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 tag “Luis Alfaro”

This 4th of July…


Benjamin Luis McCracken(Acan), Alex Hernandez (Jason), Sabina Zúñiga Varela (Medea) and Socorro Santiago (Tita) Photo by Joan Marcus

Today the cast & crew of Mojada at The Public Theater in NYC have the day off. We’ve been deep in Tech rehearsals and have completed our first two preview performances. As we gear up to open on July 17th we will continue to work during the day, implementing changes, polishing moments and then sharing with more preview audiences. It’s been an incredible journey so far, one that I have been on for the past 7 years and yet today the themes of this play: immigration, love, sacrifice and trauma are just as relevant. Based on one of the first immigrant stories: Medea, this play tells the story of one family that gives up everything for the “American Dream.”

Click each poster image for a video history of the past productions:

Bruja The MagicMojadaGettyMojadaOSFMojadaPortland19Mojada_keyart_socialFacebook_1200x600_V1

I started this blog post back in 2012 when I was first cast as Medea in Luis Alfaro’s inaugural adaptation of Medea titled BRUJA at The Magic Theater. It was my first professional Equity play and was a beautiful rite of passage into this life as an actor. Today I reflect on the honor it has been to live in the skin of Medea, to tell this story and to continue the dialogue about the atrocities that are happening at our border.

 Last night I couldn’t get to sleep, I fell down the rabbit hole of reading articles online about the conditions of the detention centers and migrant camps at our border. There is a line in our play where the character of Pilar tells Medea: “Don’t be selfish, Medea. If you took Acan with you, they would probably separate you and put him out in a cage in the desert somewhere. Is that you want? Do you want Acan to suffer? What can you give him? Do you want him to end up like you?”

On this Independence Day I can’t help but think of the mothers and children that have been stripped of their freedom, detained and held without water or soap, sleeping on cement floors with hollowed looks in their eyes and dried tears on their cheeks.

For me, there is nothing to celebrate today.

Not while these brothers and sisters are trapped in that scar we call a border.

Organizations to Donate to:



MEDEA: They will never build a wall big enough. But they will always try. 


A child’s drawing depicting time spent in US Customs and Border Protection custody.

Articles I came across last night:

‘Nothing Prepares You for the Inhumanity of It’ by Elaine Godfrey

‘How a lack of personal care products contributes to harrowing conditions for detained migrants’ by Stephe Grob Plante

‘The Unimaginable Reality of American Concentration Camps’ by Masha Gessen

‘Everything We Know About the Inhumane Conditions at Migrant Detention Camps’ by Matt Stieb

‘Pediatricians share migrant children’s disturbing drawings of their time in US custody’ by Elizabeth Cohen





Flying the coop: from one Tribe to another…


In many regional theaters there is a wall where actors can “leave their mark” to commemorate the end of a run. Sometimes it is in the dressing rooms, sometimes in a backstage hallway or in a rehearsal space. Back in 2012 I signed my first wall when I closed my first professional Equity show: Bruja by Luis Alfaro, directed by Loretta Greco. On Sunday I signed the dressing room wall at Portland Center Stage where we just closed Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, directed by Juliette Carillo.

The journey of this show has been one that has shifted, flowed, moved and transformed over the years. In part because of the writing, the change in casts, locations and the political climate. I myself changed with the role, as one has too. She is a woman who has so many facets, so many thoughts and feelings, just as I do. The beautiful thing about live theatre and running the same show day after day is the growth that you accomplish, the flexibility and the surprises. I learned more about my strengths, my weaknesses, my fears and desires through this myth of Medea.

I also built family with this cast, joined a Tribe. We worked on this show for a better part of the year and as this play shares, dissects and explores the many facets of family, we did that too. It is a strange thing we do in the theatre, constantly joining and separating. Creating moments that become memories…

And now we are closed. This story sleeps as December comes into the world and I reflect on the final weekend in Portland:

Andy and Irene Robinson caught the Saturday Night show with their Daughter and Son in Law. Andy was the head of my MFA program at USC and led our class through some of the hardest, challenging, fulfilling classes for 3 years. He directed us in a studio project of Ted Huges adaptations of Greek myths: Tales from Ovid and then in our final year he directed us in 12th Night. His work in the classroom/rehearsal room, was one filled with charged energy, yearning, demands, love and joy. I couldn’t believe that he was there, probably better that I didn’t know. It’s an honor to continue to create with the spirit and passion he helped me recognize in myself.


In 2003 I formed a theatre company with an incredible group of New Mexican artists, organizers and community members. It came out of a feeling that there needed to be more Latin@ voices on our stages, more stories of authenticity. Michael was one of those creative forces that helped found Teatro Nuevo Mexico and produced my first Luis Alfaro experience when I played the title role in Electricidad. Michael, Janette Sanchez-Izenman and I all attended The University of New Mexico and continue to work in our creative arenas. They drove all the way from Seattle to complete our circle and hear our story, and I know that the fact that there is a painting behind us that highlights COMMUNITY is not an accident. Both of these folks are tearing it up in Seattle and working hard for their Tribe. UNM Lobos reunited!IMG_E5724Just before our final show we gathered on stage to recognize the culmination of this great journey…


Our stage manager, Chris Bolender, shared this letter with us. When we were in Ashland, OR for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Mary Meagan Smith was our assistant stage manager and she sent these words to us to hear before we said goodnight to our story:IMG_5729

Probably the most emotional part of closing this show was saying good by to Jahnangel “JJ” Jimenez, the young actor who played my son. We were all overcome with the feeling of finality, of familia separating, of not breathing the same air in the same space any more…IMG_5743

He became one of us, embraced and trusted us…IMG_5739

For that I will be forever grateful…IMG_5740

I know that this world is in good hands because of JJ… he makes this a better planet to live on…IMG_5742

The obligatory empty dressing room capture…IMG_5731

Tita’s garden and all of our set props broken down and packed away…IMG_5732

The empty stage…IMG_5733

Our Tribe, Our Family, forever connected in the trials and tribulations of telling our story…

Left-Right back: Vilma Silva (Armida) Nancy Rodriguez (Josephina) Chris Bolender (Stage Manager) VIVIS (Tita) SZV (Medea) Lakin Valdez (Hason) Front: Ken Yoshikawa (Soldier)


And now I am in New York, seeing the sights, watching plays, taking meetings, connecting with family and friends. I missed my Tribe, so I reached out to another one…

One the eve of a Full Super Moon, I gathered a few Kick Ass Womyn I knew were working and creating here in The Big Apple. Most of them I met through theatre and others I happened to meet through mutual friends. We gathered in the Parlor of Gloria Steinem’s house and had a salon. I was interested in hearing from others how they were feeling, how their creativity helped them through tough times, what are they working on, what are our dreams, who/what inspires us, how can we help each other.

We held space for each other, gifted each other with stories, laughter and truth. We also played dice, raffled off some beautiful thoughtful tokens and broke bread.

One of the activities was to take a moment in silence and write wishes for each other, express thoughts, quotes, beliefs in how to face life as a creative force. I then typed them up and sent it to the group, a manifesto of support, love and inspiration.

To remember we are not alone…


It was a feeling I will never forget… and I hope that even after I leave NYC they will continue to connect, reach out, communicate and gather.

KickAss Womyns Gathering.jpg

Clockwise, starting under the elephant portrait: Hanna Zwyben, Rachel Jenison, Vivia Font, Regina Bain, Kristin Condon, Alexis Roblan, Adriana Gaviria, Jamie Ann Romero, Agunda Okeyo, SZV, Cassandra Lopez, Erin O’Connor and Stephanie Swirsky.

Tribe is where your heart is, we can find it if we look. If we reach out, if we invite, if we share. Taking time for self-care can be an ongoing battle for some of us. Sometimes we can find help with others. Reuniting us with that sense of family, connection and love. Saying goodbye is an opportunity to say hello…

Who are your Tribes?

Tribe Feathers circle





#MojadaMedeaOSF: El Ultimo…


The Cast and Crew of Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2017

We did it! On July 6th, 2017 (the 110th birthday of Frida Kahlo) we closed the chapter on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival run of Luis Alfaro’s Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles.

Closing performances are surreal and bittersweet. We connect and build a family of cast and crew, then we have to break apart. This show is particularly special as this story has been on a journey for five years. When it began in 2012 at The Magic Theatre in San Francisco it was finding it’s voice for the first time, after runs in Chicago and Los Angeles it was finding it’s characters and setting, refining the language and movement. Here in Oregon the story has leapt off of the pages again and into the hearts of thousands. Our story has found itself and actively cultivates empathy, discussion and catharsis. Each incarnation has given voice to the voiceless, remembered the forgotten and held space in honor of those who sacrifice daily to live and breathe.


This is one of the most demanding roles I have faced. It is exhausting and exhilarating. Having approached Luis Alfaro’s Medea three times I have explored the depths and darkness of her plight over and over, and each time it has been a completely new experience.  The emotional demands, the heavy subject matter, the heartbreaking poetry, the love, the violence and the language permeate the rehearsal room and then bleed into the sacred space of the theatre. Something is conjured with this play, dark and light, new and old, sacred and profane, real and magical. The roots of this story run deep and I can’t help but thank these experiences in shaping my work as an artist and more importantly as a human.


L to R: 2012 Bruja @ The Magic Theatre, 2015 Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles @ The Getty Villa, 2017 Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles @ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Now after 42 performances, we take a pause in this chapter of our storytelling. The cast, set and costumes will be traveling to Portland Center Stage in November. Join us in the 5th production of this vital story in the American Theatre cannon and/or spread the word to your family and friends in the pacific northwest!

Until then I leave this video here as a remembrance of my journey with this production:




A HUGE thank you to everyone who joined us on the journey of this story. To the cast and crew, you are all incredibly talented artists and the world of theatre is a better place because of you! To all of the audience members who gave me hugs, words of encouragement and love, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. To all of the family and friends (Mom and Dad, Rich and Theresa, Tia Dolores, Lisa and Jenny, Wilma, Sarita, Rafael, Monica, Elmira, John Lescault, Randall… just to name a few) who traveled up to this little Southern Oregon theatre town, I thank you for being a part of this journey. To my OSF family, I love you and I will miss each and every one of you, but I carry you in my heart. To my love Miles, who saw the show 9 times and sent me 9 roses on closing, I couldn’t have done this without your support, understanding and love…


(Thank You)


Mojada Full Poster OSF





#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: 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



You Never Can Tell: Beginnings…

photo.jpgLook at this cast! Aren’t they all gorgeous? I am sure many of you theatre artists reading this are connected to one or more of these fine folks, because that’s how it works doesn’t it? We are all part of a huge, loving, hard working, kick-ass family of beings who live to tell stories… And here we are beginning a new adventure!

What a treat to be back in the Bay Area, creating some magic in a room with these artists! At the Helm of our Shaw Ship is Lisa Peterson, who was recently named Berkeley Rep’s Associate Director! Her Shavian knowledge, fantastic laugh and sharp eyes keep all of us on our toes as she sculpts our world and our words… This is my first time performing a G.B.S. play and I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone other than Lisa, and did I mention the jaw-dropping setting? The outdoor theatre in the golden Orinda hills and eucalyptus groves is a treat to the senses…

I’ve had many beginnings in The Bay Area… This sunny gray climate has influenced so much hunger and desire and excitement in my continued search for my role(s) as an artist in this world. Walking the streets of San Francisco, Mountain View, and now Oakland and Berkeley have informed my work and I have always been impressed with the tenacity and big heartedness of Bay Area artists, there is a truth that seeps from their every move…

My very first Equity gig was in San Francisco at The Magic Theatre, diving head first into Luis Alfaro’s adaptation of Medea with director Loretta Greco pushing me to the depths of the deep end, day after day. That show began my career as a professional Regional Theatre Actor. In fact, I was in rehearsals for that play when I self taped an audition that booked my first season at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Since then I have traveled to different states to tell stories, standing on various stages, forming lifelong bonds and connections. Two years ago this month, I met my love, Miles Gaston Villanueva in the Bay Area. We laid eyes on each other for the first time in a rehearsal room for the  TheatreWorks production of Water by The Spoonful. That show was the beginning of a creative and loving relationship with an incredible soul, a man who has challenged and loved me through our passion for art and who makes my heart smile…


Sabina Zuniga Varela as “Yaz” and Miles Gaston Villanueva as “Elliot” in the 2014 Theatre Works production of Water By The Spoonful by Quiara Algeria Hudes. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

On July 26th our wonderful cast and crew celebrated Shaw’s 160th birthday with a potluck after rehearsal. The table was laden with homemade goodies and tasty treats. We sang happy birthday and toasted to the man whose words and thoughts we are beginning to taste and share…

shaw party

Happy Birthday! George Bernard Shaw                                                                                                   July 26th, 1856 – November 2nd, 1950 

Tomorrow we have our first run through!

We will begin to piece it all together using our words, bodies, hearts and breath on that rehearsal room floor as we struggle and swim through the four acts of You Never Can Tell. There are big ideas, quick wit, moments of giddiness, tension, desire, confusion and recognition. The language is fast and the thinking is deep. All three women in the play, a mother and her two daughters, are strong in their decisions, words and thoughts. It’s a thrill to begin to explore the complexity of my character Gloria, finding what reminds me of myself, what surprises me, what confuses. She is raised by a very progressive mother, Mrs. Clandon, and has been educated to challenge the norm at that time, as you can read in this exchange that happens in Act One:

McCOMAS. You hold to your old opinions still?

MRS. CLANDON. As firmly as ever.

McCOMAS. Bless me! And you are still ready to make speeches in public, in spite of your sex (Mrs. Clandon nods); to insist on a married woman’s right to her own separate property (she nods again); to champion Darwin’s view of the origin of species and John Stuart Mill’s essay on Liberty (nod); to read Huxley, Tyndall and George Eliot (three nods); and to demand University degrees, the opening of the professions, and the vote for women as well as men?

MRS. CLANDON (resolutely). Yes: I have not gone back one inch; and I have educated Gloria to take up my work where I left it.

While rehearsing this play I am drawing on the strong women that I have been exposed to and influenced by in my life: my mother Maria Varela, Gloria Steinem, Ella Baker, Sandra Cisneros, Winona LaDuke, Chavela VargasFrida Kahlo… the list goes on and on (Click on each name for videos to hear their words and see their faces.) Each of these women have challenged what was expected of them, they’ve created, they’ve fought, they’ve spoken up, they’ve resisted. Many of them have not stopped, they continue to shed light on issues at hand and persist in the struggle. They began and I must continue….

I thought of these strong women, and the women in our play, as I watched Hillary Rodham Clinton accept the nomination at the DNC this week. We are working on themes that are very timely with the historic nomination of the first woman as the presidential candidate for a major party in our country: Feminism, Marriage, The New Woman, Family, Convention, Relationships, Class, The Life-Force and Love. Regardless of any qualms with Hillary, this is a moment in history, or should I say Herstory…. (BTW, if you missed any of the DNC speeches check them out HERE on C-Span!)


Center: Maria Varela Clockwise from top left: Frida Kahlo, Ella Baker, Chavela Vargas, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Winona LaDuke, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Steinem.

George Bernard Shaw wrote his women well, after all his mother Bessie was quite intriguing and his childhood was a trip to say the least…. I am learning more about his mother and the beginnings of Shaw’s search for his calling in a highly recommended biography by Michael Holroyd: Bernard Shaw, Vol.1:18:56-1898-The Search for Love, I am hoping to finish it by the end of the run…

So, on the last day of this month we begin the head-first dive into the deep end of our play with our first run through. It’s absolutely terrifying and thrilling at the same time, this work we do. We are traveling through an abyss of stakes, cues, props, music, dancing, connecting, entrances, exits, all in the search for what we love: telling stories.

And next week, we begin Tech…

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First Day of School! Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles

With The Maestro Luis Alfaro on our first day of rehearsal!

With The Maestro Luis Alfaro on our first day of rehearsal!

I can still remember what I wore on my first day of school in 7th grade. Stonewashed jean leggings, white Reebok high tops with fuchsia socks rolled down, a matching fuchsia T-Shirt and a high ponytail with white and fuchsia scrunchies. It was a brand new school and I was nervous. I had signed up for basketball and after classes I headed to the gym. While running laps for warm up, I could see the older students running in the front, familiar and excited to be together again for another year. The school was grades 7-12 and because of the small population of students we got to practice with the upperclassmen. I spotted one girl, Sara Lovato, who I recognized. The previous year I did a school visit and was abandoned at lunch  by my 8th grade tour guide who didn’t want to be seen with a nerdy 6th grader tagging along. Sara noticed that I was out of place and she offered to take me to lunch. She bought me nachos. Seeing her again I got a rush of connection and stated to the girl running next to me “I know her, see the tall girl with the black hair? I know her.” Sara remembered me, and from then on we formed a friendship that continues today. Despite the distance, she lives in Denver and recently received her PhD in Pharmacology, we stay in touch. Those rare but wonderful times we do get to see each other we are able to pick up where we left of and enjoy catching each other up on our lives. It was that recognition that enabled me to feel like I had a place at this new school, that I belonged. That connection and friendship was the foundation of the community I became a part of.

Today was the first day of rehearsal for Boston Court’s production of Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles at the Getty Villa Outdoor Classical Theatre. It’s a brand new theatre and I was nervous. But similarly to that first day of 7th grade it was the recognition from familiar faces that began to create our community. I saw the talented faces of those I have worked with before, those whose work I have known, and those who I met for the first time. These faces, familiar and new, are those that will be with me on this journey. This is our village, our tribe, our community.


Medea’s costume board from Designer Raquel Barreto

Our first day was filled with paperwork, costume measurements, meet and greets, emergency procedure presentations, dramaturgical presentations, design team presentations, a reading of the script and electing our Equity deputy. A full day, a long day, an exciting day. I could feel the buzz in the air when we would go on breaks and people would drop into conversations, mingling over the gummy bears and pretzels. This production has so many hearts, minds and souls invested in it. We are conjuring a world of old and new, familiar and unknown, ancient and contemporary. Tomorrow we are creating a group altar and diving back into the text.

I began the day with coffee and a smoothie made with love by my partner Miles Gaston Villanueva. Later in the day he wrote an incredible post on Facebook and invited people to send me well wishes and congrats for my “First Day of School.”  A slew of people responded, many I knew, many I didn’t. The comments all contained such positive energy and support. No matter one’s views on Facebook or other social media forums, they are communities. These communities are made up of people we know and people we don’t. It’s how we interact and communicate that matters.

I’m still nervous. I probably will be for the entire run of the show. I know it’s because the work is important. The story is essential. The art form is crucial. This is my community and I have a responsibility to be an active member. The familiar faces, the new energy, the kind words and gestures are what remind me that I am a part of something. Something full of potential and possibility…


Sweet words and roses on the front door when I arrived home after the first day of rehearsal!

“Epilogue: Yet in the End”

Image These were my last words before I left the Dallas Theater Center Studio space for the final time Sunday night. (Our director included the scene numbers and titles during the show and it added a chance to hear more of Luis Alfaro‘s potent poetry and added a unique transition between scenes) I peeled myself off of the blood soaked deck of the stage, my white dress stained red and pieces of ripped up bible pages sticking to my sandals, my perfectly applied Chola eye makeup smudged with tears, I stood up, tall and present, and delivered these lines for the 50th time. I stood behind the bar in the lobby to wipe the blood off my hands, face and body underneath the giant angel wings that were set up to honor Jocasta’s tatoos on her back. I silently spoke the last words of the play along with the Choro and listened to the final clickity-clack of Tiresias’s blind cane just before black out.

It was an intimate final performance; we were in competition not only with the Oscars but also with below freezing weather that kept a lot of folks at home rather than brave the frozen roads. (Even though our show would have thawed them right out!) Our company manager was in the front row and got some of the last drops of blood on her. Each moment was new and filled with energy, lines that I had heard each night sounded different. I surprised myself with the delivery of a couple of lines, my muscle memory ceased and the nervous excitement of closing night filled the space with wonder. One favorable detail about the small crowd was the chance to avoid having to fill the entire space with voice when we were doing our intimate scene on the ground, naked and only inches from the audience. I was able to speak at a more natural level and drop into the language with a different emotional quality than I had felt before during that scene.  I think it was one of our best shows.

ImageIn between the matinee and the evening show our stage manager took us down to the Wyly Theater to sign the cement wall and add Oedipus El Rey to the history of shows done at the Dallas Theater Center. (Phillipe Bowgen, who played Oedipus, was super excited to sign his name hear Greg Kinnear!)  I remember doing this in the dressing room of The Vortex Theater in Albuquerque after doing The House of Bernarda Alba. At USC we signed the dressing room wall after we did our black box performance of Merchant of Venice during our 2nd year and I signed the old wooden beams on the dressing room ceiling at Magic Theater in my first Equity show of Bruja ( Luis Alfaro’s Medea adaptation). I love the ritual of leaving a moment, a mark, a thanks on the architecture of a theater after a performance. Click HERE to watch a video about the autographed walls and doors on 5 floors at the Fox Theater in St. Louis.

I am drafting this post on an airplane, after packing up my apartment with exhaustion from the closing weekend festivities. On our final night we gathered on the couches around the fireplace and T.V. at Three Sheets to watch the final moments of the Oscars while our production assistant read aloud the final production report. After 50 shows: total amount of blood used: 7 gallons, # of babies in the audience: 1, # of large bags of baby wipes used: 5, # of people who walked out: 4, # of people kicked out: 2, # of times the gun misfired:1, the list went on and on. We just smiled and laughed, all of us tired and happy with our work.

What really made me proud was when Heather Kitchen, Managing Director of DTC, visited during fight call and let us know that the show hit and went over their projected single ticket sales goal. In addition to that great news they were able to get 6 different City Council members in to see the show, for some it was a first visit to the DTC. I’m honored to have been a part of a show that excited their subscriber base and promoted bold and brave productions.

Image I am sad to miss the opening of Fortress of Solitude, the next show opening at DTC. If you are in the Dallas area, don’t miss it! I wish them all the best energy and love that we got from the fantastic Dallas audiences.Farewell to the “Big D” for now, and onwards to “The Big Apple!” (25 degrees right now according to the captain of the plane!)

In the words of my mothers text this morning before I got on the plane to NYC: “upward & onward 2 the next adventure.”


From the stage directions of Oedipus El Rey:

“Jocasta’s body gets up and she takes off her dress, which she hangs on a wire.

Finally she flies.”

A Tale of Two Jocastas….


“Dallas is the hottest Latino show on TV. We have seven Latinos working on the show!” Marlene Forte speaking about the cast of Dallas

This past Tuesday I had the honor of visiting the set of Dallas! The Incredible Marlene Forte, who stars as Carmen Ramos in the show, invited me to watch her work. They were filming a funeral scene at the Greenville Cemetery and luckily it was a beautiful warm sunny day. We had been dealing with really cold weather for many weeks, so being outside in the sunshine was a treat. As soon as we arrived to the cemetery, I took two of my cast members of Oedipus El Rey with me, everyone was very kind and helpful. We were greeted and shown to three directors chairs where we could chat with Marlene and mingle with the cast in between shots. It was hard not to get star struck, these young, gorgeous TV stars have their faces plastered all over the country. The show is premiering it’s third season on Monday. We got to meet a majority of the cast including Patrick Duffy, who happened to be directing the episode we were watching them shoot. The entire cast and crew were incredibly nice. We watched them shoot for a couple hours before they broke for lunch and then the set was cleared and we headed back home for a nap before our evening performance. That night Marlene was coming to see our show!


Justin Huen and Marlene Forte in OEDIPUS EL REY @ The Boston Court in 2010

I first met Marlene Forte at The University of Southern California where her husband Oliver Mayer teaches and where I was working on my MFA in Acting. We had the honor of working together, along with an incredible cast of women, on SEVEN, a documentary play produced for one night at the University of Southern California a year after I graduated in 2012. However, I had first seen her perform in the role that I am now doing: Jocasta in Oedipus El Rey.

To say that I was nervous or excited to perform a role in front of someone who had done it before doesn’t quite capture the feeling. As I sat back stage waiting for my cue I could feel a huge sense of responsibility, energy and emotion. I realized that I was a member of a lineage of Luis Alfaro’s Jocastas, and that is an amazingly talented group of women! Stepping out on stage I knew that I was continuing a tradition of honoring a story that had been told by artists before me, and will continue to be told for decades after me. The combination of “staying in the moment” and feeling this ancestral connection was exhilarating. Usually I am not able to see too clearly who is sitting where in the audience. But when I first stepped on stage my body sensed where Marlene was sitting. I could hear her boisterous laughter throughout different moments of the play and could only imagine what a trip it was to watch the production four years after she had performed it at Boston Court.

After the show Marlene whisked me away for a drink on the patio of Lark on the Park. We walked from the theater and the whole way we chatted about the show, her show, my show, our show. She reminded me of how different the ending was, since Luis had reworked the play in Chicago, after the LA production. We had a fantastic girls night along with another actress from the Dallas cast. We chatted about growing vegetables in Los Angeles, shared our favorite T.V. shows and stories about engagements. We walked back to her car and she took us home. She had told me at lunch that day that even though she thinks I am too young for the role, that I have an old soul and she knew I could do it. Before I got out of the car she told me “You got her, you got her heaviness.” She gave me her blessing, and I soaked it up and walked to my apartment with a huge smile on my face.

To have a role model share her work with you, come watch your work and then take you out for drinks, wow, priceless is the only word to describe it. I will be forever grateful for this night where two Jocastas shared the space and an ancient story was told.

Click HERE to read a great interview of the fabulous Marlene Forte!

Oedipus El Rey in the “Big D”


Here’s a photo of the Dallas Theater Center where we began rehearsals for Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey.” It’s a fantastic building. That little black square at the top left is the balcony just outside of our rehearsal room. From there we can see a great view of the arts district and towards the end of the day amazing sunsets like this:

We have been working for two days and already we have raised questions about Fate versus Destiny, discussed the fights between Man and God, shared personal stories of language, family, healing and fears…. and we’ve only made it to page 30.

Our director, Kevin Moriarty, has the most surprising energy and wit, it’s contagious. He can spin an idea from intimate to global and back again while the rest of us chime in and soon we are off in a whirlwind of connections and discovery. I have always liked table work, that window of time where we dissect the words of the playwright and infuse character with personal stories.

Just before we break for the holiday we get to move into the space, a rare luxury in theatre. We don’t have to deal with the taped floors in the rehearsal space and then the transition to the stage.

As I write this post I am awaiting my turn for fight rehearsal. Right now two actors are working on the fight between Oedipus and Laius, it’s a knife fight and it’s looking fierce! I love watching fight choreographers, they are so effortless and graceful.

More to come from this Texas adventure! Thanks for reading 🙂

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