout San Diego as part of the most recent Creative Catalyst Program grants.

In anticipation of these projects, we are featuring each of the artists here on SDF News to get you excited for what’s to come and also to share more about their backgrounds and impact in the region.


Thelma Virata de Castro is a 2018 Creative Catalyst artist.

Thelma Virata de Castro is a Filipino American playwright whose work explores a variety of subjects and styles, such as underserved communities, including immigrants and incarcerated individuals. She is also the founder of San Diego Playwrights, an all-volunteer network working to get local playwrights produced in San Diego.

We spent some time with Thelma, who shared her passion for the arts and what she hopes to achieve through her Creative Catalyst project.

Interview with Thelma Virata de Castro

The San Diego Foundation: Why do you do what you do?

Thelma Virata de Castro: I love hearing people’s stories and transforming them into plays. At my work we were discussing which sense we would give up if we had to. If writing was a sense, I would never give it up! It’s my way of processing the world.

I carry a journal in my purse so I can always take notes. And I find the embodiment of my plays on stage, with all the theatrical elements, to be just plain fun.

TSDF: What role do you believe art plays in civil society?

TV: Stories move people. I could give you lectures and facts, but there’s a reason why mothers tell their children stories and we line up to see the latest Star Wars movie. Stories have the power to communicate universal truths that become a part of us. Through them we confront problems and figure out solutions.

There and Home Again

Actors perform during Asian Story Theater’s production of “Sundance” at the Lyceum Theatre.

TSDF: How do you engage with the community through your art?

TV: Theatre is about connection. I can’t be a playwright all by myself in my living room. A production is a collaboration between theatre artists and the audience. For my work with my Creative Catalyst partner, Asian Story Theater, we will engage with community groups and ask them what stories they’d like to see.

Over the course of the year, we will interview members of the community and research its history, then host community readings and ask for feedback that will inform the final performances. It’s a long process, but that’s how we build trust.

TSDF: Describe a moment or occurrence that inspired you.

TV: I participated in a program in which people bake cookies for the inmates at Donovan Correctional Facility and pray for them during each step of the process. I wrote a play, Cookies for Prisoners, that references the program.

Little did I know that a few years later I’d be working at Playwrights Project as Community Programs Coordinator, a position in which I help administer playwrighting classes at various facilities, including Donovan Correctional Facility. In fact, Kathlyn Mead, President and CEO of The San Diego Foundation, joined us at one of our classes there and saw the men’s scripts performed by professional actors.

Engaging with the Artists

The San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Program works to grow the creative economy, advance artist careers and strengthen community engagement by increasing opportunities for San Diegans to experience arts and culture.

Thelma is one of five artists that will be sharing their unique works with the community over the next year. Learn more about our other Creative Catalyst artists, including:

To learn how to engage with Thelma and other artsts as they develop their 2018-2019 Creative Catalyst project, subscribe to our newsletter – SDF News.

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