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 “Maria Varela”

#MojadaMedeaOSF: Dia De Los Madres Part 1.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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!)

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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?

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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!

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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…

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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!

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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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