Teatro del Sol: Bilingual Theater in Philly

I’ve written before about La Fábrica and Teatro del Sol, and the works that they’ve produced, about Picasso, Operación Pedro Pan, and authoritarian regimes (inspired by Venezuela). These newly formed theater companies, both staged plays in Spanish and English in Philadelphia for the past few years. The last production I saw of Teatro del Sol was actually a reading of a play and I saw some of the same actors and directors in the audience and on stage  that I had seen at previous productions of La Fábrica.  I didn’t voice this to any of them at the time, but I felt that a merger would be a good idea. Joining forces would pool their creative energy, and they would not have to compete for audiences, talent and donors.

Philadelphia has a lively theater scene, with larger venues like the Walnut Street Theater and the Arden Theatre, and many smaller companies which do not have a permanent space. To be able to garner enough of an audience for theater in Spanish in a city as small as Philadelphia is a challenge enough for one company, but for even more than one?

Fortunately, the minds behind these two companies were thinking like me, and they decided to merge to form Teatro del Sol.  Spearheading this company are José Avilés, Tanaquil Márquez and Yajaira Paredes. For more information about Teatro del Sol, and what they have planned for bilingual theater,  visit their website.

Coming soon, in Abril, is the popular play, La Gringa.  Although it’s been running in New York City, I’ve never seen it. I’m looking forward to enjoying it in Philly in a few weeks.

LA GRINGA POSTER FINAL (1)

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Out of the Mouths of Babes: Kid Quixote

Drexel University hosted a unique performance on February 19, 2019 at Van Rensselaer Hall on its campus. “The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote” is performed by immigrant children ranging in age from seven years old to fifteen. The group hails from Brooklyn, New York, and is led and taught by Steven Haff, in the afterschool program, Still Waters in a Storm. Dr. Rogelio Miñana, Head of the Global Studies & Modern Languages Department, was the Drexel connection. Co-sponsors included the College of Arts & Sciences, English & Philosophy, Sociology and History.

Here is a short clip from their performance at Hunter College:

On Tuesday, the students arrived by bus at around noon and first went to City Hall for lunch. Later, they squeezed in a tour of Philadelphia before arriving at Drexel to get ready for their 4:00 pm performance.  The hall, which had chairs on the ground floor and in the balconies, was packed with Drexel students. There is no stage in the space, but a small square of about 10×10 was the playing space. An electronic keyboard, guitar and ukelele accompanied. The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote is a musical (music composed by Kim Sherman) and it is a constant work in progress for five years. The group of 15 children and Haff are 2.5 years into the project. IMG_20190219_174237

The children, who are all bilingual in Spanish and English, have read Don Quixote and their musical play is an interpretation that relates to their own lives and current events. For those that don’t know, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in the early 1600s. It was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. This is a massive volume, and it is first and foremost impressive that children so young are reading it, and that they understand it enough to adapt it into a play.

According to Haff, the performance that they take on the road has been a collaboration. All of the decisions about what goes into the play are discussed with the youngsters and they reach a consensus. There are no auditions for this program. As they work through the script and music, they decide who should play which parts, and parts change periodically.

What makes this work so special is the fresh and natural approach to a very old classic. Don Quixote,  is the quintessential dreamer who just will not give up. The young cast revels in his heroism (actually played by a girl in this version) and is comfortable and at home with their creation.  They go back and forth between English and Spanish and it is obvious how much fun they are having. Their innocence is endearing and their passion, inspiring.  IMG_20190219_171949

Drexel’s venue was bigger than any that the group had performed in before. The audience watched as the group performed a “sound check” to see if their voices would project to the back of the hall. Once everything was deemed to be in order, the adventure began! After the show there was a short talk back and all of the children were enthusiastic to share their thoughts on the play and the process.

For more information, please visit the website: http://www.stillwatersinastorm.org/

Lens on Latin America: Photo Exhibition in Philadelphia!

 

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photo courtesy of David Acosta

Lens on Latin America

January 7 – March 22, 2019

open daily 8am – 10pm

Juror: David Acosta, Casa de Duende

Opening reception: Tuesday, January 8 at 6pm

An art exhibiton of innovative, experimental, and radical photography inspired by themes emerging from Latin America during the 60s and 70s – a time of profound cultural and political change.

www.ihousephilly.org/LoLAwww.ihousephilly.org/LoLA

East Alcove Gallery, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut Street

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DaVinci Artist Alliance: http://www.davinciartalliance.org/dvaa-at-ihp/

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Visual Artist, Roger Chavez

This interview was conducted with Roger Chavez via e-mail. I met Roger in an art class he was subbing and we struck up a conversation after the class.

Deslumbrar: How did you become interested in art? Is this something you’ve always done?

Roger Chavez: My interest in being creative came at an early age through drawing, painting, or building in wood or other materials. It was an activity that always generated a joy, a challenge and a learning experience. Having this creative dialogue at an early age, it was not difficult to decide and pursue it as a career later in life and where painting became my focus.

Deslumbrar:  Does your ethnic background influence your art?

Roger Chavez:  I don’t necessarily think of my ethnicity as directly influencing my work or in other words I don’t consciously think about my ethnicity as a topic for my work.  If there is something in my work that alludes to my ethnicity, it is concealed.

Deslumbrar: What projects are you working on now? How has your art evolved?

Roger Chavez:  Recently, I have a grant from the Franz and Virginia Bader Foundation to research a group of small landscape paintings primarily executed on paper. The group of paintings are part of a bigger collection called the Thaw Collection. Owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Morgan library In New York City, I make visits to draw from the paintings and research the object files.  Studying works of art from collections has always been my way to challenge my own painting and to continue to learn all the complexities of painting. 

Studying these landscape paintings and making landscape paintings as well, I’m looking to develop an experience set apart from that of my current approach to painting. For many years I’ve worked with the self-portrait and the still-life, two subjects which are readily accessible and still. Confronting the changing landscape as subject breaks me away from everything I know, altering, adding to my approach in painting.  

Deslumbrar: How does teaching art fit into your artistic career/practice?

Roger Chavez:  Teaching has always been a positive experience. It tends to give back in how there is regeneration in energy to create as I experience the students learning and developing their ideas, concepts and abilities. This said however, teaching has always been second to my studio work in that it is the core of my learning and where I draw experience and knowledge from to teach.

Deslumbrar: Where can people see your art?

Roger Chavez:  My work can be seen at my website at www.rogerchavez.yolasite.com. I’m also represented by Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia. www.stanekgallery.com

Deslumbrar: Thank you for taking the time to share about your art!

Untitled-Still Life #36 (36)

Untitled–Still life #36

 

Private screening of “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados” at The Juilliard School in NYC — Spanish Song Slinger

This is an article by my friend Anna Tonna from her blog, Spanish Song Slinger.

I received an invitation from Spanish pianist Rosa Torres-Pardo to attend a private screening of a new film documentary about the composer Enrique “Enric” Granados (1867-1916) at the Juilliard School in New York City. The film is entitled “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados “ and is directed by Arantxa Aguirre. The […]

via Private screening of “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados” at The Juilliard School in NYC — Spanish Song Slinger

Performing Poetry: Salgado Maranhão and Oral Tradition in Philadelphia

Reading poetry seems to be a lost art these days. Many people cannot even identify a favorite poem or poet because they haven’t read any, or it has been so long since they read poetry (in school). Yet, verse and lyricism are alive and well everday in our music and in some cultures, are inherent in the language. I remember being told as a student that “In Latin America everyone is a poet.” I found this to be largely true–and I encountered a figurative, metaphorical and elegant way of expressing oneself, especially by the “old-timers,” whether in Spanish or Portuguese. I think of the expression (now mostly outdated) in Brazil, “Qual é a sua graça?” for “What is your name?” “Graça” means grace and referred to the name you were baptized. What a multi-faceted word! Grace could mean a blessing, to be blessed for example. Then there are secular compliments that extend from it, such as  “graceful” or “with grace.”  But it almost always signals something positive. When used in daily life, it seemed so special and poetic to be asked that (as opposed to “Qual é seu nome”) because of all the possible associations or references to “grace” that would be set off in my mind.

On Tuesday October 23, 2018, I was treated to 80 minutes of poetry and inspiration in the middle of the afternoon at Drexel University in Philadelphia. These moments and this context, felt like an oasis, a respite, in an otherwise busy work day. Salgado Maranhão, a Brazilian poet and composer, and his translator, Alexis Levitin, had been invited to Drexel to give poetry readings. Dr. Miriam Kotzin, of the English department, organized two readings, one at 2:00 pm and one at 3:30 pm. I attended the 2:00 pm reading. I arrived a few minutes early in time to briefly chat with Salgado and Alexis in Portuguese. From the moment I met them, I felt welcomed. Because of their engaging personalities, I anticipated an exciting reading.  Between the two of them, they have written and published many works–poetry, music and translations. Salgado is also a phenomenon since he wasn’t formally educated until he was 15. He sure has caught up and gone above and beyond in terms of his writing abilities and production!

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Both recited the “same” poems from two books, Blood of the Sun (Sol Sangüíneo) and Tiger Fur (A Pelagem da Tigra), first in the original Portuguese (Salgado) and then in the English translation (Alexis). However, as anyone who has ever translated knows (or who knows both languages of a translated work, and a poem, especially), they are not the same, but two versions or interpretations. There are many reasons for this, including the variation of lexicon in each language to start with.  Also, there are artistic choices that the poet made and subsequently, that the translator must make in order to render something similiar to the original. Except, how do you represent or refer to a rhyme in the translation if the words in the second language don’t rhyme when you translate word for word? This is just one example of the challenges that the translator faces. This is particularly accute for poetry, since poetry has so much symbolism and may also include word puns, and all kinds of rhyming and verse schemes. There is no such thing as an “exact translation,” when it comes to poetry.

In this reading, Alexis talked about some of these issues artfully slipped in between their reading of a poem. For example, he mentioned how masculine and feminine adjectives in Portuguese limited the possible meanings in a particular line of a poem, to just one. Meanwhile, this limitation did not exist in English so the potential meanings and interpretations were multiplied. Alexis commented that Salgado LIKED when this happened and did not have problems with exploiting it in the translation. Incidentally, they always discussed these issues before deciding on the translation. If one looks at the two renderings side by side, Salgado’s poem, and Alexis’ translation, there will be more poetic license than what is usually encountered in a translated work. This tight collaboration between poet and translator is not always the case–sometimes the translator has permission to translate a work, but does not have to check in with the poet and has license to just translate as they see fit. Sometimes the poet is already dead or otherwise unavailable. It was intriguing to hear how much collaboration went into the rendering of Salgado’s poetry into English, and how much they were “partners” in this project.

Salgado also spoke about how language reaches its potential and maximum representation of the human soul in poetry, the discovery of poetry as an instrument of liberation, the subtext of slavery and the trauma of opression.

Overall, the event reminded me of the Brazilian literatura de cordel, a popular folk poetry tradition in the northeast of Brazil. Not because of Salgado’s poetry itself, which is quite erudite, but because of the recitation and connection to the oral tradition. Chapbooks or pamphlets of literatura de cordel could be read silently by an individual alone, but very popular was the recitation/reading of the story to sell the pamphlets, or in a circle to an audience, whether at home or in public. In this reading at Drexel, both the poet and translator are aware of this space or displacement between their languages. This creates distinctive translations and interpretations. Nevertheless, it also functions as a creative space where they dialogue with each other and with the audience in the public act of recitation. This brings the audience into the creative process, in the sense that the recitation is performance and an intrinsic part of poetry, and the audience’s participation in the discussion of  “metatranslation,” henceforth understanding what goes into the making a translation. This is simliar to the cordel performance, and exagerrated in the breaking of the fourth wall in theatre. This captivating reading emphasized the oral tradition of poetry, by breathing life into the words on a page with inflection and rhythm, and exploring  languages in contact and conflict in the act of translation.

Follow Salgado Maranhão on Facebook. 

 

 

“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

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.