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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

“The Passion as Told by Antígona Pérez” — New Version of a Classical Greek Tragedy Examines Humanity in the Digital Age




The press release from a Seattle organization called Thriving Artists, about a play called The Passion as Told by Antígona Pérez, intrigued me. So did the comments of Director Arlene Martínez-Vázquez. In addition to translating and directing this important play, written by Puerto Rican playwright Luis Rafael Sánchez, she also founded Thriving Artists as a way of promoting, through example, the widespread acceptance of the idea of living wages for those who choose to work in the arts. The play will also feature an all-Latino cast in the roles of citizens of a fictitious Latin American dictatorship. Within minutes of reading the release, I arranged an interview.

Inspired by the Greek tragedy Antigone, written by Sophocles in 442 B.C.E., Sanchez wrote La Pasión según Antigona Pérez (The Passion as Told by Antígona Pérez) in 1968 with the leading role of Antígona based on the life of Olga Viscal Garriga (1926–1995). Martínez-Vázquez updated it to be a multi-media production relevant to today in world in which the technology people embrace, and have been made to believe is indispensable, can compromise, enslave and endanger them and society, if not used responsibly. Tragic themes rooted in politics, the media, distortion of information, disturbing world issues and the courage it takes to do the right thing will all be explored when this play opens at 12th Avenue Arts in Seattle at 7:30 p.m. on August 14. This production will run through August 30, Thursday-Sunday each week.

photo by Marquicia Domingue


Interview with Director Arlene Martinez-Vázquez — 

Candace Brown for Good Life Northwest: Please tell me about this production and its roots.

Arlene Martinez-Vázquez:  The Passion as Told by Antígona Pérez is the Puerto Rican adaptation of the great classic of Antigone. What makes this adaptation unique is that the author has converted the Greek chorus into a chorus of news reporters who you can see being manipulated by the way the dictator feeds news to them. Then you can see the crowds reacting to what they are being fed through the news. And what makes my version of it unique is that we have recorded all these news reporters and they are all being projected through video and the crowd reaction and they are also being projected through animation of Facebook, Instagram and Tweets. 

So, it is a comment on the overwhelming information we have access to all the time, through social media, and what our responsibility is, as global citizens, to be searching for the truth and being responsible for whatever it is we are accessing and sharing.

GLW: What is your background in theater? 

Martinez-Vázquez: I am from Puerto Rico originally, so I did my BA, in Puerto Rico. After that, I went to London for two years to do my master’s degree in theater directing. After that, I stayed in London for two years. I was a member of the CASA Latin American Theater Festival for its first two years. Then I moved to Seattle to start a theater career here. Ever since I moved to Seattle I actually focused on children’s theater and teaching artistry, because when I moved to Seattle it was very important to me to prove I could make a living out of my degree. And luckily I was very successful at that. I was Education Director at Stone Soup Theater for four and one-half years, which was a great experience. I directed musicals at high schools, and I was working full time as a teaching artist. Then I also directed a couple of fringe plays. I did some stage readings of Latino playwrights. After that I was just feeling that there were a lot of stories that I wanted to tell and I couldn’t tell in the avenues I had at the moment. So I decided to do The Passion as Told by Antígona Pérez and start Thriving Artists.

photo by Marquicia Domingue

GLW: How long has Thriving Artists been in existence?

Martinez-Vázquez: It actually has only existed since January 2015. This will be our inaugural production.

GLW: What was the concept that shaped it and how does it function?

Martinez-Vázquez: For a lot of years, I’ve been pondering how you can you make theater thrive in a capitalist society. While I was getting my degree, I always heard a lot about theater and social justice, which is really important, and about making theater accessible, which I also absolutely believe in and work towards on all my projects. But I never heard about how to make theater thrive in a capitalist society. 

Organizations, and corporations create all these products that people don’t really need, and they just create the need to sell them. Then everybody thinks they can’t live without them. So how can you do the same thing with theater? 

I don’t really have the answer to that yet, but what I am trying to do with Thriving Artists is to use a capitalist model to fund the not-for-profit theater company. After this project, the next step will be to figure out what the for-profit business of Thriving Artists would be, and I have a very concrete idea. I just need to do some more market research and raise funds. That business would donate the profits to Thriving Artists. 

The model for Thriving Artists would be to have almost all full-time employees who go at nine in the morning, expand their training and rehearse, and are done by 6 p.m. I would like to start with one or two artists as full time employees, just so they are able to really dedicate their time to their art.  And I would love to be able to offer them all the benefits. I think that’s very important to be able to really live from your art without having to do a very specific type of for-profit theater, like the big touring musicals.

GLW: Do you think this can happen in Seattle?

Martinez-Vázquez: Seattle is a city that really values art. Seattle is very liberal, very progressive. There is a big cultural scene in Seattle. I think a lot of people love going to the theater and love supporting arts and artists, yet the fringe scene is larger than the professional scene. You can probably count with your two hands the amount of artists who actually make a living out of being an artist. It is very normal in Seattle for artists to have day jobs to be able to live. So I find it kind of worrying that in a city that really values art there is not really a culture of prioritizing artists, of making sure that artists get paid. There’s this big expectation that because you love doing your art you shouldn’t be getting paid for it. 

photo by Marquicia Domingue

GLW: How can you change public perceptions and help people understand how great a need there is for this kind of support for artists in our society?

Martinez-Vázquez: A lot of what I’m trying to do is to be very clear about what it takes to put on a show. Our play’s program is three pages, partly because I have all the bios of my cast and crew, which is really large. I built fund raising on this play for two years. I had two fund raising events, received four grants for it,  and did a Kickstarter campaign. All of that is in the program. So there’s a clear notion of “You are here today, and this is really exciting, and these are all the people who had to come together for this to happen,” because I think a lot of people don’t know. A lot of theaters don’t really communicate it clearly either. A lot of theaters just say, “Ticket sales don’t cover the cost of production. Please donate today,” and people don’t know what that means. I think a big part of it is educating people and letting them know how much it really costs to put on a show.


GLW: Please share your thoughts on why it was important to have an all-Latino cast.

Martinez-Vázquez:  I was assisting the Intiman Theatre Festival in summer of 2013, and as part of the emerging artists showcase that they do, I staged two scenes of this play. One of the things I noticed in that is that I really needed Latino actors to tell this story, because it is told from a Latino point of view.

Here is a story that is relevant to this. I was directing A Child’s Christmas in Wales quite a few years ago and I was feeling very awkward about it, because I am Puerto Rican. What do I know about Christmas in Wales? So I was kind of really wracking my mind about the cultural gap and pondering if I should change the setting of the play to make it more culturally accessible to both me and my audience. I asked Valerie Curtis Newton about this and she said:

 “You can change the setting of the play, but the play was written to be set in Wales, and before you change the setting, you need to ask yourself, ‘What is Welsh about this play that is going to get lost when I change the setting?’ And be intentional about that.” That was a big eye opener for me, because I had never asked myself that question before. 

So going back to when I staged the two scenes of The Passion as Told by Antígona Pérez, I staged it with white actresses and they really did a fabulous job with the text and the characters and they understood what it was about. But everything that is Latino about that play got lost. There was no way they could have portrayed it or even known it was getting lost. So I thought, I need to do this play and I need a full Latino cast. 

Then the other piece of this that I am very excited about is the opportunity to make a play that features an all Latino cast that is not about being Latino. It is not about being an immigrant and not speaking English and all this immigration stories. That is not to say that those stories are not important, because I think they definitely need to be told, but I also think Seattle is ready to see a very universal story that is simply told from a Latino point of view. I think it is very important for audiences and artists alike that you can tell a universal story that features an all Latino cast, that “universal” is not white any more. So I am very excited about that. 

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Good Life Northwest thanks Director Arlene Martinez-Vázquez for sharing her time, insights, and inspiring ideas for a better world.

For more information about this production or to get your tickets, please visit http://antigonaperez.brownpapertickets.com/  or www.thrivingartists.org

Please donate to the play's Kickstarter campaign.


CAST LIST
Antígona - Javonna Arriaga
Aurora (Antígona's mother) - Maristela Díaz
Creón - Carter Rodríquez
Pilar (Creón's wife) - Angela Maestas
Irene (Antígona's friend) - Ashley Salazar
Monsignor Bernardo Escudero - Steve Gallion
Ensemble - Jazzy Ducay, Adrian Cerrato and Robin Strahan
American News Reporter - Emily Shuel
French News Reporter - Meg Savlov
Turkish News Reporter - Duygu Erdogan
Japanese News Reporter - Keiko Green
Latin American News Reporter - Fernando Cavallo

CREATIVE TEAM
Director/Translator - Arlene Martínez-Vázquez
Assistant Director - Marquicia Domingue
Production Manager - Noah Duffy
Stage Manager - Rojo Davis
Lights - Tess Malone
Costumes - Fantasia Oslund
Sound - Eric Santiago
Video - Yomarelis Lorenzo & Sarah Rici

Props - Bethany Hystad