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 “Magic Theatre”

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.

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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…

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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)

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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…

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

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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…

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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…

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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!)

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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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