Sunday, September 13, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 785: Raquel Almazan



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Raquel Almazan

Current Town: New York City – Astoria, Queens

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m currently working on two large projects that I received funding for. First, a project I’ve been co-developing for several years, The Taco Truck Theater Project- Teatro Sin Fronteras. Writer – Performers: Jose Torres Tama and Raquel Almazan. Directed by: Dipankar Muhkerjee.

After several years of Jose Torres Tama diligently applying for funding from larger organizations, The Taco Truck Theater Project- Teatro Sin Fronteras was recently awarded the MAP FUND 2015, kicking off this mobile theater project into high gear. The MAP Fund supported residencies beginning this fall with co- commissioners Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis and Living Arts of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

I’ll be traveling to these cities this fall for residency activities that will include: immigration round tables, community workshops and development of a performance script based on filmed interviews with immigrant communities from New Orleans to Tulsa and Minneapolis. Cultivating stories of undocumented immigrants and DREAMers on the front lines of the current anti-immigrant hysteria. The Taco Truck Theater Project will transform a food vehicle into a theater on wheels to reach immigrant communities and non-traditional theater audiences–crossing geographical, economical, and racial borders.

The second project, is an extension of producing a workshop version of my play La Paloma Prisoner at The Signature Theatre in April 2015. This fall and upcoming spring with the recently awarded the Arthur J. Harris Memorial Prize through Columbia University; I’ll be partnering with STEPS to End Family Violence that will include programming with formerly incarcerated women, universities and other organizations to create exchange towards ending mass incarceration. More about La Paloma Prisoner play http://raquelalmazan.com/latin-is-america/la-paloma-prisoner/

Q:  Tell me about the program you're in at The Playwrights Center.

A:  The core apprentice program pairs me up with a master playwright for mentorship and guidance on navigating the American playwriting landscape. I’ll be traveling to Minneapolis a few times during the 2015-2016 season to attend events, conduct research and for a workshop process of my selected play CAFÉ. It’s always an honor to get the time, space and resources to work on one of my pieces and I’m thrilled to be partnering with The Playwrights Center on the process. In the last year, I’ve worked in Minneapolis twice the last year and look forward to continuing to know the community there and create exchange.

CAFÉ- A sip of coffee. An act the world enjoys one cup at a time. What is the real price of coffee? From the lens of a mystical Mayan Teller, we follow the Maquin family from the ancient world to the present as they struggle to maintain their coffee farm. Set on the mystical Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, generations of the Maquin women dare to stay with the earth; fighting to secure a future as the Mayan calendar ends and a new world begins.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  One of my first memories of being a child in the US, was in kindergarten, I didn’t know much English at the time and was trying to communicate to the teacher that I needed to go to the bathroom. She would not let me ask her in Spanish to exit the class room to go to the bathroom, she kept insisting I ask her in English. Finally, I got so angry, fed up, and tired, I just started to urinate right next to her desk. I dream of urinating on Donald Trump lately…

I am the Artistic Director of LA LUCHA ARTS GROUP, a production company through which I have produced several of my original works, including plays that comprise the LATIN IS AMERICA play cycle. This bi-lingual cycle of plays will ultimately have 33 parts, one for each of the countries and dependencies in Latin American.

In my practice of theatre, I seek to always create an alchemy of the body through space and spirit. By constructing these bilingual counter-narrative plays I hope to tear down the hierarchy of institutional powers that deter and interrupt our processes as artists and our connections to audiences. I challenge myself to make the invisible and silenced – visible and heard in living forms to propel action and dialogue. My work deals with cultural identity, gender inequality and sexual violence, colonialism and economic injustice, globalization, and the rights of indigenous peoples – all themes directly related to promoting diversity and social justice.

In my Latin is America cycle of plays, I am not only writing about “the others” who are members of the Latin diaspora in America, but also those who are abjected by power in Latin America. My work connects ancient ritual from cultures that have been stifled by imperialism and links them to modern day cultural rituals through field work, scholarly research and social festivals (communal and or social gatherings, celebrations, holidays, religious festivities). My objective is to create models and dialogue that decolonialize events, language and histories in the United States and Latin America by examining how the aftermath of colonialism and the emerging symptoms of neocolonialism affect lives.

I align myself with the 2050 movement, where by this date it is projected that the US will hold the largest Spanish speaking population globally; I intend for my plays to respond to the growing Latin American presence in America. To thrust the Latin American voice into the American cannon of theatre by interrupting the hegemonic discourse and mainstream images/concepts of Latin American history.

I’ve lived my life in constant translation: as a child translating for my immigrant parents, and now translating the Latino culture to U.S. audiences through theatre. I navigated challenging power structures of society, race, class, education, gender and the U.S. theatrical landscape, and this navigation influences how I view, create and respond as an artist. As a female writer of color I create a process that is informed by autobiography – primary and secondary sources come from an archive of storytelling narrative. Offering an exchange between Latin America and the United States as the “New Americas” an intersection of arts and activism.

I’m a first generation immigrant who is now an American citizen, my work is English language based with Spanish bi-lingual aspects: the ritual nature in my work is essential to the pre-colonial exploration of culture. English speakers could become aware that power is subverted –that they are the “other”, creating heteroglossic texts.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Since my concentration is on the development of writers of color in the American theatre, I would eradicate the one slot goes to a writer of color per season programming. Instead the revolution for theatre and challenge to theatres nation wide would be to provide socially conscious representation of its communities on stage.

Also, what’s up with every new play being 90 minutes long, having a cast of 4 characters or less and centering around affluent people’s neurosis???? I ask the universe to stop producing these plays. 

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Maria Irene Fornes whose vision and experimentation of form and unique process still hasn’t been fully recognized, she really embodies magic and craft dancing as one.

Federico Garcia Lorca who channeled spirits in the theatrical form, lived ferociously and used language to lift his community from violence and patriarchy. He embodies the playwright who risks one’s own life to bring a transformation in the world, he understood the power of theatre and ultimately why positive transformations were a threat to imperialism.

Bertolt Brecht for how he personally engaged with his own work in the rehearsal process. I think modern playwrights are coerced into being “hands off”, I can’t imagine Brecht distancing himself from the difficulty of his own work with his collaborators.

Founder of Butoh Dance Kazuo Ohno, who through his lineage of radical dance and teaching, has left me a way of being, sharing and creating that changed my life to create holistically.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Multi-disciplinary work excites me, pieces that seek to ask and engage in large societal, political questions. Unconventional work that seeks to give voice to disenfranchised groups. Clowning, Butoh Dance, spoken word, poetry, dance theatre, music, traditional art forms, urgency of issues all excite me when experiencing new pieces.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: Truly engage in the world, if we engage with generosity, then we become truth tellers of not only our experiences but of our communities and possibly the world.

Power structures are REAL! Gain supporters of your work who rally around the same issues that your plays fight for, this way theatre artists rise together to get work produced and heard.

Plays take years to develop, seek council from those who have a deep experience with what you’re writing about and invite non theatre people to be a part of your process.

The M.F.A. Playwriting Mafia is real too, after building a body of work, it’s unfortunately necessary to consider a program.

Only do first readings of a new play in a secure environment where you feel supported.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A: Here is a link to my FALL 2015 Touring schedule http://raquelalmazan.com/raquel-almazan-fall-2015-tour-dates/ and my site http://raquelalmazan.com/ for more information on Latin is America play cycle, excerpts, media, upcoming Almazan Monologue pod cast and more!



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