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 “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.


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





Native Gardens: A closing and the cultivation of joy…

It’s come full circle, the season of the World Premiere of Native Gardens at The Cincinnati Playhouse has come to a close. As I write this post I am sitting outside on the balcony of our Pasadena home, next to all of our plants and flowers, and the newly added Cyclamen, from our set,  that I carried on the plane from the theatre. The weather is 30 degrees warmer, I can hear parrots in the palm tree and see hummingbirds at our feeders. 

Closing night was a success! The audience was generous and giddy. We all played full and with fervor on that stage, filling the house with our story one last time. After getting out of costume we gathered for a champagne toast in the green room, led by our brilliant director Blake Robison. Actors cleared their dressing stations and loved ones mingled while sipping bubbly and moonshine soaked cherries. We then trickled up to the lobby for a wine party and celebration, hosted by a doner, with the two other casts currently working at the Playhouse. We joined The Revolutionists and To Kill A Mockingbird in a spread of mushroom Brie, crackers, pork tenderloin, roasted root vegetables with apples and a slice of bannana cream pie. All the while being served a delicious deep red wine as we looked out over the city and leisurely wrapped up the run of our show.  

It was a lovely and magical setting to deliver our goodbyes, so longs, farewells, see you laters, thank yous and love yous… Smiles, tears and big hugs were shared and eventually the evening ended and the final preparations for departure began.  At the beginning of closing week I finally ventured to the Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park. Just a short walk from actor housing I entered their current exhibit of spring flowers and my jaw fell to the ground! It was an explosion of color and scents, a celebration of growth, petals and blooms. I imagine this is what it looked like when the Greek Goddess Demeter allowed abundance to fill the lands when her daughter Persephone was returned from Hades. 

Sitting here reflecting on closing our play, I can’t help but realize how much a theatrical production of a new play is like a garden. It begins with a seed of thought that grows into a script, this seedling of a play thrives in the soil of a theatre that provides all of the necessary elements to cultivate the growth of a story. Actors, crew, staff, rehearsals, tech, lights, set, sound, costumes, tickets, publicity, audience, patrons, donors… All of which are an elemental part of the production, just as the garden needs sunlight, water, earth, bugs, bees, love and care…

The theatre has seasons, just as our planet does, and there comes a time when all of the effort, work, sweat, ideas, adventures, creativity and performances must come to an end. The set is torn down just as the earth is tilled, ready for the cultivation of the next play.  My aunt Dolores arrived on Thursday to visit and see the play. She is my mother’s sister and also my godmother. Since I was little she has been a big influence in developing my own interests in identifying birds, naming plants, flowers and trees and exploring nature around me. She was a teacher before she retired and one of her big projects with her school was to develop an outdoor classroom for students to have hands on experience in understanding ecosystems and habitat. When I was younger I accompanied her 5th grade class on a field trip to Chaco Canyon. She lives in New Mexico in the middle of a Cottonwood grove and from her sunroom you can hear dozens of different birds tweeting and eating on her outdoor feeders equipped with little microphones that are connected to speakers inside. She and my Uncle Clyde travel all over with their dogs, camping and sightseeing wildlife and National Parks. 

The day she arrived we ate a late lunch at The Montgomery Inn overlooking the Ohio river. We caught up over crab cakes, ribs, shrimp and hot wings. That night she rested from her trip while I performed our last Thursday night show. Friday we explored the Cincinnati Museum Center, located in Union Station, taking in the Natural History Museum, the IMAX film National Parks Adventure and visited the old control tower on the third floor. Then we drove all around downtown Cincinnati so she could see the architecture, churches, bridges and murals. That night we enjoyed a beautiful view of the city over a mixed grill of seafood (salmon, grouper, scallops and shrimp) at The Celestial Steakhouse. She helped pack some of my belongings while I performed our final Friday night show.

 Saturday morning we had the great pleasure of a VIP tour of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens with our cast and the actors of The Revolutionists. We were up close with the Asian elephants, we fed Wallabys, and saw our tour guide handle armadillos, a bearded dragon a python and a scorpion. It was super exciting and the warmest day of my entire Cincinnati stay. Miles arrived while we were at the zoo to celebrate closing week with me, and the three of us had a yummy brunch at The Rookwood. That afternoon Dolores attended our final matinee performance in the second row center and had a blast! Miles worked on lines for upcoming auditions and then joined me after my evening performance for food and drinks with the cast while Dolores packed up and rested for her return trip. I drove her to the airport Sunday morning and hugged her goodbye…

Dolores has been such a fundamental part of my growth as a human, her presence in my life has helped cultivate my interests and has been a solid rock of support. She videotaped my earliest community theatre projects, she would hand sew birthday presents, take me out to lunches, create photo collage gifts and now travels to see my shows. What a treat it was to share my work and explore this city together, can’t wait to see where we meet up next! Now I’m Home! Miles was by my side, lighting up my life, for the final weekend of shows and festivities. He generously got himself a seat on my return flight and we flew back together yesterday. He has been at every opening and closing of my shows since we have met and just as a flower loves sunlight, I am grateful for his presence on this journey. He visited three times while I was in Cincinnati! Helping me settle in, exploring the city together, ringing in the New Year, hanging with my cast and crew, celebrating opening weekend, closing weekend… He was a huge part of this production, and we have now made wonderful and close connections with everyone involved in Native Gardens. I know our paths will cross with these incredible folks again…  We now get to continue cultivating our own garden on the balcony of our little piece of Pasadena paradise. I purchased the gardening gloves that my character Tania wore as a memento of this very special and joyful process that was the World Premiere of Native Gardens by Karen Zacharias. Until next time Cincinnati, Hasta la proxima! 

FRANK: …Like I said, new neighbors.


ALL: Friends.

End of Play 

Native Gardens: Opening and A Reunion…

Photos by Aly Michaud

We did it! What a fantastic Opening! The Cincinnati Playhouse sure knows how to celebrate a New Play!
I began the day picking up my partner Miles, who flew in for the weekend, which helped settle my nerves and warmed my heart. I continue to get nervous on opening night despite the many years I’ve been doing this. The anticipation of beginning the journey into a full run, no more rehearsals and of course, knowing the critics are out there just waiting for something to write about.

Rather than rehearsing the day of opening, we had a company meeting shortly before curtain. We gathered in the green room and discussed our wonderful process, with reminders from our director to keep the show’s momentum on the balls of our feet and encouraging comments from our playwright about having fun. I looked around at our team, finally at this point of a world-premier play, and was overcome with gratitude. Everyone involved in this production has brought such talent, professionalism and joy. 

We opened with a burst of energy, filled the space with our story and bowed to a standing ovation. A celebration followed in the theatre lobby filled with meeting our generous and kind sponsors, chatting with happy audience members and hugging each other congrats over meatballs and Malbec. Having Miles by my side increased my happiness tenfold, his support and love mean the world to me and since we’ve met he’s celebrated with me at every opening night. A true creative partner and love…

An overall sucess with good reviews to follow. David Lyman, for the Cincinnati Inquirer, wrote: “Robison’s cast is a nimbly comic group; Karen Ziemba’s tough-and-cagy Virginia, Sabina Zuniga Varela’s “passionately rational” Tania, John Lescault’s easily excitable Frank and Gabriel Ruiz’s touchy but eager-to-please Pablo.” While Alex Barhorst, for The News Record, expressed: “The lead role of the pregnant Latino wife, Tania — played by Sabina Zuniga Varela — was performed well and is especially impressive as her first performance in Cincinnati. She is no amateur in the theatre business, however. She has appeared in numerous pieces, including her recent work with “Mojada: A Medea” in Los Angeles.”

Now we get to settle into running our show 7-8 times a week, sharing our hilarious and poignant story to connect with audiences through laughter and nature.  Over the weekend my dear friend Lance arrived from Pittsburgh. He drove into Cincinnati to visit and see the play! We began our visit with brunch at Rookwood, which started with yummy biscuit sliders and coffee. We figured out that we have now know each other for 13 years! 

We met in New Mexico and enjoyed a friendship for many years before I moved to California and Lance moved to Louisiana and now Pennsylvania. We haven’t seen each other in person for over 7 years, keeping in touch with phone calls, but as always we picked up right where we left off. 

He enjoyed our Sunday matinee and joined Miles, myself and the cast after our evening performance for a drink at The Blind Lemon, followed by a slice of pizza at Goodfellas. I always remember laughing with Lance, and introducing him to Miles, who is amazing at making me giggle, I was beaming with happiness with the banter between the two. We enjoyed a final meal of tacos Monday afternoon at Bakersfield, before he jumped in his car and made the drive home. 

I’m fortunate to have Lance in my life, we’ve created great memories and shared so much of our art, philosophy and love of New Mexico. He was a constant fixture at family gatherings and always someone I can count on for honest advice. It was a blessing that he was able to make the trip, see my play and meet Miles. I so look forward to our next visit!

This weekend my parents arrive to see the show…!

Native Gardens: From Tech to Previews…

Pablo: Tania, our yard is not beautiful.

Tania: Not yet. But it can be.

(Scene One, Native Gardens)

Tech! One of my favorite parts of this process.. Makeup, costumes, lights, sound… All of the elements come together to create our world of Native Gardens at The Cincinnati Playhouse. It takes many hours, lots of repetition, communication and fine tuning. 

What makes or breaks the time it takes to tech a theatrical production is the team behind the scenes. The director, the stage manager, the designers, the technicians, the dressers, the stagehands… So much communication needs to happen before we, the actors, even set foot on stage. We are blessed with a most joyous and talented crew. They have created a beautiful, safe, functioning  work space for us to play. 

We’ve focused a lot on entrances and exits, along with transitions between scenes. Making sure we have the exact amount, and specific type of music we need, sharpening the silent and physical gestures that seam together each scene to continue the storytelling. The lights are focused to help convey time and place and we choreograph all of our costume changes between scenes. All of this in preparation to add the last element of our world, the audience… 

Photos by Mikki Schaffer

 Virginia: Well, I can’t tell you how happy we are to finally have real homeowners living next  door…

(Native Gardens, Scene Two)

Our first introduction to a live audience is to have 4 preview performances before opening night. These shows allow us to gauge our progress, feel what jokes might land, and what experiences the audience tends to react to. Or not. The playwright is able to make adjustments and rewrites according to what we learn and the director can give us feedback on what we need to do to sharpen our delivery and execution of our respective roles.

For the first preview, on Saturday,  I was amped up on adrenaline for, pretty much, the entire show. We had cancelled our final invited dress, that would have given us an initial audience before previews, because of snowstorm named Jonas. So our first preview was quite a rush. A few lines were dropped, skipped and paraphrased but overall we completed the journey and gave that first audience a great show. 

Sunday afternoon we settled into our pace with a little more confidence. It was a quieter, smaller audience which helped us recognize the consistent moments and challenged us to keep momentum and action going forward. 

We have two more previews before we officially open this World-Premiere play by Karen Zacharias, on Thursday January 28th. We will continue to rehearse to ensure that we have sculpted all the moments we need to give this story the best possible telling. 

We then get to think about what to wear for our opening night party and breathe a sigh of relief that we are up and running after an amazing few weeks of table work, rehearsal, tech and previews. Then we are off to the races running shows through February 21st!

Personally, I am counting the minutes until I get to drive to the airport Thursday morning to pick up my love, Miles Gaston Villanueva, who is making the trip out here for Opening Night! 

The anticipation is palpable… 

Native Gardens: From Page to Stage…

” I’ll catch any rose in my vase-shaped heart, then process it through my vascular system, until there’s nothing left.”—Will Advise proc·ess:(ˈpräˌses,ˈprōˌses)noun 1.a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.

For days we chewed on words, punctuation and phrases. Discovering events, action and objectives. Lines crossed out, added, edited. New pages with pencil marks and highlighted words. We’ve been walking upon the rehearsal room floor, with levels, doors, and borders designated by fluorescent spike tape. Scene by scene we lift the language off the page, aiming for fluency, buoyancy, pacing and connection. 

Our director, assistant director, stage manager and assistant stage manager create a safe, constructive and creative space for us to play. This process challenges memory, imagination, voice, breath and confidence. Our profession is to build worlds, create characters and tell stories. We begin in a rehearsal hall, first gathering around a table, then slowly getting on our feet, baby steps, stumbling and forging ahead towards the next big step: moving onto the stage… 

“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”   —Tom Stoppard tran·si·tion:(tranˈziSH(ə)n,tranˈsiSH(ə)n)noun 1.the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

This weekend we have moved up into the Robert Marx theatre, in the next step of our production. We are walking on a beautifully designed set and facing out into a sea of 600+ seats where future audience members will complete our circle. Our voices have to reach further, our feet have to navigate real obstacles and we have to adjust our bodies for sightlines. Our creative leaders are further away and will soon be consumed with the technical aspects of our production (lights, sound, props, costume, transitions and pace) as we continue our journey in storytelling.  

Our hours are longer and the demands are stronger. Our stamina and resilience will be tested and our bonds will be strengthened. Our profession requires a million moving parts to come together in a complete experience. Together with our staff, crew, technicians, designers and cast we await the next steps: tech week and previews…

 “It all starts innocently enough.” —Pablo Del Valle, Native 

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!

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