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

Happy Birthday Dad!



a poem for my Father’s 70th Birthday


It’s the smile,

no the laugh,

maybe the nose,

the eyes…

Those are him, those are me.

His blood, my blood.

The words he yelled from the bleachers still echo in my ears:

“Follow your shot!”

Now I yell that at the television every time a player misses.

He taught me

Guided me

I can fix things because of him.

He soothed me

He reprimanded me

I want to be a better person because of him.

He raised me

He praised me

I am who I am because of him.

He supports me

He loves me

I am able to give back and tell stories because of him.

His smile lights up my heart

His laughter is electric and brings me joy

His eyes see me and tell me the truth

His face brings me peace.

I look up to him and I can see myself.

I look like my Dad.





On the afternoon of May 20th, 1999 I got a call at work that Esther was in labor.

(I have known Esther for over 30 years, she is the definition of a BEST FRIEND)

I showed up smelling of fajitas and lime juice, in my work uniform.

She had been in labor for hours and when I showed up we were only minutes away from  a miracle.

Her mother and I were allowed in with her as the birthing started.

None of us knowing if it was going to be a boy or a girl.

Loyola, Esther’s mom, keep rubbing her belly saying “Come on Cassie, come on Cassandra..” Knowing it was going to be a girl.

And that she was: a girl, a woman and an Archuleta.

In her first few minutes of life, after watching her appear into our world, she was grabbing the blanket under her and sticking it into her mouth.

Doing a one armed push up.

Full head of hair, and full vision of what she wanted.

Today, she walked and graduated High School.

A mysterious, beautiful, creative and wonderuous child.

She is my first birth, my special little girl.

She walks across that stage and claims her education and her journey.

And I know that great things are in store for her.

I am awestruck and amazed.

The future is in good hands because of her.

Cassandra is taking on the world, and I cannot wait to see what happens next…

Congratulations my sweet child, my perfect example of life and love.

I am so proud of you, so honored to know you and be a part of your life.

Even though I am far away,  you are always on my mind…

I love you Cassandra, thank you for helping me experience and believe in the miracle of life!!!


Tia Sabina



#MojadaMedeaOSF: Dia De Las Madres Part 2.

When I first sat down to write my blog post today I realized it was the perfect day to memorialize the weekend I had a few weeks back in Chicago with my parents. So I wrote that post and then I began to think about Mothers, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the Mother’s who have lost their children. Especially those in Mexico, where Mother’s Day is being celebrated today. So another post came about that I wanted to share…

May 10th is a bittersweet day because over the past decades Mothers in Mexico have organized protests calling out the government on their lack of help in finding their lost children. Las Desaparecidos (the dissapeard ones) the women, men, boys and girls who have gone missing by the thousands in a country plagued by drug trafficking, gang warfare, cheap labor, dirty politics and misogyny.

In 2003 I learned a lot about the missing children of Juarez, especially the women and girls, when I joined the theatre troup Las Meganenas. They had an original work that had been performed numerous times called Rio De Lagrimas/River of Tears. The story followed a young student who was learning about NAFTA and the effects on our neighboring country Mexico. After falling into a deep sleep she is visited by three spirits that take her on a journey of transformation, learning, knowledge, history and loss. She first becomes La Malinche and recounts how her children, born from a Spanish father, were taken from her. She then transforms into La Llorona (The Crying One) and mourns for her children that have been killed by her own hands. Finally she transforms into a Maquiladora worker (Factory Worker) who represents the thousands of women who are faced with living far away from home in very dangerous surroundings and who suffer abuse, rape and even death.

The piece is infused with music and photography, ritual and poetry. One of the most poignant moments was when we would ask the audience members to read names off of small stones we handed out with the programs at the top of the show, and lay them to rest at the altar on stage. We held space for these lost children, said their names, promising not to forget.

It was one of the most challenging and fulfilling pieces I have ever worked on, as a director and actor. These women, Las Meganenas, are still a huge part of my heart and working with them is one of the reasons I am telling the story I am right now with Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles. Their mission to talk about those that no one wants to talk about, issues that are swept under a rug, pain that is not recognized is instilled in me. Their work helped me form my mission as an artist to tell relevant and important stories. An each of them are Mothers, who in their daily lives nurture and love the next generation of storytellers and change makers, including me…


Las Meganenas! (L-R) Valerie Borrego, Vivian Fernandez, Apryl Begay, SZV, Michelle Otero Soledad Hindi, Alicia Lueras Maldonado.

Recently I was chatting with a group of Latino students on a tour of OSF, they weren’t going to be able to watch Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles in their short visit, but they were curious what it was about. I asked them if they had ever heard of La Llorona and their faces lit up! We talked about what happened to this woman who is so heartbroken that she takes the lives of her own children. I explained that my play is similar and based of an ancient tale that explored the same themes. A connection was made through a shared history of story…

Today and this weekend has got to be very difficult for those who have lost their children, in whatever manner. From Mexico to Syria, from down the block to our own homes. Loss of a child is something that I cannot fathom, and yet it is something that I am dealing with each night I take on this role. That final moment of the play when I have to stand on stage in the stark horror of my choice. I wonder how those who have inflicted pain and violence on the children of our world are haunted? How does the blood of our children, which soaks the earth we walk on, haunt the future generations? How do we hold space for those that are mourning, those who are haunted, those who haunt…?


I think we can begin by talking about it, and no matter what steps we choose to take part in the fight, we vow to NEVER FORGET & NEVER BE SILENT.

Tell Their Stories.

Hopefully, today or sometime this week we are all given the chance to thank a Mother for their work, their love, their support, their gifts. Even if it’s a whispered prayer to those who have passed on, because they are still with us. For all of you reading who are Mothers, THANK YOU. You are the ultimate creators of joy, love, good and hope. The light in the dark…

Feliz Dia De Los Madres!


#MojadaMedeaOSF: Dia De Los Madres Part 1.


Panoramic View of Maria Varela’s photography exhibit at The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. On Display until July 30th, 2017.                                                                                       (Maria is pictured looking into the glass display on the left.)

Feliz Dia De Los Madres!

May 10th is when Mother’s Day is celebrated in Mexico and I thought there is no better day to write about the magical weekend I had in Chicago celebrating my Mother’s photography exhibit!

(For more history on Mother’s Day in Mexico check out my cousin Teresa Zuniga Odom’s latest post on Southern Señora HERE!)

On April 22nd I boarded a plane to Chicago to meet my parents to celebrate my moms first solo photography exhibit at the National Museum Of Mexican Art! It was a whirlwind of a weekend, not enough time of course, but we packed in lot’s of adventures and celebrations!


I took a Lyft straight to the museum from the airport to see the exhibit, and was awestruck at the elegance of the curation. The beginning of the photographs are accompanied by a quote from my mother that sets the tone for the collection of prints…


I had never seen most of the images on display, and the ones I had seen before were just negatives, slides or printed small and included in books. The prints were beautiful, the captions were perfect, and a painful, deep and raw story unfolded about resistance, organizing, struggle, hands, earth, the power of movements and legacy.

photo and title

It was very moving to stand in that gallery and watch so many different people enter and walk from photo to photo. I wanted to shout “This is my Mom! She’s the one who took all of these photographs!” But I knew there was something special about the three of us, my parents and me just watching others look and read and ponder….

the three of us

It was a bit surreal, looking at my mom’s images, her camera, the literature materials she helped create, the photo of her in her 20s next to her car… It’s hard to imagine what she was experiencing, at such a young age, day to day in an area of our country rife with hate and inequality. What is inspiring about this collection of images is the breadth of her views through the lens. The many faces, hands, eyes, voices… over so many years and terrains.

We had a late lunch at 5 Rabanitos in the Pilsen area just a few blocks from the museum before heading downtown to our home for the weekend at the Historic Whitehall Hotel. The view from our room was incredible, we could see Lake Michigan from our window!

That evening we had dinner with my Aunt Frances and Harvey who were in town from Albuquerque and my Aunt Angie who flew in from Denver to surprise my mom! Both of my aunts were born in Chicago, a fact I never knew, and my mother lived here from 4th-12th grade. They shared a few memories of living in Chicago and my Aunt Angie recalled being a young girl when my mom was away working in the South for SNCC. What a great gathering to celebrate her work, there was something very momentous about having family in town to witness this event, this first solo exhibit of my Mother’s images…

Sunday afternoon I talked my parents into attending the final performance of my dear friend and colleague Nathan Singh‘s production of Wig Out by Tarell Alvin McCrany. It is his final semester of his MFA in Directing at DuPaul University and soon he is going to be tearing up regional theatre stages all over the country! It was a fantastic production, and I glanced over a few times at my folks who were totally enjoying themselves… Afterwards we took him out for a drink a bit of food before heading off to the museum.

That night was an evening discussion that was a part of Open Engagement 2017 that happened to be taking place in Chicago. This event is “an annual, three-day, artist-led conference dedicated to expanding the dialogue around and creating a site of care for the field of socially engaged art. The conference highlights the work of transdisciplinary artists, activists, students, scholars, community members, and organizations working within the complex social issues and struggles of our time.

two Marias

I called it Las Dos Marias, a discussion between interdisciplinary artist Maria Gaspar and my mother Maria Varela. The Two Marias had met a handful of times before this evening and there wasn’t really a planned structure for the conversation. Maria G. had a few questions and they just let themselves talk and flow while sharing photos and videos of each of their work. Afterwards there was a Q&A session and then we headed back downtown for a celebratory late night dinner at my Mom’s new favorite spot: Lux Bar! (We had been there for breakfast that very morning!)

couch and stage

What I came away with from this discussion is the struggle between art and activism. The discussion that is alive and well about what tools are used for the most effective change in movements. My mother does not call herself an “artist” and when asked about her beginnings as a photographer she describes a very utilitarian process. Now looking back, almost 50 years later it is hard not to see her images as art and her as an artist. But it raises a wonderful question about the role/use/effectiveness of art for an activist and furthermore for a movement. Why do we use mediums such as photography, video, dance, spoken word, painting, graffiti, multi-media, etc? What draws us to these tools and how does our relationship change/grow/evolve over time when we are a part of a movement, or trying to become active towards a passionate goal for change?


Las Dos Marias (Photo taken by my Uncle Harvey)

What I enjoyed most about the discussion was the energy in the room that can only happen when those present leave the space wondering “What can I do next to answer these questions…?”

I found myself drawn to theatre as an effective tool in teaching and directing. The power stories had to help regain confidence in a wounded student, or to see a community react to a story that reflected their dreams and struggles. Then when I began acting and speaking the words of Latin@ playwright, and even Shakespeare and classic writers, that covered political, relevant and sensitive issues I realized the power of my voice. Similar to my mom I have a hard time calling myself an Actor at times because I feel like it doesn’t encompass all that I do towards my mission in life. However, as I have grown in my profession I realize, in the words of William Shakespeare, “It’s All One.” My work as an actor is just another facet of my activism, my work towards change.

These photos of my Mom’s are not the only result of her work, they are a a valuable and poignant part of her life’s mission as an activist. She is a teacher, an organizer, a collaborator, a mentor, a mediator, a veteran, a mother, and so much more. Whether she chooses to call herself an artist is no matter, what is important is that she picked up that camera in the first place.

padres and skyline

Monday my Dad treated us to one of my Mom’s Bucket List items: a boat tour of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. We chose the Signature Lake & River tour, chartered by Wendell Boats. It was a beautiful day to be out on the water and over the 90 minutes the tour guide taught us so many interesting and hilarious facts about The Windy City. Legend has it that the name does not come from the weather, rather it was because the politicians from that area were known to be long-winded and a bit too talkative! We began just under the DuSable bridge and headed east out to Lake Michigan past the famous Navy Pier. The view of Chicago from the lake was breathtaking, and then when we headed in along the river there was one huge building after another. It’s hard to imagine that most of this great city had burned to the ground in the Chicago Fire of 1871.

After the boat ride we walked a bit too far in search of oysters. We googled a place at The Navy Pier, but were led astray by a bit of false advertising. So we ended up at Bubba  Gump Shrimp. The silver lining was that my other amazing friend and colleague Megan Breen was in town workshopping a play and she met us for lunch. Watching her and my folks completely ace the Forrest Gump trivia from our server was astounding!


It’s never easy to say goodbye to my parents, for this trip I got to do it one at a time. My dad left earlier and mom and I had one night left in Chicago. Before my dad took off I snapped a photo of us outside of the hotel. After his car drove away my mom and I looked at each other and agreed that he had a great time, no matter how much he dislikes the hassle of traveling. It was wonderful to have him with us as we celebrated my mom and explored the city of Chicago…


Mom and I were exhausted and decided to just snuggle up in our hotel room, watch a movie and rest up before heading out for dinner. We watched Sicario, one of my favorite films that is really hard to watch but beautifully shot. (And my best friend Kim Larrichio is in it!) We roused ourselves from bed after the last haunting scene and walked down the street to one of our favorite Chicago spots: Gibson’s. We ordered dry gin martini’s, a spicy lobster stuffed artichoke and listened to the piano player’s renditions of classic jazz. Then we ended the night at Lux Bar, of course, for dinner and a glass of bubbly to toast to the end of an incredible weekend!


The morning before she left we encountered a bed of tulips with one tulip that wasn’t like the rest. We were drawn to it and I snapped a few shots. It reminded me that in our work it is important to remember our voice, that part of ourself that makes us unique. The enigmatic fact that each cell of our being makes us different from one another but also connects us. We are part of a whole and we are an individual, an important balancing act towards making change. To stand up for ourselves, speak our voice, be ourselves, but to remember that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. We are all one…

I’ve grown up traveling the country with my mother and I never tire of spending time with her walking the streets, visiting museums, finding new favorite eateries and seeing the sites. This trip was extra special because the visit to the museum was to see her work, her incredibly relevant, historic, astounding and important work. I couldn’t be more proud to be her daughter!

Chicago holds a special place in her heart and in mine as well, it is where I first met Luis Alfaro after all…. and now here I am at OSF starring in his adaptation of Medea.

And guess who flies out to Ashland in less than 24 hours from now? MOM and DAD! We have another adventure planned for Mother’s Day weekend, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for making the trip..

So here’s to my Mother and her incredible span of work that has brought such depth and adventure to our family’s life.  Her life continues to inspire me every day and I cannot to wait to see what she does next!

Feliz Dia De Los Madres Mom, thank you for everything… I love you!





#MojadaMedeaOSF: Break Time = Highlights and Oil Pastels

I am on the tail end of a 6 day hiatus from our show up here at OSF. The incredible and highly anticipated Universes’ production of UniSon went into tech this week in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, thus giving the current running productions in that space some time off, it’s called the “Bowmer Break.” The temperatures have dropped recently and I have found myself spending a lot of time at home, binging netflix (Finally finishing all of The Sopranos, Completing Big Little Lies in 2 days, and now I’m in the middle of 13 Reasons Why and Broadchurch) keeping score while watching Jeopardy, the occasional Yoga with Adriene video, and having fun in the kitchen! It’s been a time of reflection, rest, creativity and long walks.

Looking back at the end of March here are a few of the highlights:



It was a whirlwind of a week, too short by far, but filled with exploration, eating, walking, laughing and just soaking each other up. I was so happy to finally be able to share this little corner of the earth with him, the sights, the people, the beauty and wonder. He saw our show four times and each time had new insights and thoughts about our story. We found favorite places, enjoyed being at home together and chatted with old and new friends. It would be a dream for both of us to work on these stages during a season together. We know it would take the perfect alchemy to work that out, but for now we can dream about being on that Elizabethan Stage together one day… The Scottish Play perhaps…? In the 2+ years we have known each other, saying goodbye hasn’t become any easier. I was a challenge to make the decision to come up here and spend 6 months away from our Pasadena Paradise, but after seeing our show he told me “I am so happy you took this gig, this is so important.” It made my heart swell to hear that. His support over the years is a huge part of why I was able to be here in the first place. He invited me to live with him in Pasadena when I needed to be a “local hire” for a play in Los Angeles. Since then he has been such a force of inspiration, comfort, sustenance and love. How I wish he could be up here the whole time, but he has important work of his own to do…. So until the next time he can escape from LALA land, I will hold the memories of his visit close to my heart…



The week after Miles left I had the pleasure of meeting two school groups that attended our show:


Selfie Post Show with students and teachers of Kehillah Jewish High School!

The first was a small group of theatre students from Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto. A dear colleague, who I met over 2 years ago in the bay area, contacted me to ask if I wouldn’t mind meeting with his students before our show to get to know them and talk about life as a theatre artist. We met on a sunny day, had lunch and a great conversation about what each student’s passions were in the theatre, be it stage management, directing, acting, writing, set design, they covered it all. They saw the show that evening and then I met up with them for a brief chat after the show. It was a wonderful connection to know they were in the audience, and talking with them afterwards was so nourishing. They shared their thoughts about the final, devastating moment and we chatted about technical and emotional moments in the show. It was a treat!


Selfie with students from Oregon School for The Deaf!

During the month of March I participated in a 5 course class on ASL, taught by OSF’s very own Julie Simon. Although I have a very basic grasp of this incredible language I was so excited when I ran into the students from Oregon School for the Deaf after an evening production. I communicated as much as I could and they all helped me with phrases and words I didn’t know. Our show was interpreted that evening and when I asked how it went they told me it was one of the best interpreted shows they had attended. We had three interpreters, one to play Medea, one to play Tita and one to play Acan, Armida, Hason and Josefina. They saw the show 6 times to study the performance and prep for one night of translation! How I wish I could have watched their performance. I am so proud to work for an organization that recognizes the need and importance of incorporating ASL into their productions and what a thrill it was to use what little ASL I have absorbed with this fantastic group of students!

The final highlight is a family outing!


My onstage son Acan, played beautifully by Jahnangel “JJ” Jimenez invited the cast to see his brother perform at the Camelot Theatre in Talent, OR. They have a series called Spotlight that showcases different musicians and for this particular show JJ’s brother Rodrigo portrayed Ritchie Valens. My stage husband, Lakin Valdez, and I drove to talent to meet up with JJ, his sister and Mom. The production was called “The Day The Music Died,” and followed the lives of the three artists (Ritchie Valens , Buddy Holly and The Big Boppa) whose plane went down on February 3rd, 1959. I was amazed at the voices of all the artists on stage and the live band was spectacular. The narrator, who also sang and played music, was a cousin to Ritchie Valens on her mother’s side. It was a wonderful evening of music history, and Rodrigo sounded just like Ritchie Valens!!! We saw a few folks who had seen our show and we joked about us having a family night out: Medea, Hason and Acan….

In between binging TV, walking around Ashland and cooking I dusted off my art supplies!

IMG_1013 (1)I’ve always been a multimedia artist, and since a very young age I have drawn/colored/doodled/sketched. During this break I picked up my Oil Pastels and began a series of pieces inspired by words and thoughts. I remember an art teacher I had at a young age who would push me to keep working every time I thought I was done with a piece. I realize now how much that practice comes into play in my acting. We are never completely done fully realizing our characters. There is always something more we can discover and work with. I forgot how meditative and calming it is to work with my hands and the colorful pastels. Patterns would emerge, feelings would surface, and the piece would reveal itself to me. Does anyone remember the activity in grade school that would involve a blank piece of paper with a black “squiggle” or “doodle” on it? Our assignment would be to make something of it, anything, with that one little shape. I specifically remember in 4th grade I turned a random shape on a blank page into a penguin in a desert….

Below are four pieces I created over the break. I am excited to keep going, and if you have any words or thoughts to inspire a piece leave me a comment!



Our long break is over and we have our first show after 6 days off!

It has been a rejuvenating time off but I cannot wait to get back to our theatre, our world, our story, our words…





#MojadaMedeaOSF: Conversations & Celebrations

O logo

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



HerStory: After the results.


Emma Esselstyn (center) joined thousands of demonstrators in Seattle.                     Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Her words are a collective yell in news feeds, comments, links, articles, texts, stories:

“Where can I sign up for Self Defense Classes?”

“I am not safe living here as an immigrant.”

“This is dangerous for us.”

“I can’t stop crying.”


Her daughters are confused and worried,

“The look on my daughter’s face was priceless.”

“My daughter was so upset.”

“My girl burst into tears.”

“I didn’t know how to tell her.”

“She doesn’t understand.”

Her youth from all walks of life are scared and in danger of being uprooted,

“Students hid under the bed this morning, in fear of deportation, and didn’t want to go to school.”

“What about my parents?”

Her protectors are taking to the streets and filling the air with their chants,

“How did this happen?”

“Not my President.”

“White Lash”

“I feel so much anger.”


“If you see something, say something.”

She hears our angst, watches our tears fall, grasps our clenched fists.

Her voice fills our hearts with hope, action, love,

“Popular vote…”

“The healing power of sisterhood.”

“Thank You.”

“I Love You.”


“The future is Female, it is You.”

“Don’t be Afraid, be Loud.”

“The sun will rise in the morning.”

“We will not mourn, we will organize.”

The pens have been taken up with more purpose,

the shoes are laced with stronger determination,

the voices are turned up with clear objectives,

the eyes are clear with a specific plan,

and the hearts are full with a beating drum to guide the FIGHT,

To guide the ACTIVISM,

To guide the MOVEMENT,

To guide the ART,

Her voice still reminds us:

The time is NOW

The Time has ALWAYS been NOW


HerStory: Before the results…


She is in me.

Within my connective tissue and cells are parts of Her.

The air I breathe was once taken in by another who didn’t have the rights I do today.

The air I exhale will be passed on to another who will change the world.

Her name is many, her face is millions, her dreams are for everyone.

I can feel a heartbeat to a song that was formed in the caves and treetops.

In my throat is a yell, a Grito, a scream that comes from Her.

The past/prestent/future fights & struggles cause my hands to clench at INJUSTICE.

Those same hands are guided to grasp on to the hands of my family, fill the pages of journals, type updates and status posts, feel the tree trunks, the prick of a thorn on a rose, touch the face of my love, strum the strings of my guitar, send text messages, chop food and prepare meals, hold the pages of a script and dance with the air…

Those same hands are HERS, and they are the hands that cast a vote at this moment in HERStory.

A vote that couldn’t be cast  a mere century ago.

She was with me as I sat in my OB/GYN waiting room, interacting with a little girl filling out my ballot and darkening the circles.

She reminded me of our power.

She cannot be ignored.

Our power will not be ignored.

HERStory will continue to be told.

We are creators, we are magic, we are change makers and caretakers, we are Her.

OURStory is unfolding,

pages are being scripted,

stakes are high,

legacies are on the line,

challenges have been made,

help has been given,

forces have been joined,

breath is being held,

All eyes are on Our Divided United States.

Her voice whispers in my ears:

“The time is NOW.”


You Never Can Tell: Closing



Final look into the dressing room mirror, with my newly purchased costume jacket and belt from wardrobe!

Closing weekend: Friday morning I picked up Tia Angie from the Oakland airport, in from Denver to see the show! We lunched in Jack London Square at Lungomare, walked along the water and then checked her into her Berkeley hotel, The Rose Garden Inn (A great find!) Friday night, Miles arrived from an insane drive up the I-5 to celebrate with me for the weekend. Saturday afternoon Angie watched the Matinee, the cast had lunch in-between shows, Miles and our friend Linda watched the evening show in freezing Orinda weather and then we caught up over late night food and drinks at Eureka! in Berkeley. Sunday morning Angie, Miles and I had coffee before taking her to the airport and Sunday afternoon we closed with an incredible final show to a standing ovation with Miles and our friends George and Lisa in the audience. (At intermission Miles sent me a bouquet of handpicked roses!) We exited stage left, got out of costumes and joined in a champagne toast in the green room led by Artistic Director Eric Ting (Who is directing the next show on the Cal Shakes stage Othello, opening Sept. 14th!) Goodbyes, congrats, thank yous and hugs flit about from person to person, the dressing rooms were cleaned out, costume pieces were purchased and a few of us went to The Fourth Bore Tap Room and Grill for a final supper.


Monday morning I woke up and realized I had been going over all of my lines from the play in my dreams, I laid there for a few moments and just kept going over them, savoring the brilliant language, before gearing up to pack and hit the road. We cleaned out the little casita I was staying in and headed south to join our friends for a Labor Day BBQ in San Mateo then drove to Visalia for the night to break up the trip halfway. Tuesday afternoon we hit the road again, listened to the new De La Soul album (It’s fantastic!) and arrived back to LaLa land!

Today Miles is on set shooting part of an episode of his latest adventure (Stay Tuned!) and I am sitting on our balcony in Pasadena, listening to the Academy of Ancient Music radio on Pandora, looking at my Bay Area roses from Miles (They are still in full bloom!) sipping some coffee,  and writing this post. Images of the stage, my costumes, the music, the cast, the scenes keep swirling in my mind’s eye…

My mother wrote in an email this morning: “I know this can be a down time for you….but its also a time to rest and retrieve yourself back from the 19th century…Something does always seem to come up for you….even if it is just auditions…..hopefully you can detach, replenish and feel good about what you achieved with your work.”

She’s right. It’s always a tough transition to leave a show, to leave a cast, a stage and work of art that I have been immersed in for close to two months. Time and time again, we do this as theatre artists. We become a part of a family and then have to go through a separation. After each closing of a show our theatre family grows bigger and bigger and the world seems a little smaller. It is inevitable that I will cross paths with these beautiful artists again and I look forward to that day. I hold in my heart the dear memories of my time as Gloria, the challenging task of working through Shaw’s language and emotions, discovering the twists and turns of her story, revealing the love and labor through live theatre. I miss my cast-mates, the Bay Area weather, the walk up the hill to the theatre, the thrill of walking on stage each night, but I am home and I really missed home.

I no longer have to look at my love Miles through Skype or FaceTime. I can talk to our plants and the hummingbirds, our grapefruits are almost ripe, the Pasadena streets have been missing my footsteps and the LA theatre scene is bustling with shows to attend. I am filled with gratitude for the experience of my first George Bernard Shaw play, I am proud of my work and remain in awe of the extreme talent of the cast and crew of You Never Can Tell. The audiences were fantastic and Cal Shakes is an incredible company to work for! I am also blessed by all of the family and friends who came out to support our Shaw Show, thank you for making the trip!

Congratulations to ALL who were involved in this unforgettable production: Thank You from the bottom of my heart!

Until Next Time….


Instagram post for our closing show by John R. Lewis

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