Years ago I was a directing student at Texas State University w/a B-minus background in acting ... y'know, school plays, not much professional work under my belt, nothing to write home about, really. Anyway, in that first semester of my directing studies I helped out a colleague of mine by agreeing to perform in one of her directing projects due to one of her actors flaking out on rehearsals. College, y'know?
The title of the piece she was working on was "Dark Root of a Scream" (a title that just so happens to be the last line of the play we're working on here ... no spoilers ... ) by Luis Valdez, playwright and theater revolutionist known for forming El Teatro Campesino ... and the feature film, "La Bamba." I played a character named "Conejo" (Spanish name for "rabbit"), the vato (Spanish for "guy" or "dude", although w/a bit of a tougher, more hardened meaning) w/a heart.
Now, it just so happened that this colleague of mine was prepping for her directing thesis play the next year ... Federico Garcia Lorca's "Blood Wedding." So, long story short, after helping her out of a jam and showing her that I wasn't half-clueless on how to handle myself on stage ... she offered me the role of Leonardo. Turns out I was the right "vato" for the job when the cast list went up. I was stoked, excited, ecstatic ... any other thesaurus synonym ya wanna put there ... that was me. However, in all my self-congratulatory splendor I failed to realize ... landing a role is one thing ... working on said-role is a completely different animal.
I'm not a leading man. I don't play lovers. I don't play the type of men that get the girl. I rarely partake in stage kisses. That's never been on the resume of any of the characters I usually play. All of that is just incredibly foreign to me. Leonardo, though? He gets to do all three. I was in no place to be playing a character like that at the time. In those days I was one of those "angry-young-man" actors ... to be fair, sometimes I still feel I'm of that same type ... so, in my mind, playing a character like this, y'know, everything had to have some fire at the end of it. I was a young'in, I didn't know any better, so I attacked everything a little too heavy-handedly. Lotta' yelling, lotta' drowning the stage in my baritone, lotta' sound and fury that ... as the saying goes ... signified nothing.
Really, when it all comes down to it, I was too intense for my own good. And, of course, it had to look COOL, y'know? Ohhhhh, my goodness gracious, everything just had to LOOK so COOOOOOOL when I was an actor in college. The way I walked, the way I talked, the way I carried myself on stage ... who cares if the story was being told properly, "HEY, MAN, DID I LOOK COOL? I DID? SWEET, BRO. LET'S GO GET A BREW." Story of a hapless-young actor.
My colleague knew this. She knew I had a chip on my shoulder with an ego to match. She was okay with it, though, because she knew she could snap me out of it. I was still a student, and I wanted to soak up as much as possible through the duration of the process. I mean, I was always game for anything she wanted to work on ... what insights she could give me into playing the character ... she knew when to let me unleash ... but she knew when to draw me back ... like a horse ... and I mean that in the best possible way.
That's when it clicked.That's who this guy was to me ... he was a horse ... and that's the one image that helped me out the most way back when. Cause, really, when it all came down to it ... who am I kidding? I'm not a horseman. The last time I rode a horse was when I was 5 years old at the Gladys Porter Zoo. I'm not going to pretend to know what it's like to work on acres of land, how presumptuous is that? I'm not gonna walk in bow-legged on stage from "riding around" all day. Who am I, Roy Rogers? No.
However, when I thought of Leonardo as "the horse," himself? That's something I could wrap my brain around. When a horse is weary, you see it. When a horse is sick ... you see it. When a horse wants to runs wild ... yeah, you'll definitely see it. It didn't always work, though. Sometimes the horse just wanted to run wiiiiiiiild all rehearsal long. In my own critique when I look back, I found that I played too much of the animal ... not enough of the man. It's a trap that I fall into still.
Now, years later ... and with many thanks to PAC ... I get to rediscover who this man is. When Damon gave me a call offering me the role. I said "YES" without even thinking. We talked about how exciting it was to work together on the project, we talked some business, then we said, "Bye." I smiled ... and in came that sentence in my head again ... "It's one thing to land a role ... working on a role is a totally different animal."
It's easy to get wrapped up in Leonardo's passion. Early on in our process I came in with what I knew of Leonardo and of "Blood Wedding" from the production I was in years ago ... came in swinging and attacking with a lotta' guts. The fella exuded confidence and wanted to be the guy who controlled the room whenever he was on stage. Barking at folks, strutting around like he owned the joint ... looking like a man with nothing to lose. Mistake. Miiiiiistaaaaaaaaake. It's cool, though. I learn more from my failures than my successes. It's all a process.
The greatest challenge right now that's been presented to me as I find myself working on this character for the second time is finding where his softer side lives. Finding a man who has the potential to be endearing. Finding his most important attribute: his heart. Because when it comes down to it, Leonardo is a good man ... he's just been dealt a crappy hand in his lot in life. He's poor, his family has been given a bad name, his home life is far from ideal, he works like a dog to keep the wolf away from the door ... all in all ... he's incredibly unhappy. The one thing he has going for him, though? His love. He's in love ... and love is what's keeping him alive.
Now, I think back to the first time I ever fell in love ... oh, man, I was a wreck. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, my grades suffered, I lost all enthusiasm for work, my family didn't like being around me, I wrote awful poetry ... all this, and to think I've still never played Romeo! When I think about how vulnerable I was when love hit me for the first time, it made me happy ... made me feel alive ... but, man, did it depress the hell out of me at the same time.
I've never fought for love ... I've never had the courage to say what was on my mind when it came to love ... all I've ever done when I've been in love is listen to sad-bastard music and mull about my room like a ghost ... not always, though, I'm not that pathetic (okay, sometimes I am) ... but we have those instances, y'know? We're in love ... someone doesn't love us back ... someone falls out of love with you ... the person you love falls in love with someone else ... I mean ... yeah ... that ain't any kind of fun.
Leonardo, though? He fights. Not with his hands, but with that big heart of his I'm trying to find within him right now. He has the courage to say what's on his mind when it comes to love. I mean, he doesn't always know the best way to deliver it ... he's clumsy, he can be mean-spirited, he's confused and torn up inside ... but he makes it known. It's the one thing is his life that's important to him and it's a step in the right direction to finding his peace. To me, there's something almost insanely heroic about that. Nothing will stop him from what he wants and nothing is going to get in his way ... even if it means dying for love. For love. Love, y'know? Definitely drives folks wild. Like Johnny Cash going into a cave to die and seeing June at the end of it ... then proposing to her over 30 times until she agreed to be his wife.
I find myself reminiscing on the past loves of my life ... thinking of phrases we coined and the nicknames we used to call each other ... reading old emails and letters ... mix tapes and cd's ... remembering pictures we took at weddings, amusement parks, or out and about town. Setting Pandora stations that play nothing but ballads by Frankie Valli, Chicago, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Air Supply, Peter Cetera, The Cure, The Smiths, and Morrissey ... and walking 3 miles to and from rehearsal everyday listening to them. Watching "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" again after many years ... even though I know I bluster like a child who's lost all his sweets by the end of it. It's been a while for me, y'know ... so searching for that feeling has taken me down all sorts of avenues to try to remember what it was like. Other actors probably tap in to this a lot easier than I can ... but with the sort of characters I usually play ... finding it is a tad more challenging.
So, yeah, it's messy ... it's chaotic ... and it's difficult ... but it's necessary ... and it's good ... going through this and taking the time to examine what it was like to truly be in love is allowing me to revisit Leonardo, to revisit "Blood Wedding" in a completely different and unfamiliar way ... in a gorgeous show ... with a wonderful cast of actors, musicians, dancers ... an amazing crew ... a top notch director ... and a truly awesome company behind it all ... and y'know what? It excites the Hell outta' me.
By Carl Roa
Assistant Director, Blood Wedding
Pictured above: Carl in action at Drexel University. Photo credit Kate Raines and PLATE 3 Photography.
In August, I attended the first production meeting for Blood Wedding, where Damon sat down with me afterwards to discuss my responsibilities as an assistant director. Most of it was pretty standard: watch rehearsals, take notes, etc – but Damon was trying to make sure I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs at any point during the process.
“So, do you have any ideas for what you could be doing?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I could do some dramaturgy. I could create a research packet for the actors to read.”
“That sounds fantastic!”
That afternoon we went our separate ways, and I remember asking myself during my walk home: Why the hell would I volunteer to do that? Apparently, all it took was an internship at the Wilma Theater, and suddenly I was a qualified dramaturg.
But then I made shocking discovery: dramaturgy is actually…enjoyable. (Gasp!) I spent the month before rehearsals immersing myself in Lorcaland: I learned about the texture of the world which Lorca created for his characters and the rhythm of nature and colors he layered into his dramas. I learned more importantly about Lorca himself, and the eerie parallels between his life and mine (minus the assassination…hopefully!)
My experience with this production of Blood Wedding has proven to be eye-opening, as another discovery that was made: dramaturgy is just as gratifying as any other area of interest for me – acting, directing, writing or otherwise. People ask me questions. Designers ask for advice. The director listens to my notes. And I’ll be damned if I don’t feel important because of it.
Regardless of whatever egocentric rush of power I’m experiencing, I’ve definitely developed a deeper understanding of the dramaturg’s role in the theater. It’s a strange middle ground of researcher and artist, but also critic. Before my work with the Wilma, the idea that the dramaturg is as much an artist as the director or actors always seemed strange. But now that concept makes total sense, even if I have a lot of downtime where I’m not needed.
Would I pursue dramaturgy? Maybe. I feel as though my enjoyment was dependent on the source material – Lorca’s body of work is rife with fascinating symbology and history, and much of what he has created is based on actual tales from his past. I definitely lucked out by having my first dramaturgical experience be through a playwright whose work I respect.
What I love about Lorca is just how refreshingly punchy and atmospheric his style of writing can be. Contrary to popular belief, Lorca’s plays do have a sense of humor on occasion, and there were no shortage of potential laugh lines in Blood Wedding. I think the key to deciphering any playwright’s body of work is to let go of any preconceptions and realize that any writer worth their salt will have created a layered, nuanced piece. The possibility of humor in Lorca’s dramas is a reflection of this idea.
And quite frankly, Lorca’s style is so…un-American (I mean, duh). Some things are not clearly defined to the audience, which defies the logic of American storytelling in general. We like it when we understand what’s going on, and reject anything that’s the least bit ambiguous or open to interpretation. If all the ducks aren’t in a row, then we become disinterested. And that’s why I love Lorca – because he never had to worry about an American sensibility of playwriting. The Moon shows up after the wedding because who gives a damn? It’s spectacular and artsy and metaphorical except when it’s not - but it totally is, because Lorca wouldn’t have put the moon in so much of his work otherwise. It’s not about the meaning of symbols, but rather, the frequency in which they appear. Lorca’s background as a musician becomes apparent when one considers how often red objects are referenced in the script, and the context in which they appear. The use of red, silver, green, black, and white objects are as much musical notes in sheet music as figures on a canvas. In adding these elements to his plays, Lorca has succeeded in creating his own universe – where countryside violence and pastoral landscapes are one and the same.
So, uh, yeah. Lorca’s pretty awesome. And you should come see our show because Damon’s an awesome director. And Judith’s portrayal of the Mother is pretty awesome. And I’m proud to say that I’m a Drexel student, because our ensemble has done an awesome job of not behaving like set pieces. They’re creepy as hell.
Everything’s pretty awesome. Go see it. You won’t regret it.
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