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 “March, 2017”

#MojadaMedeaOSF: Conversations & Celebrations

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The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Podcasts are now on iTunes!!!! Check out episode #6 for my conversation with OSF’s Associate Director of Communications: Eddie Wallace and Episode #7 with OSF resident playwright Luis Alfaro, Eddie Wallace and OSf Communications Manager Julie Cortez. There are also conversations with one of the lighting designers, OSF actor Kate Hurster (who I understudied in the role of Maid Marion in the Heart of Robin Hood in 2013,) the director of OSF’s “American Revolutions,” and the Director of Literary Development.

To listen to the podcasts on the OSF website click HERE.


OSF Actor VIVIS and Me with a group of High School Drama Students from Modesto, CA

On Thursday, the 16th, we had an evening performance that was ELECTRIC! The audience was buzzing, laughing, gasping, and with us the the whole way. The theatre was vibrating from the first moment to the last. Some OSF company members that were in the audience let us know that there was a particular group of students that were completely absorbed in the story, singing along with the songs playing in the background and who were absolutely stunned and moved by the ending. On Friday morning, after a company meeting where the acting company was the FIRST to hear the 2018 season announcement, VIVIS (who brilliantly plays Tita in our show) and I were heading to check our mail and we ran into this group of students. They were from Modesto, California. Their eyes were huge, they were all talking at the same time about how incredible the show was the night before. They were waiting to attend a pre-show lecture on Shakespeare in Love before seeing the production. We hugged, talked about the show and took lots of selfies! We were each surrounded by a group and listened to their stories of their parent’s border crossings, how they related with the characters, their love of the performances and the overall experience with such a tragic tale. Finally, as they were being gathered to the pre show talk I took out my phone and took a group selfie. Later one of the students, Jose Carranza, wrote a beautifully inspired post on Instagram after his visit to OSF and we began a conversation:

  • _joslayI loved every single experience I had at @osfashland the actors and productions were truly amazing and inspirational! Never have I truly been amazed to the point of numbness and pure amazement. All these wonderful actors have inspired me to pursue my dreams and passions no matter what gets in my way! @alibumaye29 @danmolina22 @osfashland@sabinazunigavarela
    sabinazunigavarelaWhat a beautiful post! Thank you for your words, and YES! Follow those dreams, make them a reality and persist ALWAYS!!! 💖
    _joslay@sabinazunigavarela thank you so much! Your show and performance meant so much to me not only because the story paralleled my life so deeply, but also because it touched my soul in ways no show has ever done before! Thank you so much for being my true inspiration!
    sabinazunigavarela@_joslay gracias, your words mean the world! Stay in touch okay?☺️
  • _joslay@sabinazunigavarela of course! One day I hope I’m blessed to perform along side you! 💖

In both Henry IV, Part One and Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, he was able to see himself. He watched actors that looked like him, talked like him, up on stage and was reassured that he is on the right path. And who knows, a few years down the line we may end up on a stage together… It’s a small world and when we are able to take time and look at each other and have a conversation we can begin to bridge divides, find common ground and create a space for healing.


Morning Coffee Conversation with Luis Alfaro, OSF Actor Nancy Rodriguez and Me with the Latino Network group  Unid@s

Today  conversation about  w/Luis Alfaro, Nancy Rodriguez, Sabina Zuniga Varela! Portland Latino Network UNID@S – at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

On Saturday, March 18th, I had the pleasure of participating in a morning conversation with Luis Alfaro, OSF actor Nancy Rodriguez and the participants of The Latino Network group Unid@s. This was a group of 17 powerhouse Latino Non-Profit leaders throughout the state of Oregon. We were lead by Luis in introducing ourselves along with sharing where we saw ourselves in 5 years. Everyone was so open and honest with their dreams and hopes, worries and fears, there was a lot of encouragement and laughter, moments of reflection and questions. The group saw Julius Caesar the night before and were scheduled to see our show that evening. Nancy and I shared our personal journeys towards becoming professional actors and Luis facilitated the conversation with questions. I loved hearing Nancy share about the connections she made between Shakespearian language and Spanish when talking with a group of students. The Unid@s group recognized the complexity and poetic nature between the two languages as well. We touched on representation, how we as actors aim to find the truest facets of authenticity when preparing a role. It was eye opening to sit in this circle and share, just talk, make connection and conversation.


After the show we were invited back to the same room for a meal, some wine and an informal talk back. The emotions were high, personal stories were shared, individuals gave their impressions of what “popped” for them in the production. It was striking to hear from our youngest cast member, Jahnangel “J.J.” Jimenez share what is going through his mind as an actor in the final moments of the play. We didn’t have to say goodby because the majority of the group are out of Portland and Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles was just announced as part of the 2017-18 season at Portland Center Stage in partnership with OSF. So hopefully this conversation will continue in the fall…

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On Sunday the 19th I took a 5:40am flight to Los Angles to attend the closing matinee of my love’s play: God Looked Away @ The Pasadena Playhouse. I had a connection in Salt Lake City and was a nervous wreck because we were grounded for 2 hours due to a mechanical malfunction on the plane. By the time I landed at LAX I had just enough time to catch a LYFT, put makeup on, some heels and earrings. I arrived at the theatre 2 minutes before curtain! The show was incredible, so moving and painful to watch the struggle between two artists trying to connect after years of living together and now facing the present turning into memory…Miles’ character “Baby” brings the show to an end with a heartbreaking monologue, his emotion was raw, delicate and pained. It took me a long time to get up from my seat after curtain call. I knew that he left a piece of himself on that stage and that this production has added such dimension to his personal journey and craft as an artist. I could not have been prouder to witness that moment…

His family was there (Mom, Dad, Brothers, Aunts and Uncle) and afterwards the green room was filled with hugs, tears, selfies and congratulations. We attended the closing night party and the cast and crew went through the inevitable bittersweet actions of saying “thank you,” “I will miss you..” & “until next time…” We celebrated with his family at our favorite Pasadena diner: Dupar’s later that night. We toasted to the success of Miles’ run and rang in my birthday with a slice of Pecan Pie and a live version of The Beatle’s song “Birthday” sung by Mile’s dad Rich and his brother Mike!

Monday morning March 20th was my BIRTHDAY & The First Day of Spring!!!

We began the day with breakfast at Euro Pane with the Central Valley family before they headed back to Visalia. They had ONE cream puff left, and it was MINE! At 2:30, around the time I was born I had a great birthday phone call with my parents. It’s always hard to be away from them on special occasions, but just hearing their voice makes it bearable. I then headed to the DMV to renew my drivers license, which expired on my BD,  while Miles’ went to the theatre to clean out his dressing room. When he returned he surprised me with a beautiful arrangement of Orchids, Freesia and Wax flowers along with the softest, sweetest stuffed pup, whom I promptly named “Percy” (inspired by Persephone, who returns every year on the first day of spring!) We then headed to the Blue Bar at the Hotel Constance  and he treated me to Birthday appetizers: Fanny Bay Oysters, Short Rib Quesadillas and Rose. (Fun Fact, considering we have a woman developer in our play: The seven-story Hotel Constance was built in 1926 by Constance V. Perry, a prominent local businesswoman. At the time, Pasadena was one of the country’s top resort destinations for wealthy Easterners who came there to escape cold weather.) We then went home to rest, both being exhausted, me from traveling and he from closing an emotionally draining show, both from the celebrating. But at 11:30pm we decided to hit one final favorite spot to round out the evening: Amigo’s, where you can find the BEST margaritas. ( I recommend the Skinny Cadillac, there is no extra sugar or mix, just lime juice, tequila and a float of Grand Marnier…!)  We crave their garlic shrimp and chile verde on the regular. They even gave me a tequila birthday shot, complete with a candle sticking out of the lime! The night came to a close with the two of us Pisces cuddled up in our Pasadena living room watching  Finding Dory on Netflix, such a sweet movie… “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

The next morning I had to board a plane back to Ashland, Birthday flowers and Persy in my satchel. Tears in our eyes we said “see you SOON,” since Miles’ will be making the drive up later this week….! I know he has to be in LA for auditions, work and to tend to our Pasadena home, but I am so grateful that he is going to make the trip up here to experience this magic little theatre town, and so that we can finally be in the same place for more than a few days at a time…When I arrived home I had two care packages waiting for me, from Mom and Dad and my Tia Frances and Comadre Vivian. The gifts were so sweet, perfect and made me feel extra special and connected, their words brought comfort to my heart and a smile to my face.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend, so much energy, dialogue, artistry, love and celebration. A weekend like this reminds me how important communication is. Even the smallest amount of words shared on FB, a text, a phone call, a letter, a “how are you?,” a hug, an “are you ok?”… can change the world for someone. Taking the time to expose ourselves to conversation, to ask questions, to share stories, to celebrate, to listen and observe is a type of self care that we all need a lot more of these days… So today, take a moment and find time to communicate with someone, anyone… give a little piece of yourself and you will be amazed at what you get back…

Here is an incredible story I just came across that reveals the power of communication:

Zimbabwe’s public health system, like other sectors, has been hit by a financial crisis.

With a population of around 16 million, doctors say there are only 12 public health psychiatrists in the whole country.

Now, a group of grandmothers is using what they call ‘friendship benches’ to help thousands of people suffering from mental health problems in the country.

 Friendship Benches

The Friendship Bench Can Help Chase The Blues Away

FB zimbabwe

How grandmothers help fight depression in Zimbabwe


#MojadaMedeaOSF: WE ARE HERE…

Mojada Full Poster OSF

February 26th, 2017 we opened Mojada: A Medea in Los Angles  by Luis Alfaro, Directed by Juliette Carillo, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The matinee crowd was electric, when Luis Alfaro introduced himself in the recorded curtain speech the theatre erupted in cheers that continued until Luis himself stood up. Then the cheers and yells continued. The young actor who plays my son, JJ Jimenez, myself and VIVIS, who plays Tita were standing at places, our ears ringing with the noise of the crowd. The lights dimmed, our cue light went off and I stepped onto the stage for the third time as Luis Alfaro’s Medea.

mojada-1 Prologue

Jahnangel “JJ” Jimenez as Acan and Sabina Zuniga Varela as Medea    Photo by Jenny Grahm

I started this blog in 2012 along with my first equity show: Bruja @ The Magic Theatre, directed by Loretta Greco. This was the first incarnation of what is now Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles. In 2015 I portrayed Medea in a production at the Getty Villa co-produced with The Theatre @ Boston Court. And now we are off and running at the top of the season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where all four of the first shows of the 2017 season feature Latinx leads! WE ARE HERE!

OSF Top of Season

Armado Duran as Caesar in Julius Caesar; Sabina Zuniga Varela as Medea in Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles; Daniel Molina as Hal in Henry IV Part One & Jamie Ann Romero as Viola in Shakespeare in Love.

This past Saturday we had a matinee that was filled to the brim with High School students from the East Coast, Sacramento and Santa Barbara. After the show our Stage Manager hosted a dynamic talk back with the audience. When the post show ended I talked at length with several of the audience members, students and teachers. The conversations went beyond “congratulations” and “good jobs” and quickly dove into questions, stories and discussions…

Four interactions have stayed with me from that afternoon. First, a tall, thin African student in a beautiful red sweater introduced himself to me and began by saying “I am trying not to cry…” He then shared with me that his parents are from the Ivory Coast and the line that really stuck out to him was when Medea’s son tells her “Mom, speak English…” He began to cry and talk about how his family has struggled with assimilation. He pointed to his sternum and explained that this story had hit him at his core, and he was going to need time to process it. We hugged for a long time, both of us with tears of connection on our faces. After speaking to a few other students I noticed a young Asian woman who was being consoled by the young man from the Ivory Coast, she was crying. I walked up to her and asked if I could hug her, she quietly said yes and we too held each other full of emotion. I asked her name and she shared with me that she was here in the United States at a boarding school, from Hong Kong, with no family in this country. She was particularly curious about  how I, as an actor, deal with the emotions of my character of Medea. “Do her emotions become a part of you?” We talked about how healthy it is to cry, I mentioned some self-care I have discovered for this role is taking a shower right after I walk off the stage from curtain call. We recalled a line that Tita has in the play when she is recounting taking a shower after crossing the border: “I let the water run, and the tears follow.” Our tears turned to smiles as we snapped selfies and thanked each other for the communal experience.  Next, a young (I think caucasian student, but his Spanish pronunciation was excellent, so who knows what his beautiful background may be) man introduced himself and asked if he could chat with me about a few lingering questions he had. We had the OSF bricks to ourself for a few minutes and delved into a deep discussion about why Medea feels so stuck and scared in the United States. Why does she not let herself try and succeed like Hason? What is it that is holding her back? And of course WHY does she commit her final act…? He was so intrigued about her thoughts and trauma, about understanding why she was the way she was. Soon his classmates joined him and we said our goodbyes. As I was walking away a young Latinx student stopped me to introduce herself. She was from the school in Santa Barbara and was one of a group of students who wrote essays to qualify to go on the school trip to OSF. There were hundreds of students who wrote essays and she made the cut. She mentioned in particular that her essay focused on the fact that Luis Alfaro’s play was part of the season. We hugged and smiled, took a photo and I asked her to send me a copy of her essay.

Granite Bay HS

Twitter photo from Theatre @ Granite Bay One of the High School groups who saw all four shows this weekend at OSF!

Four students from vastly different backgrounds, bloodlines, cities and countries found themselves on common ground in a theatre on a Saturday afternoon. We connected with our personal lenses, our personal hiSTORIES, our emotions. This is the generation that has inherited the scars, wounds and genetic memory of this country and the countries of their ancestors. If we all dig deep enough we will find the immigrant story in our family tree. If we open up we can ask questions about hurt and sacrifice and struggle and journey. If we really want to we can find more to connect on rather than separate.

It is incredible to look at the journey this story has made from that first production in 2012 in San Francisco to today. In 2017 WE ARE HERE at OSF, reaching thousands with this story that now has an added weight of importance to it as our Divided United States struggles with the hurtful, harmful and negative attitudes towards immigrants and refugees. All of the work that is going on in the American Theatre, on our Film&TV sets, all of it must step up to enrich that diverse and dynamic mirror that we are working hard to reflect. Our work as artists requires us to say loud and proud: WE ARE HERE! So that our audiences can see themselves and they too can shout: WE ARE HERE!

As we celebrate the diversity that is on stage at OSF this season  we must also celebrate the diversity of those who are sitting in the audience, completing our storytelling circle. The many generations, the many languages, the many colors, the many emotions, the many travels…

WE ARE HERE… All of us from SOMEWHERE.

What is your immigrant story?

Videos on Mojada:A Medea in Los Angeles @ OSF:

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival presents “The Past is Always Present: Luis Alfaro as a Citizen Artist”A Festival Noon Conversation with Tiffany Ana López ((Director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University, Dramaturg for Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, and member of the National Latina/o Theater Alliance)

Snapshot: Melding the Modern & the Ancient Scenic and Costume Designer Christopher Acebo shares the inspiration behind the designs of this season’s production of Luis Alfaro’s MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES. This powerful and timely production is playing in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre through July 6, 2017.

Director & Playwright Interview: MOJADA: A MEDEA IN LOS ANGELES Playwright Luis Alfaro and director Juliette Carrillo discuss Alfaro’s play and its contemporary setting in Los Angeles among immigrants. MOJADA will be staged in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre from February 19 through July 6



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