In the North Texas arts scene, Cara Mía Theater Co. has been engaging us with some of the most interesting theater in the past few years, especially since artistic director David Lozano was re-energized with the company after he co-created Crystal City 1969, which debuted at the Latino Cultural Center in 2009.
Now, Lozano and company are embarking on their most ambitious project yet, a trilogy about immigration that begins this week with The Dreamers: A Bloodline.
Teresa Marrero, Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Theater at the University of North Texas, conducted several interviews with Lozano, via email and text message. Here is part of their conversation, in which Lozano talks about the company, his interest in Chicano and political theater, and the development of The Dreamers, which is the first product from the 2012 grants given in the Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fun. (The others, Jonathan Norton’s play homeschooled, and Will Power’s play Stagger Lee, will debut later this year and in 2014 at African American Repertory Theatre and the Dallas Theater Center, respectively.) The Dreamers opens Friday at the Latino Cultural Center.
TheaterJones: The Dreamers: A Bloodline has been selected as a recipient of a grant from the TACA Donna Wilhelm Family New Works Fund. Congratulations! What does receiving this grant mean to the development of this work?
David Lozano: This grant was critical in allowing us to justify spending the time we have invested in the development of the script. We received the first portion of the funding last year in preparation of a workshop performance of the piece. I was able to create and to contract our creative team for a rehearsal schedule similar to that of one for a full production, yet we focused on exploration, writing and music. Without those funds, I would not have been able to contract our artists for the workshop process like I did.
TACA [The Arts Community Alliance] is also interested in performance processes that take risks that reflect cultural specificity, and demonstrate innovative processes. Grants like these are often highly competitive, national grants. We are lucky to have TACA and the Donna Wilhelm New Works Fund that can support an experimental and complex creation process, an original work by a company our size, and a story that is loaded with political overtones. The grant has also raised the profile of our project to a level that may have been otherwise very challenging to achieve. It gave us a head start on fundraising for this project and allowed us to hire some of the most interesting designers in the area such as lighting designer Linda Blasé, composer S-Ankh Rasa, scenic designer Jessie Zaragaza, cinematographer Fabián Aguirre for projections, costumers Ella Rose Haag and Sammie Haggar, and properties master Tish Mussey. Design-wise, this is our most imaginative and ambitious work to date.
The Dreamers: A Bloodline, is part one of a trilogy on immigration. Could you discuss your vision for doing this as a trilogy?
We decided on a trilogy on immigration last February in 2012. We had just finished what I would consider our most successful two-year run during my time with Cara Mía, with Crystal City 1969, The House on Mango Street, Nuestra Pastorella [TM: pastorellas hail from Spanish medieval, later Mexican traditional Christian nativity plays] and our two-year collaboration with the Mexican company, Laboratorio de la Máscara [Laboratory of the Mask]. It marked the end of a chapter of growth for our company and specifically for our resident ensemble who had trained together and created some of the company's most memorable productions since I have been with Cara Mía [Note: DL joined Cara Mía in 2002, left in 2006 and returned in 2009.] I felt that it was necessary for us to consciously take more steps as an artistic ensemble and for our company to continue to create meaningful plays about the social and political conditions of Latinos in the United States.
Frida [Espinoza Müller, actor, collaborator and Lozano’s wife] and I were reading some plays as I was preparing our upcoming seasons but these scripts by other writers weren't satisfying our needs to dig into our own artistic voices. I also wanted to begin challenging our process and to invite more responsibility onto the acting ensemble in order to create original material in new ways. During this time, Frida and I went to see a documentary, Una Ruta Nada Santa: From San Salvador to San Fernando Valley, about Salvadoran immigrants through Mexico in hopes of arriving at the United States. The immigrants in the documentary never arrived. They were victims of the vicious and violent organized crime that pervades through parts of northern Mexico right now.
Do you have family there?
Yes. Since we have family and friends living in Mexico, we travel to Mexico one or two times a year and tour various areas of the country. I feel the claustrophobia and endless frustration with the pervading violence among the Mexican people as we travel from town to town. Obviously some regions are hit harder by the violence than others. Northern Mexico seems to be where the worst violence is taking place, but it also happens in Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos and in Chiapas along the southern border with Guatemala. It is so incredibly frustrating because the violence that is triggered by the drug cartels is linked to the human trafficking of immigrants and the sale of drugs into the United States that is often permitted by the corruption within the various levels of the Mexican government. We felt that this is the story that our company needs to tell.
Did you discuss your project with any of the artistic community here in Dallas?
Coincidentally, I was discussing the possibilities of Cara Mía collaborating on a new work with Kevin Moriarty and the Dallas Theater Center at the time. He wanted us to develop a work that would engage our community on an immediate level by exploring political, social and cultural themes. It dawned on me that we could create a trilogy on immigration because the issue is one that affects everyone in a border state like Texas whether you are Latino or not. Since the play Cara Mía had decided to create within our ensemble would treat the experience of traveling to reach the United States, I thought we could create a trilogy and the second piece would be about the immigrant experience here, and it would reflect the difficulties of the young people brought to the US before they had the ability to choose to immigrate. So, we decided to create a play about the youth that are associated with the Dream Act - The Dreamers.
As a title, The Dreamers seemed to fit the vision of immigrants in general. It is amazing to hear the stories of people traveling. They talk about they just had to come to the United States in spite of the dangers. Even people who experienced terrible hardships have said that something was just telling them that they had to risk the journey. There was like a voice that was provoking them to do it. We decided on the trilogy called The Dreamers.
This play is based on interviews of immigrants in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Could you comment on this part of the preparation, please?
Frida, Ana González, Priscilla Rice and S-Ankh Rasa have been in this project from day one. Each of the company members was asked to interview two immigrants, preferably from El Salvador. We heard some extraordinary stories. Extraordinary stories. Ana interviewed an acquaintance who was brought to the United States as a young child from El Salvador. Her father was trying to leave a Salvadoran gang and as he was walking down the street with his daughter on his shoulders, he saw a gang member who was looking for him. He passed off his baby to his sister and was immediately shot and killed. This story inspired the central theme of our play - the bloodline.
So, some of the content of the stories are biographical, right?
Yes, but not entirely. Characters as storylines were inspired by the true stories, but we integrated our own ideas for character and story into the play. We heard so many incredible and horrific stories through these interviews. We heard people's varying opinions of the Civil War, its effect on the country, as well as the difficulties and the tragedies of traveling through Mexico illegally. We also heard some amazing stories of people who arrived successfully and have built wonderful lives here, but we began to see patterns, like the conundrum of living during the civil war in El Salvador. Many trusted neither the Salvadoran army nor the Marxist rebels. The people felt trapped. We heard a lot about the devastated economy and living standards after years of civil war. The feeling of needing to leave El Salvador to the U.S. kept repeating, as well as the dangers of traveling through Mexico.
One of our actors interviewed a friend of his family who was a female coyote. She first traveled to the U.S. and returned to El Salvador to bring other family members, but people in her neighborhood would ask her to take their family members. She couldn't refuse. She then began smuggling people from El Salvador to the United States. After several years, she was a goodwill coyote who had created a sound business!
There was the story of a young woman who worked as a prostitute in El Salvador but she did not want her children to know what she did for a living when they got older. So she left for the U.S.
The list of amazing stories goes on and on. And bits and pieces of these stories began to fuse together to inspire our ensemble to create characters and story lines.
To what degree is the work of Cara Mía in general a collaborative process? Has the company systematized its process or do you follow a specific technique? Is there a nexus with the collaborative processes which characterized the origins of the Chicano Teatro movement with the works of, say, El Teatro Campesino of the 1970s?
DL: Before arriving at Cara Mía, I was immersing myself in techniques and strategies for collective creation and "devised" work by working with people like Fred Curchack [renowned artist and currently Professor of Art and Performance at the University of Texas at Dallas] and Jeffry Farrell [also nationally recognized artist, director, solo performer, master teacher with whom Lozano shares a long history of admiration]. I knew the kind of theater I wanted to create very early on. It was the year I actually began acting, when I was 20 and saw the great companies that Cora Cardona was bringing to her international festivals [for Teatro Dallas] in the late 90's. I was taking workshops with these ensembles and soaking in as much as I could. I still use some of the techniques from these workshops with companies from Spain, Mexico and Argentina. They had such a great impact on me. I felt they were creating a "living" theater because their plays were either created by the ensembles or written by a company member and explored through distinct techniques of ensemble, physical theater unique to each company. I felt that this kind of theater had a potential to be a popular theater as well as intellectual because of the possibilities of several people collaborating on a single project.
When I arrived to Cara Mía, the previous artistic director Marisela Barrera [now in San Antonio] fearlessly created new work and had helped to develop an atmosphere within the organization that understood the importance of creating new work. It was a perfect fit for me.
How did you find your connection with Chicano theater?
As I began to understand the responsibility of directing a Chicano theater company, I saw that Chicano theater was founded on collective creation. New work gave voice to those who didn't have a voice in theater before. I also saw the parallels in the way groups like Teatro Campesino and Teatro Esperanza approached their work. I began to read as much as I could on their work and I was intrigued by how early teatro [TM: teatro, Spanish for theater, used in this context, refers to Chicano/Latino theater in the United States] was inspired by carpa theater [TM: carpa is the Spanish word for “tent”; the reference is to travelling tent shows, much like medieval European travelling shows]. As a clown trained in the European clown tradition, I saw this as an entry into linking Cara Mía's work to the early Chicano roots. We even began a series of carpa theater performances we called Carpa Cara Mía, first created in San Antonio with the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in 2004 (when I first met actor Rodney Garza) and then continued into our clown work with Cara Mía plays such as Nuestra Pastorela and Payasos Clown.
The influence of the early Chicano teatros had its greatest impact on me in terms of content. This early teatro was explicitly social and political theater, and I began to assume my responsibility as a Chicano artist to create more than simply aesthetically appealing work, but rather plays that explore our place in our society. Likewise, our plays use what is popularly called Brechtian forms, breaking the fourth wall, stepping outside of the play for moments, and speaking to the audience. In a Chicano context, we could call this Valdezian [TM: after Teatro Campesino’s Luis Valdez, considered as the initiator of the Chicano Theater movement in the 1960s. Valdez speaks at the Latino Cultural Center on June 7 at 7 p.m., during the Theatre Communications Group conference in Dallas]. I ran wild with this approach, and it has become a trademark of our work.
Now, we are experimenting more than ever. Our inspirations come from a variety of sources. During this process, I read the essays and musings of Erik Ehn for breakfast, poured over the writings of Eugenio Barba, and watched as many interviews as I could of the musicians Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois who have documented very openly their processes of experimentation with their art form. The Obligue Strategies by Brian Eno have become very inspiring to me. I have been looking for any way I can to approach our work in new ways. I also used an idea that Rupert Reyes from Teatro Vivo in Austin told me about last year. He was one of the members of Teatro Esperanza [TM: Santa Barbara, California-based, early and now classic Chicano collective theater group, today run by original member Rodrigo Duarte Clarke in San Francisco]. Rupert talked about how company members would write a scene and take it into rehearsal and pass it to the person sitting next to them. That person would then take the writing and rewrite it. We did a variation of that for The Dreamers.
Could you comment on your collaboration with musical creator S-Ankh Rasa? Where in the process does the musical component enter?
S-Ankh is an African musician and composer who I think identifies with the universal themes that Cara Mía pursues in our plays. He believes in a theater for social change and finds the universality of our work. When he first heard our idea for The Dreamers trilogy, he said, "Wow!" and he was on the bus. I can't really say when the music is created because he is composing to himself when he is walking on the sidewalk, in his car, or even in between sentences during a conversation. I remember us having a fluid conversation, and I realized that during the silences he was slightly nodding his head and whispering rhythms to himself. Just last recently, we incorporated the musicians into rehearsal and I had not heard any of his material yet but he had all the elements of a composition. I don't know. It is hard to say. The music is incorporated because he is always around from Day 1 even if I don't hear any music. We are always talking. We talk at 5 a.m. or until my wife tells me to get off the phone. We both stay up late and will correspond at all hours of the night and morning.
Could you give us a teaser with regards to the other two works of this trilogy?
Part two will deal with the youth associated with the Dream Act. It will take place in Dallas and will be a co-production with the Dallas Theater Center. Part 3, we don't know yet. We will wait and see how our company evolves and how the stories of immigration change over the years.
What kind of experience do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing Dreamers: A Bloodline?
I want people to be able to experience the lives of people coming from El Salvador and Central America and how these fiercely strong, passionate, loving and vulnerable human beings are forced to deal with the violence and brute force of powerful international political and economic systems the we are all tied to: all of us living in Central America, Mexico or the United States. Yet, in spite of the odds stacked against the immigrants, they are driven forward by the love for their families, and specifically, in the case of the play, their love for their children: The Dreamers.
And, to wrap it up, David, what is your role in the upcoming TCG conference here in Dallas during the first week of June 2013?
I am on the planning committee. I will also sit on a panel for the session on the national Latinos in Theater arc, and I am also participating in the pre-conference on diversity and inclusion. All conference members get a discount to see the play! Hope to see you all then!
◊ Below is a "micro-documentrary" about Cara Mía's educational outreach, shot by Fabián Aguirre.