Odalys Nanin was born on March 16, 1959, in Havana, Cuba. She grew up in Havana on the block where her entire extended family lived. Odalys’s family ran a lucrative restaurant and bar business, but lost their profits in her early childhood during Fidel Castro’s revolution. Her father was jailed for complaining about the government, and upon his release, the family fled to Miami on political asylum. Odalys developed a years-long crush on a close female friend as early as kindergarten. While she knew that she wasn’t interested in boys the same way so many girls around her were, she still felt pressure growing up to follow social norms, such as bringing a boy to prom and having boyfriends.
Attending Rutgers University, Odalys took a living theater elective class with Professor Vern Smith, in which she attended and analyzed Broadway shows. Odalys soon fell in love with theater and tried out for the school play. While she didn’t land the role, Professor Smith encouraged her to continue acting, recognizing her talent. Soon enough, Odalys moved to Los Angeles and began working in theater professionally.
In Los Angeles, Odalys initially remained closeted as an actress for fear of jeopardizing her career. Meanwhile, she wrote her own plays and screenplays on the side, exploring lesbian stories, Latinx identity, and history. In 1997, she acted in, directed, and produced her lesbian rom-com play Love Struck, which blew up. After curtain call one night, a man publicly asked her if she was gay, in front of her agent. Odalys, deciding to be true to herself as an artist, said yes, coming out to the world in that moment.
Odalys faced constant rejection from theaters who said her plays would not be profitable because Latina lesbians “don’t have any money.” Determined to prove them wrong, Odalys founded Mujeres Advancing Culture, History, and Art (MACHA) Theater in 2000, creating her own venue to showcase her plays. MACHA even had its own physical theater space beginning in 2006. For MACHA, Odalys wrote and produced The Nun and The Countess, detailing a 13th-century love story between the closested nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, and the Countess of Mexico. She translated Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding to take place in 1890s California ranchos days with cross-gender casting. And her play Frida – Stroke of Passion, which explores Frida Kahlo’s bisexuality, has sold out every time she’s produced it. Unfortunately, Odalys had to sell the physical MACHA theater in 2017 after 11 years when the rent doubled. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she turned the MACHA online platform into a digital stage where audiences can watch filmed productions of her plays, alongside documentaries and short films she has created.
Odalys attributes her perseverance as an artist to the outpouring of warmth and gratitude she’s gotten from her audience. She treasures the letters from lesbian couples whose first dates were at her plays. Odalys cites her identity as a lesbian as giving her “a fiercely passionate, driven goal to create work that reflects our life experience, and that gives a voice to who we are.”