Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
by Tori Boutin
An interview with Elena Velasco (MFA in Directing, ’15) about her thesis production of La Perdida.
What’s your history with La Perdida? How did you come in contact with the text?
I first became acquainted with La Perdida around 2001. I had worked on a production at Discovery Theater with the composer, Deborah Wicks la Puma – she was a performer in a show I wrote and directed entitled El Viaje. Deborah invited me to play the role of Carlota in a series of readings she and her playwright/lyricist Kathleen Cahill were hosting for Signature Theater. I was captivated by the score and fascinated by the choice to adapt Shakespeare’s work through the lens of Mexican culture.
Why did you choose this play for your thesis production?
As an artist my primary goals are to present works that inspire social change and give a voice to different cultures. While there is no major political statement in La Perdida, the nature of forgiveness goes to the heart of what is necessary in activism. It is essential to understand our own mistakes in order to not only forgive others, but forgive ourselves. Only then can we move on.
What makes this play and your production important to today’s audience?
There are two notable achievements in the theater world through this work: it celebrates Latin American culture and it is a work created by two women.
I am drawn to work that examines the history, struggle, and beauty of Latin American people. There are nuances to be noted between the many different Latin American nations, to say nothing of the various ethnic and regional groups within each of these nations. There are, however, shared elements in the sounds, textures, and stories that stem from these areas. I’m of Peruvian descent, not Mexican, yet there I feel very strong unity with all who are considered Latino. Our cultural contributions need to be recognized by those in theater’s mainstream in the United States.
To the second point, we need look no further than this year’s theater summit at Arena Stage to be reminded that women are under-represented and overlooked at times in playwrighting and composition circles. I find it amazing that the first woman to ever win a Tony for solo composition was Cyndi Lauper in 2013 for Kinky Boots.
This is why the production of La Perdida is important to audiences. It is a recognition of those whose culture and work are not in the mainstream. Sharing culture is one of many ways we can create social change. We witness the beauty of an artistic language previously unfamiliar. In La Perdida, oppositions — like mainstream and minority — are juxtaposed to encourage unity and reconciliation.
How has your experience at CUA influenced your direction?
I believe I have a far better understanding of collaboration than I did before entering the program. La Perdida is a work that requires the efforts of many different artists — designers, musicians, fight choreographers, dancers, actors, dramaturgs, physical theater artists — the list goes on. While any production is made possible by a creative team, the skill sets required to make this play’s magical realism come to life are extensive and intense. This means that I need to be fluent in all those “languages,” to have immersed myself into research through action, and to be able to understand the lens of those who are either outside or inside this culture.
What has your process been like working with your actors? Designers?
I would define my direction as one that focuses on kinesthetic and visual elements for dramatic storytelling. This meant that the actors and I had to work together to create the performance language required to create the world of Perdida. While each actor was still free to draw from his/her own process for character development and break down their text in terms of action, we all had to carefully consider the composition of gestures throughout the body to communicate the shifts between the mortal world, the spirit realm, and the line in between.
Regarding the design team, I have been blessed. My mentor, Dr. Tom Donahue (who was also one of my undergrad professors here at CUA), has been both an encouraging advisor and an engaged collaborator. He and I both saw this world crafted by light and color, and less by large structures, and as we have moved further into the production, it has been evident that our imaginations move on like paths. Kendra Rai, a Helen Hayes award winning costume designer, evokes the historical aspects of this production through carefully selected textures, sharp contrasting colors, and defining lines through her blend of period clothing and fable inspired dress. She has been so flexible and supportive (as well as our costume shop), accommodating the many tasks that the playwright requires. After all, how many shows have a sword fight, a knife fight, son de la negra dance, and live face painting? There’s more, but I don’t want to give too much away; this is all to note what a versatile designer Kendra is. Finally, Robb Hunter, who choreographed our fights, worked quickly to create movements that were true moments of storytelling, rather than mere spectacle.
How would you describe your production to a potential audience member?
In the word’s of our playwright, Kathleen Cahill, la obra es “una maravillas del mundo.”
Gracias y espero verte a la representación!
‘La Perdida’ runs in the Callan Theatre at Hartke from Nov. 20-23