“Passport:” A Tour de Force of Beauty and Brutality

Passport, by Venezuelan playwright Gustavo Ott, is shocking. It had me on the edge of my seat for 65 minutes, as I wished that Eugenia could just be understood, and that the cruel soldier and the sadistic official just had an ounce of decency and would just show some compassion. Passport Banner Final (1)

Passport is produced by La Fábrica and plays at the The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake for the FringeArts Festival, from Sept. 12-16, 2018. The cast is comprised of Tanaquil Márquez (Eugenia), Alfonso Rey (El soldado/the soldier)  and Lorenza Bernasconi (la oficial/the official). Passport, directed by Alfonso Rey, is one of the most intense and mesmorizing productions that I have recently seen in Philadelphia.

Despite being a newly formed company (about 1 year old), the production values were high. The program, in the form of a passport, accompanied me on my journey into a world that was both familiar and unknown. The audience is treated as part of the drama, since we had our “passports” stamped as we went into the theater. We all had the proper documentation and were allowed to pass the border, but “Eugenia” was not.

Tanaquil Márquez was stellar and thoroughly convincing as Eugenia. Her acting is gripping and her delivery in Spanish, idiomatic and well projected. This is a challenging role. There is upper body nudity and the character displays many emotions. Based on this performance, Márquez deserves to be seen on the important stages of Philadelphia at least. Lorenza Bernasconi and Alfonso Rey were both compelling in their roles, making it a tight ensemble.

The set, lighting and sound were designed by Márquez and Rey and were perfect for the unfolding of this encounter, allowing the acting to be the focus. The set is almost bare but for a few realistic props and furniture, and the lighting is stark and dramatic. Especially effective was the sound design which utilized recorded music and other noises. For example, the drops of water which fell into metal buckets onstage punctuated the soundscape and the action.

To my ears, the lyricism of the script was exquisite and well delivered by the ensemble. The attempts to understand each other were like mind puzzles. I saw the opening performance at 4:00 pm which was in Spanish. (The shows alternate between Spanish and English, and there are some which are “coin toss.” You find out what language it will be in after you arrive). What makes this work so impressive is the clash between the poetry, the beauty of the language, and the violence of the situation, and how these two elements are depicted. For me personally, this has always been the hallmark of a great work of art–that Gustavo Ott was able to take something bad, an ugly dehumanizing experience and make it into this play is sublime.

Passport was written in the 1990s, but problems of migration and crossing borders are still happening. Tyrannical regimes still exist and military and other officials who cross the line between the humane and inhumane, unfortunately permeate the news every day. The mistreatment of people at the border is a current issue in our country.

Passport is a must see for those who embrace more intellectual theater, latino plays, and/or who care about the migration issues. I look forward to seeing it in English too.  Passport could be anywhere or everywhere. La Fábrica draws attention to the problems and abuses with this moving production.

Running time: 65 minutes, no intermission.

Passport plays from September 12-16, 2018, by La Fábrica at The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake.302 S Hicks St. Philadelphia, PA 19102 For more information and to purchase tickets in advance: go  online

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What is “American Art?” SWARM at PAFA!

“Americans are a whole hemisphere.” That was Nestor Armando Gil’s response to a question about PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), the oldest “American” art museum and school in the United States, exhibiting SWARM., which consists of art in collaboration by a Cuban-American and Haitian immigrant and their workshop.  He meant that “America” included all of us from South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America, and he clearly stated that PAFA is exactly where the art should be. Since both Armando Gil and Didier William, who teamed up to create the works in SWARM are immigrants in the United States, whether one considers “America” to be all the Americas or just the “United States,” their work is part of the “American” tradition. On August 4, 2018, at PAFA, the two artists and the guest curators of the exhibition, Laurel McLaughlin and Mechella Yezernitskaya, both from Bryn Mawr College, discussed the process and works in SWARM.

There are already articles and reviews about SWARM., which is at PAFA from June 30-September 9, as the exhibition opened over a month ago. There is a a detailed online document about it available at: pafa SWARM.  For this blog post, I will write about a few salient ideas from  the presentations and panel discussion.

Both artists were surprised at how much of their work was complementary and how they were influenced or inspired.  Both related to the spirituality and myth of their ancestry–santería in Cuba and vodu in Haiti. Even though Armando Gil had never used printing in his art (he is more of a performance artist), this became a common artistic language between the two. William’s work is detailed with an eclectic use of print and painting, and somewhat representational (with a lot of abstraction) but as he says “illegible.” I liked the skill and technique in both painting and printing that embodied William’s works, and that one could identify certain figures, yet the meaning was open to interpretation.

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Artwork by Didier William

I wasn’t able to see the performance of Armando Gil’s “Boca,” but for sure it must have been shocking. In this installation he lies on the floor and substances that symbolize Cuba are poured into his mouth: sand, coffee beans, sugar and tobacco.

Armando Gil also spoke about his performance piece “El Panadero.” In this one, he made 1500 copies of a bag that said “CUBANO BREAD” and baked bread to put in them. He explained that the bilingual play on words could be rearranged to mean “Cuba no bread,” relating to the poverty on the island or “Cuban Bred,” born and raised Cuban. He went to Barcelona (where his grandmother had lived after leaving Cuba) and stood in a plaza with a baker’s hat on, and no shoes. He sang the baker’s song “Panadero, pan gratis” (Baker, free bread) and gave away the bread. His performance pieces tend to be “ritualizations of passages.”

Armando Gil paid more attention to the visual aspect in his pieces while working with William. His tobacco prints evidence that: img_20180804_153813

There are various sculptures in the exhibition, which show Armando Gil’s influence in the collaboration:

When asked about “theoretical influences”, William cited Frantz Fanon, among others and Armando Gil referenced Reinaldo Arenas (fiction), Bell Hooks, and specifically the book Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism, by Bell Hooks and Amalia Mesa-Bains.

SWARM. Forging individual and collective identities across diasporas, dislocations, and reformations is on exhibit in the Historic Landmark Building at PAFA in galleries on the first and second floor.

New Latino Theater in Philadelphia: A Interview with Tana Márquez of “La Fábrica”

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Photo by Alfonso Rey

Those who read my blog and those who know me personally,  know that I have a passion for theater in Spanish, from the great works of the Spanish Baroque and Golden Age and zarzuela, to contemporary Latin American and Latino plays.  I have had the pleasure of attending Bodas de sangre and also Azul, bilingual productions that were performed in Philadelphia. Tanaquil Márquez was instrumental in both of them (as well as others).  I caught up with Tana and these are her exact words to questions I had about her involvement in bilingual theater in Philadelphia.

Deslumbrar: Tell me about the history of La Fábrica and your role in it. Why was this company created? What productions have you done so far?

– La Fábrica is a very new company, not even a year old yet! After Yajaira and I finished The Duende Cycle, a project I worked on with Eliana Fabiyi for the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, we formed a great friendship, which shared the love of bilingual theater. From there we worked on a show called Ni tan Divas ni tan Muertas by Indira Páez, which was produced three times around the city. Shortly after we created La Fábrica. Yajaira and I who both work as Artistic Directors and Producing Managers for the company. We felt like there a void that needed to be filled for the growing local Latinx community. There was such a beautiful response from the audience who saw Duende and Divas in their native language (Spanish) that we felt compelled to really establish something here in the city. By producing strong and bold bilingual theatre, we hope to be a vehicle for social communion and positive change in Philadelphia. Our past shows include Azul, which was written and directed by me, exploring Picasso’s blue period through live Flamenco music and dance; and A 2,50 la Cuba Libre, written and directed by Ibrahim Guerra about 5 ficheras working in a bar. Both shows were revived in the winter, with the help of Jose Aviles directing A 2,50 la Cuba Libre in February.

Deslumbrar: La Fábrica has a production in the upcoming Fringe Festival (September 2018) in Philadelphia, called PASSPORT, by Gustavo Ott from Venezuela. Why this play?

-PASSPORT is current, important and poetic, diving into the question of immigration and exposing the mechanics of language and power. It is a very NOW show that we hope will captivate the audience, while raising awareness of our current immigration crisis.

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Photos by Alfonso Rey

 

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Deslumbrar: What future projects do you have in mind for La Fábrica?

-Definitely more Lorca! We want to explore Tanyo Saracho and Stephen Adly Guirgis as well as the theme of immigration. Yajaira and I are also developing a one act on the more comical side called Tu Gringa, Yo Chama. This is definitely a must see. It mixes the American and Venezuelan culture and humor very well, also anytime Yajaira opens her mouth she is hilarious.

Deslumbrar: Are you looking for sponsors, donors, actors, or production staff? How can those interested contact you? 

We are always looking to grow our team! Specifically, for PASSPORT we have teamed up with Free Migration Project, an organization whose mission is to support immigrant communities and to advocate for the right of all decent people to freely migrate. You can donate to support both companies here https://freemigrationproject.org/la-fabrica/. We are also hosting a fundraiser on Thursday, August 16 from 8-11pm at La Fusion Lounge, 1136 S 11th st. It is a Latin Dance-A-Thon, will be a very fun time with amazing prizes!

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For anyone who is interested in what we do and how they can be a part of it please email info@lafabricatheater.com.

La Fábrica is looking for your continuous support, in whichever form you can give, so that bilingual theatre can be a fixture in Philadelphia, allowing Spanish and English voices to speak and Spanish and English ears to hear in a constant communal dialogue.

Electroacoustic Music in Philadelphia: Live/Wire Ensemble & Opera Company

Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company, performing at Temple University, presented an innovative festival of electroacoustic premieres to a packed audience on July 29, 2018. The Festival, which opened on July 26, btought to Pressler Hall at Temple University, a program including,  Radiance  (Jon Paul Maysee), The Sun Gate (Carlos Johns-Dávila) and Pacamambo (Zack Settel). Each of these three works utilized technology in a distinct way. Besides showcasing computer orchestration, amplification and visual projections, these pieces also complemented each other in their inspiration and narratives. (Check Deslumbrar for interviews with the composers last week)

Radiance, which featured bassoonist Dominic Panunto, is based on Christian scripture passages: (Genesis 1:2), (1 Kings 17), (Luke 9:28-36), (Revelation 21:19) and (Exodus 34:35). Lighting effects were generated by the bassoon which were filtered through a computer program. Most of this composition consisted of long sustained notes played by the bassoonist, with corresponding flashes of colored lights in discs and a large space on the ceiling above the musician. For both Radiance and The Sun Gate, performed in the orchestra practice room, the audience was invited to sit on three sides, either on chairs or on the floor. In Radiance, the sole instrumentalist and the visual projection were the center of attention.

In contrast, the audience seemed to become part of the performance of The Sun Gate. There was a lot going on and so much to watch in this piece. The mirrors, projections, and 360 degree camera, bounced images on the walls AND on the people sitting on the floor or in chairs, who surrounded the “stage” where the dancers and musicians performed. Two flexible and engaging dancers, Morgaine A. De Leonardis and Elisa Hernandez, starred as the Incan gods Viracocha and Inti. In addition to the movements they did on the floor, I also found myself watching their shadows on the wall, which intersected with the geometric patterns that were projected. This created another depiction or layer of the story, which had been carefully researched and based on Incan mythology. I interviewed Carlos beforehand, so I was excited to hear and see him play the Quenacho flute that he had purchased in Perú. The flute provided a sense of authenticity to the piece, and I would have liked to have heard more of it. The melody played on the piano near the end recalled Andean tonality and reminded me somewhat of indigenous music I’d heard played on panflutes in the past. This mix of the European and indigenous is key to Carlos’ approach and inspiration. The world created in sound and image (human and geometric) was definitely creative and otherworldly and something I would like to experience again now that I know what to expect. I felt teased by the actual live music included in The Sun Gate and wanted to hear more. The colorful moving geometric patterns, the live dancing and the careful positioning of real roses on the floor were entrancing.  Vishaal Ravikumar (Lighting/Projections Designer) and Sarah Celona (Set Designer) are to be commended for their work on this multifaceted production.  Here is a clip from its New York premiere:

Pacamambo rounded out the trio with another spiritual narrative, this one about death and the afterlife. This comtemporary opera focuses on a young girl Julie (Carly Baron) and how she handles the death of her beloved Grandma “Marie-Marie” (Gillian Booth). Other parts were sung by Max Avery Vitagliano (The Psychiatrist), Andrew Shaw (Le Chien) and Julia Bokunewicz, (La Lune). Isaac Dae Young was the Music Director/Conductor, Carolyn McDemus (Assistant Music Director), and Jon Paul Mayse handled the electronics. Pacamambo utilized computer technology in a more subtle way than the other pieces. It consisted of additional instrumental parts and harmonies. These were programmed by the composer and passed on to the Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company to use in their performance. Since I also sing opera, I try to avoid reviewing operas and singers (conflict of interest) but I must say that the conductor and cast were astounding in their commitment to render this score and their performances were exquisite. Pacamambo was sung in French and they never missed a beat. It was obvious to any musician in the audience, that this was a challenging score  but the cast and conductor handled it with aplomb. The subject as well was quite a departure from traditional Western European grand opera and I was impressed that these young singers held their own in a genre that they probably have not had much experience in (since it is not mainstream) or regularly performed in opera companies or conservatories. The chamber environment suits it well and the audience recognized the dedication and skill of the cast and production crew with a standing ovation.

In my opinion, the score should be revised a bit, cut and pared down, swapping some of the “rap” for a more lyrical accompanied recitative. The “rap” idea was fun at first, since it was different, but the composer definitely could write some harmonies and melodies, and did that well in Act 9. The constant raps tended to slow down the action. The story itself is compelling and although it is a short opera, of only 1 hour, the lack of dramatic tension and release in the music, as well as dynamic and tempi changes, made it drag in some places.  That was not the fault of the singers or the conductor. A revision of course, is a task for the composer, not the singers or conductor, to consider.

All in all, Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company is to be congratulated for taking a risk and staging three relatively new electroacoustic works to an enthusiastic Philadelphia audience. I welcome your comments and discussions about these performances! Please write something if you were there at one of the performances and want to contribute your thoughts. 

For more information on Jon Paul Mayse, please visit: https://jonpaulmayse.com/
To more on Carlos Johns-Dávila: https://www.newperuvian.net/

 

The Sun Gate: A Reimagining of the Peruvian Inti Raymi Festival

In elementary school most of us learned about the Incas, the indigenous people who Spanish “conquistadores” encountered in what today is called “Perú” in South America. Every year visitors from around the world travel to Machu-Picchu in the Peruvian mountains (the Andes) to hike and experience these famous ruins. Some people go for the adventurous trekking, some for cultural reasons, and others consider it a spiritual pilgrimage.

Machu Picchu, Peru


Peru still fascinates. The legends of the Incas remain prominent in the contemporary globalized and fast world, passed down through their descendants. Some even speak their language, quechua. Imagine being able to experience an Inca festival, recreated for the 21st century, right here in Philadelphia?

From July 26-29, 2018, Live/Wire Opera Company presents three works: Radiance, Pacamambo and The Sun Gate. (See my previous interview with Jon Mayse for a general overview of the evening). Earlier this week I spoke with Peruvian-American composer, Carlos Johns-Dávila, about his piece, The Sun Gate. Following is a summary of our interview:

Deslumbrar: Carlos, thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your piece, The Sun Gate. First, I’d like to know a little about your background and inspirations. How did you get started in music?

Carlos: So far I have had essentially two revelations about music. The first was when my mom took me for my first piano lesson at age 6. The second was when I applied to Interlochen for boarding school. I ended up attending for my last two years of high school, which really exposed me to completely new contexts for music and culture. There was some, but not much in my hometown. Anyway, I applied to Interlochen initially as a piano performance major. However, the level of competition is very high and I realized I might be over my head. Nevertheless I went to the audition, and eventually was offered admission as a composer! I had been dabbling in composition as a child and in my lessons I kept intentionally tweaking the piano scores (when I played them), to the dismay of my piano teacher. It wasn’t conscious then, but those were early indications of my composition talents. Right before I applied to Interlochen, I had won a competition for piano composition held by York Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania.

Later I attended Temple University in music composition and there I was exposed to electronic music. There I met Jon Mayse who is artistic director of Live/Wire and also a composer. What I like about it is that I can be original with electronic composition and blend it with acoustic instruments. Because my Peruvian ancestry is important to me and inspires me creatively, mixing the archaic and the contemporary is appealing. It reflects me: “What does it mean to be a Peruvian yet living in the United States?”

Deslumbrar: What is The Sun Gate about?

Carlos: This will be the second production of The Sun Gate. I set out to do one large scale production each year. I wanted to focus on myth, religion and ritual. The premiere was at Areté Gallery in Brooklyn, NY on June 9, 2018, curated by Melinda Faylor.

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The Sun Gate. At the premiere on June 9, 2018, Areté Gallery.

The Inti (Sun) Raymi (Festival) is the solstice for the Incas. It usually occurs in June, which is summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern. This festival is enacted in Perú but it is not the same as what the Incas did—that was lost in colonial times. What I’m doing, and what is done now in Peru is based on the writings of the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, who lived from 1539-1616.


(Video trailer of Inti Raymi Festival in Cuzco)

The performance includes two dancers, a 360 camera, the Quenacho flute and computer. Visual arts and dance have inspired me over the years. My Peruvian roots and composers like Eric Satie and John Cage have too. I appreciate these composers’ work because of its unique combination of strategy and artistry. Their pieces are captivating with depth.

Deslumbrar: Thank you for the interview. I look forward to attending the performance.

Check out more about Carlos on his website, https://www.newperuvian.net/ where you can see photos, videos and music samples.

For more information and tickets to the performance by Live/Wire Opera Company, July 26-29, 2018 at Temple University,

visit:  https://pepper-daffodil.squarespace.com/livewire/ 

Electroacoustic Music Extravangaza at Temple University, July 26-29 in Philadelphia!

Recently, I conducted an interview via e-mail with Jon Mayse, composer and artistic director of Live/Wire about the upcoming show, “Pacamambo/The Sun Gate/Radiance” on July 26-29, 2018. I’ve recently learned through interviews with Jon and his colleague, Carlos Johns-Dávila, that this type of music is a blend of computer generated music and acoustic (traditional) instruments. This program struck me as unique and also very fitting for Deslumbrar, because of  The Sun Gate written by a Peruvian-American composer.
Deslumbrar:  How did the Live/ Wire Opera Company get started? What kinds of productions do you do?
Jon Mayse: Live/Wire started because I saw so many great electroacoustic works that weren’t getting performed, so I figured I’d simply do them with friends. I ran the idea of doing an electroacoustic opera by Isaac Young, the Opera Company Music Director, who somehow convinced me that it was possible for us to do (which was a total lie! I am waaaay too busy!). Initially, we wanted to do a major festival with guest artists, workshops, panels, etc and promote it with solo house shows or gallery shows. Then we saw how much that cost, so we scaled back to just an opera, Pacamambo, and some installations, Sun Gate and Radiance. This is our first production, but we have programs set up for solo sets with bassoon, trombone, organ, and piano that we would love to get performed in the future!
Deslumbrar:  How did you get started in music?  Tell me about your composition process and inspiration.
Jon Mayse: I was originally a blues guitarist, but I got into “classical” music a few years ago, then got into electronic music when I was a member of the Boyer Electroacoustic Ensemble Project (BEEP) at Temple University. My process differs from project to project. For Radiance, there has been a lot of programming, so I haven’t sat down and written any music out. Instead, the bassoonist (Dominic Panunto) has some general guidelines (techniques, gestures, sounds) that he will realize on his own. My faith is my main inspiration. Radiance depicts different moments in scripture in which God’s presence is made manifest. Musically, I tend to use lots of extended techniques on instruments (such as bassoon playing multiple notes or cellists using the cello as a percussion instrument). I’m also inspired by visual artists, such as Olafur Eliasson and Cai Guo Qiang, and sound artists like Samson Young.

Deslumbrar:  There is an upcoming performance of three music works at Temple University this month. Tell me about these works and your role in this event.
Jon Mayse:So, the works are an opera, Pacamambo by Zack Settel, and two multimedia works, The Sun Gate by Carlos Johns-Davila, and Radiance, by myself.
Pacamambo explores grief, friendship, and innocence through the story of a young girl, Julie, who is found in a basement with her dog and the body of her grandmother. Through discussions with a psychologist and dreams/flashbacks, we learn Julie is waiting to confront Death and about a fictional afterlife called Pacamambo, in which everyone is with their loved ones. The opera is wonderfully vibrant, with great rhythmic action and a French language rap.
Here is a clip from a performance of PACAMAMBO by another opera company:

The Sun Gate, by Carlos Johns-Davila, is a modern realization of an Incan Sunrise Festival, Inti Raymi. Viracocha, the Goddess of Creation, walks among the animals on the Celestial River, realizes dawn is coming and wakes the Sun, Inti. The work is for Quenacho (a South American flute) which is played by Carlos, two dancers, and projected lights. The two dancers depict the Sun and the Moon. I’ve only seen some footage from the premier in June, which only made me more excited to see it in person!
Radiance is for Bassoon, Live Electronics, and Lights. The piece depicts various scenes from the Bible in which God’s presence is revealed, from the Spirit coming over the Deep to the reveal of New Jerusalem in Revelations. Four speaker/light stations react to the bassoon, creating an expressive, spatialized dynamic. For example, a crescendo from the bassoonist, Dom, will be matched by brighter lights or maybe by subtle hue changes.
Overall, I am doing the administrative, marketing, technology, and financial work for the Opera Company and the Ensemble. For the opera performance, I am performing the electronic parts. I also wrote the music and electronic part for Radiance.
Deslumbrar:  Congratulations to Jon, who has been accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in London to pursue his master’s degree! He plans to create a “portable version” of Radiance and work on some commissions.  To follow this emerging composer’s career check out his website at: https://jonpaulmayse.com/
Coming up next is a detailed interview with Carlos Johns-Dávila, the composer of The Sun Gate.
Purchase tickets for this musical event (July 26-29 at Temple University) online. For more information check out the website, and Facebook.

Puerto Rico on the Canvas: Diego Hiromi

I saw this painting at the opening of PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) annual student show in May 2018. It has been on my mind ever since. I spoke with the artist, Diego Hiromi, at the opening, and he said that it has been hard for him being in Philadelphia away from his family and friends in Puerto Rico especially after the hurricane. I have friends from Puerto Rico and regularly have heard for months about the devastation that they and loved ones experienced due to the hurricane. This painting is a stunning and powerful representation. Technically it is spectacular, but I don’t even know how to explain the feelings that it invokes. I’ll just let the painting “María” speak for itself:

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Hiromi also had other paintings in the exhibition which related to Puerto Rico. One of those that we discussed was a portrait of his grandfather, “La oración de abuelo”:

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I am not usually drawn to realism, but Hiromi’s paintings are beautifully rendered and powerful. Full of emotion, they communicate a love for his family and native island. To see more of his work and read his bio, please visit his website:  http://www.diegohiromi.com/gallery/ He is definitely an emerging artist to watch out for!

You can still catch the student exhibition at PAFA this weekend! IMG_20180511_184903

An Interview with Playwright, Erlina Ortiz

I can’t believe that nearly two months have passed since I saw Las Mujeres, a captivating play by Erlina Ortiz, which premiered at Power Street Theatre Company in Philadelphia.

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Cast of Las Mujeres. Photo by Corem Coreano

I caught up with Erlina with some interview questions. These are her responses.

Deslumbrar: When did you know you wanted to be a playwright? How did that come about? 

Erlina Ortiz: The first time I proudly introduced myself as a playwright without feeling like a fraud was two years ago. I had been accepted into The Foundry, a Philly Playwright’s collective and for me that meant I was an official playwright now. I have always been a writer. When I was a little girl I would staple pieces of paper together and make little books. When I was in middle school I would come home from school everyday and plop in front of our family computer and commandeer it for the whole night while I worked on my ‘novel’. I still have that book I wrote and you know what, it is not that bad. My secret passion however had always been performing. I wanted to perform. Stage, film, tv, it didn’t matter. I loved assuming characters and getting that possessed feeling. My best path for this was Temple University. It was the only school I applied for and met a few important criteria for me; multidisciplinary program (I knew I needed to be a well-rounded artist and not just an actor), in a big city with lots of theatre going on, and relatively affordable compared to my other options. I had a fairly good experience at Temple, I wouldn’t take it back. However, I soon felt the sting of exclusion in my theatre department. At the most diverse university in the country I was one of 3 Latina’s in the department, and I soon realized that there was very little opportunity for me to showcase my talent on a Temple stage. The shows were either always an almost all white cast, or there would be the one ‘black show’ which I of course wasn’t right for either. I was stuck, and I realized as soon as I started seeing more shows in the city that the problem was not limited to my university. Around this same time I was taking a playwriting course. I found a strange power in writing my own characters. It was like acting, getting possessed by these voices that demanded to speak through me. It was more fun even because I wasn’t limited to one character. I got to be all the characters! A little while after that I was approached by Power Street Founder Gabriela Sanchez. Gaby told me she was starting a multicultural theatre company and I was like UM YES. So I joined, and I started writing the characters that I had so longed to see on stage. I started writing the stories that I thought mattered to my people, and the rest is herstory.

Deslumbrar: Tell me about your experience writing “Las Mujeres.” When did you start? What was your inspiration? etc.

Erlina Ortiz: Las Mujeres was quite the journey. I actually wrote the first one act version of it when I was a senior at Temple yet. It was the first piece of theatre I ever wrote to be seen in front of an audience. I was president of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc at the time so I was able to rent space and hire a few of my friends to present it (something I was not able to do through my theatre department). It was not very good, but it was a great experience writing, casting, directing, producing etc and I knew that there was a lot of potential. I remember telling myself, one day you will produce a full length version of this play when you are a better writer. About 2 years ago I mentioned this to Gaby and she was like, OKAY, LET”S DO IT. So, I got to work on re-writing it as a full length piece, and Gaby got to work finding grants that would support readings of the play as it progressed. This was essential to the process and so helpful having clear deadlines with the goal of a production coming up. The inspiration for the piece is hard to remember since it was so long ago. It had mostly to do with me being angry at my theatre department and being like OKAY I’m going to do my own thing and I’m gonna write 6 Latina’s so ha! Later… As I researched the women I was writing about I felt an intense urgency to tell their stories. When I picked the play back up to rewrite it 2 years ago, I knew that I wanted it to be about what it means to be a Latinx Woman in 2018, and the sacrifices that women have to make to survive in male dominated work spaces. I wanted to educate people on the true lives of these courageous women, and I wanted my audience to see themselves in them and be inspired to take action. I hope I accomplished those things!

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Cast of Las Mujeres. Photo by Corem Coreano

Deslumbrar: What writing projects do you have coming up?

Erlina Ortiz: Currently I am working on a piece with Pig Iron Theatre called The Caregivers. This is a community based project led by Nell Bang-Jensen starring real life people who are taking care of ill loved ones. It is a story that does not get told, and it has been so beautiful being in the room with these big-hearted people. I am also working on a project with Power Street called Hidden Disabilities. I have Crohn’s disease, and other PSTC members have hidden disabilities as well. We wanted to break the stigma around these topics and offer an experience to our audience to consider what their own hidden disabilities are, or that of the person next to them. Both of these projects are premiering in June. I am also writing the book for a musical called Silueta about a Cuban- American immigrant and a Syrian- American refugee living together as roommates in NYC during the year 2016. I am so excited about all of these projects!

Deslumbrar: Describe your role in Power Street Theatre Company. What are goals of the company, and what plans are in store for the future? 

My role in the company is multifaceted. First and foremost I am Resident Playwright. So, I’m always writing with Power Street in mind. I am also artistic director, so I help plan out our seasons with Gaby, and am independently always thinking of ways we can meet the companies artistic vision. I am also an administrative member. We are small so we all play A LOT of roles. I help with grants, I make connections with artists we may want to work with in the future,  I represent Power Street wherever I go. We just had our three year planning meeting and I’m so excited for what’s to come! Gaby Sanchez quit her full time job for the start of this year to focus on Power Street, one of the main reasons Las Mujeres was such a success. We want to keep growing, at a reasonable pace so we can learn as we grow. We want to keep producing dynamic and important theatre in North Philly. We want to continue touring to universities and schools. We plan on starting two adult classes, one in playwriting, one in performance, within the next year (grants pending). Eventually we want some type of structure to call our Home.

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The altar that community youth made for Las Mujeres. Photo by Corem Coreano

Deslumbrar: Erlina, Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m sure readers out there are grateful too! For more information about Power Street Theatre Company, and upcoming productions visit their website:  https://www.powerstreettheatre.com/

 

Edna Santiago: Painting Puerto Rico!

No hay mal que por bien no venga is often translated in English as “Every cloud has a silver lining.” This is the expression that came to my mind as I conversed with Puerto Rican artist Edna Santiago at her recent exhibition “To Print or Not To Print” at DVAA (Da Vinci Art Alliance) in Philadelphia.

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Santiago was compelled to start making art after the death of her only son, 11 years ago.  She worked for 40 years as a physical therapist as well as tending to her family, so art was put on the backburner. But after her loss, she began painting and proceeded to experiment with different media. Today Santiago specializes in printmaking, painting, and crafting lampshades from gourds. She maintains a studio and gallery in Puerto Rico, but is moving back to the Philadelphia area for most of the year, due to the recent storms and damage in Puerto Rico.

I saw some of Santiago’s work in person at DVAA. She is inspired by the sea, by the nature and people of Puerto Rico. I love her prints, which follow a long tradition of woodcut prints in Latin America. She showed me one of her plates made out of a softer material than wood. We discussed how important it was to determine the values (darkness and light) in a print. Santiago sometimes adds color to her prints–this happens  in the printing process itself or she paints a “finished” print.

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Santiago is upbeat, optimistic and inpirational to me as an emerging visual artist. She said that we  might not realize what talents we have inside of us that haven’t yet manifested. I was impressed by her printing technique and knowledge, and her creativity wih the lamps. Her paintings of people communicated tremendous feeling and those of Puerto Rico’s landscape were enchanting and unique. Santiago has several exhibitions/showings coming up in the Philadelphia area. The next one is at the Mainline Art Center on May 5, 2018 in the Spring Craft Show. For more information on her exhibitions and art please visit her website: http://www.ednasantiago.com

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¨Valor, Agravio y Mujer:¨ A Play by a Woman, Curated by Women, at the Repertorio Español

¨Valor, Agravio y Mujer: escrita por una dramaturga del siglo de oro español. Dirigida y diseñada por Mujeres de Hoy.¨

The quote above appears on the playbill of the play,  translated as ¨Courage, Betrayal  and a Woman,¨ which is currently showing at the Repertorio Español in New York City. The rest of the quote in English reads: ¨written by a woman playwright of the Spanish Golden Age–directed and designed by women of today.¨

Repertorio Español (RE) added this production of the cape and sword comedy by Ana Caro Mallén de Soto, which was published sometime in the 17th century in Spain, to its repertoire in October 2017.  RE´s production is directed by Leyma López. On April 21, 2018, I attended, and I highly recommend this polished and engaging production to all who can get to the RE to see it.

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Zulema Clares and Luis Carlos de la Lombana. Photo by Michael Palma Mir. 

 

This was not my first time at the Repertorio Español, but I had not been in several years. Upon entering, I was greeted warmly at the box office and welcomed by the usher, into the familiar lobby. This was my first experience with the subtitles on the seats. In 2012 RE installed the Simultex In Seat Captioning System (similar to that at the Metropolitan Opera) and this makes their productions, which are performed in Spanish, super-accessible to non-Spanish speakers, and without distracting titles projected on a screen above the stage, as is done in some other theaters. Although I never used the previous system of bulky headphones to hear a simultaneous translation in English, I commend RE´s dedication in promoting theater in Spanish to diverse audiences. Now even deaf people can enjoy the shows in either Spanish or English, by reading the titles.

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back and see Valor, agravio y mujer again. Spanish Golden Age theater is usually written in verse, and this play in particular, is not that easy to visualize with just one read, due to the poetry and the somewhat archaic language. However, the ensemble in this production enthusiastically lifted this text off the page and brought it to breathing and pulsing life!

The interpretation is performed in rich, sumptuous looking period costumes on a virtually empty set, both designed by Leni Méndez. The only adornment to the stage are tall thin movable poles and a platform reached by stairs in the front and on each side. The actors use these structures to situate the action, which is sometimes indoors, on a ship or outside. The light design by Lucrecia Briceño, works in tandem with the set, costumes and sound (by Zulema Clares) to firmly support and elucidate the drama. Nothing else was needed to supplement the superb acting, which completely drew me into this 17th century world.

Zulema Clares stars as the strong, smart and courageous Leonor, who dresses as a man to avenge her honor by hunting down her untrustworthy suitor, Don Juan. She was convincing as both Leonor and Leonardo, with different expression and body movement for each. Don Juan is deftly rendered by Luis Carlos de la Lambona–who at times is confident and cocky and at others, remorseful and contrite.

The play begins with Leonor dressing in men´s clothes. She is aided by her manservant/squire, Ribete. Erick González adds zing to this fun sidekick with captivating movement and gesture. Gerardo Gudiño was Don Fernando Rivera, a clearly delineated and pivotal role as Leonor´s brother. Soraya Padrao (Estela), Maria Cotto (Lisarda), Sendor Juan (Tomillo), Rafa Sánchez (Príncipe Ludovico) and Gonzalo Trigueros (various roles), rounded out the talented and well rehearsed cast.

Unique moments that added humor, drama or delight to the staging, included the lights, mists, poles and movement to portray the voyage by sea, the baroque music, and the use of a male actor (Trigueros) to interpret a female servant.

The plot and message of Valor, agravio y mujer, are universal: a woman wants to confront a man who has taken advantage of her/lied and everyone can relate to this. In the 17th century, when this comedy was written, in real life women rarely would be able to do this–confront him. Sometimes brothers or other family members would take matters into their own hands to avenge her honor and right this wrong with a duel. Ana Caro was definitely ahead of her time, thrusting the female protagonist into the role of avenger and empowering her to determine her own fate. The stellar acting and solid direction make the verse easy to understand and the subtitles, if needed, further facilitate audience engagement. Those who like classical theater, like Shakespeare, will find Valor, agravio y mujer particularly appealing. I hope that you will sample this play, written by a woman about 400 years ago, and staged by women today at the Repertorio Español. I know I will return to see it again!

Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, no intermission.

Valor, Agravio y Mujer is currently in repertory, and plays through August 24, 2018 at the Repertorio Español–138 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016. For more information and tickets, contact the box office at 212.225.9999 or purchase online.