Stepping into Magic: an actor's journey…

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" ~William Shakespeare

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

TNM Celebrates 10 years…


Ten years ago we had our first meeting with the founding members of Teatro Nuevo Mexico at the Albuquerque Press Club. There was a thirst for Latino Theatre in Albuquerque and there were a dozen or more veterans of theatre, community organizers and artists who came together to quench this need. Our first production was Sueño by Jose Rivera directed by Michael D. Blum, an adaptation of Calderon De La Barca’s “La Vida es Sueno.” We premiered at the historic Kimo Theatre and closed at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Running for the first two weeks in October 2003, we had officially revived an all Latino Theatre company and were off to 9 more years of producing work by Latino playwrights with Latino actors, designers, directors and audiences.

For me this journey began at the University of New Mexico during my Junior year of undergrad. I had awakened an interest in theatre and began taking acting classes, directing classes, scene study and educational drama classes. One semester UNM offered a class in Chicano Theatre, taught by Salomé Martinez-Lutz. Her course introduced me to the likes of Cheri Moraga, Luis Valdez, Jorge Juerta and more. Three of my classmates, for our final project, decided to write one-act plays in style of Teatro Campesino. Inspired by the need for more Latino work to be gracing the stages of our University I decided to direct a project that included their three works along with the one act Bernabé by Luis Valdez. The show was titled  ALMAS: An Evening of Latino Theatre.

There was a theatre critic who worked for the Albuquerque Journal, Ann Ryan, who was a staunch supporter of Latino theatre and she had been in conversation with local theatre, T.V. and film actor Miguel Martinez about reviving a company for Latino theatre. (In the mid 70’s and through my childhood La Compañia de Teatro De Alburquerque was a strong presence in the theatre community and many members of this company helped begin Teatro Nuevo Mexico.)  Miguel and I got to chatting one evening and soon enough we had collected a list of people who we thought would be interested in such a venture. Sadly Ann Ryan passed away in 2003 before she was able to see what her conversations with Miguel had started.

Over the years board members have left and been added, many of us moved away, but TNM is still going.  Salome has done a fantastic job of reviving the tradition of Zarzuelas in New Mexico, and she has been directing TNM productions, the last of which was El Vagon (The Boxcar) at the National Hispanic Cultural Center this past September.

I now it hasn’t been an easy job keeping TNM going and I am amazed and thankful for the work Salome has continued to do in order to keep Latino theatre alive in New Mexico.

This post is in commemoration of all of those who have forged a path for Latino theatre in the past and those who continue to do it today. My heartbreaks each year I am not home.  I miss the warmth of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, whose theatre, by the way, is still one of the most beautiful and elegant theaters I have worked in.  My path that began with Salome in her Chicano Theatre class has led me out into the world, far from home yet I will always be a part of TNM as it is a part of me.  Each time I close a show, be it Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Oregon or anywhere, I remember my roots. The mission that those on our TNM board (including my dear friends, my Tia, my Mother, my mentors and colleagues) began with founding TNM, I continue with my work. Our mission was to provide opportunities for positive representation of Latinos to be portrayed on stage and challenge the stereotypes.  We aimed to share with audiences the true stories of our diversity and struggles.

May all of you who have been a part of TNM, on stage and off know how much I honor your commitment to your artistry. Happy Anniversary Teatro Nuevo Mexico, may you have many more years of bringing fantastic work to the stage and thank you for being such a deep part of my work.

Sabina Zuniga Varela as Tomasita in The Tenth Muse by Tanya Saracho. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Sabina Zuniga Varela as Tomasita in World Premier of The Tenth Muse by Tanya Saracho at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Goodnight Sweet Lizzy…


1970 OSF Elizabethan Closing Ceremony

“…Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep…”

Prospero, The Tempest, Act IV Sc. 1

 On a chilly Sunday night, October 13, 2013, I was blessed to participate in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Closing Ceremony for the Elizabethan Theatre, a tradition that has been performed since 1952. Just before the final show of the outdoor season concludes with their curtain call, OSF company members gather in the green room. Eating cake, mingling and watching the final moments of Midsummer Night’s Dream I looked around and noticed some people who I had never met, others whose work I’ve seen on and off stage, and those with whom I shared dressing rooms and stages. There was a buzz in the air, mostly because we just witnessed OSF company member Brent Hinkley die at least a dozen times as Nick Bottom performing Pyramus for Hippolyta and Theseus. Finally we got the signal to quietly head upstairs to the backstage area of the Elizabethan, making sure we did not get in the way of the Midsummer cast who had to exit then re-enter for curtain call.

 I grabbed the arm of  Wilma Bonet, fellow cast-mate from Tenth Muse, and we were swept up in the crowd that gathered to collect little tea light candles placed in cups with sand. We awaited stage left to enter through the casement as soon as the actors exited the stage from curtain call. We entered as Nolan Peard played Greensleeves on the Cello, the stage lights on in a blue dim, the audience awaiting quietly. We streamed into the aisles, surrounding the audience with candlelight as the Midsummer cast filled the stage and left an opening up center for Tony DeBruno.

It is tradition that the actor who recites Prospero’s speech is a company member who has been with OSF for quite sometime and will not be returning the following season. Knowing this, and knowing I was not returning brought a certain weight to the ceremony for me. Hearing these words, looking out over the audience, looking up at the stars and looking upon the candlelit faces of my fellow members, I realized what an honor it is to be a part of this family. After Tony concluded the speech with a bow the company members hummed one last bar of Greensleeves with the Cello and on cue blew out all of our candles as the lights went out. Thus, we put to sleep our dear Lizzy for this season, the outdoor stage that brings wonder and awe to all who visit her, especially to we few who get to play on her stage.

Goodnight sweet Elizabeth, I will see you again…

To watch a video I made to commemorate this evening click HERE!

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