Dallas — During a recent luncheon presided by the Honorable Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Mónica R. Alonzo, the various artistic communities that worked together to see Mariachi Girl come to life gathered at the Dallas Children’s Theater-hosted event. It featured playwright and University of Texas professor Roxanne Schroader-Arce, composer Héctor Martínez Morales, director Robyn Flatt, music director Julián Arizola, costume designer Raúl Carrazco, set and lighting designer Amarante Lucero and the entire cast, including Aisha San Román in the lead as Cita.
The play deals with the plight of Carmencita (Cita) who is born into a mariachi musical family but is prohibited from joining them as a musician because she is a girl.
After a delicious Mexican/Tex-Mex luncheon, Flatt opened the discussion by addressing playwright Schroader-Arce with the question “Just what inspired you to write this play?”
Her response: “I was in Fresno, California, having tea with my friend Carmen Cristina Moreno and we began talking about what her life was like as a musician. Her father was a mariachi and he said no to her, he would not give permission for her to become a mariachi musician. But she could not let go of her dream…that was 17 years ago! She never gave up on her dream. And I kept thinking about this little girl; she kept talking to me, developing in my head. I wanted music in the show, but wondered who could possibly write original mariachi music with a consciousness about theater and children?
“Then, while in Boston, I met the amazing Mexican composer Héctor Martínez Morales. Then, a bit later, when I was talking with Robyn that I realized that something was missing from the relationship with Cita and her Dad. The key was when I told her of how music was something between my mother and me that could not be explained; it was a connection, one not of logic, but of a visceral, DNA-remembered nature. She then said that that was missing from the play, how Cita and her Dad connected, how she had music in her, and essentially a connection to Mexico though she had only lived there a short time as a baby before the family migrated to the USA.”
Martínez chimed in: “It is a pleasure working with Roxanne to help bring this story to life. The first song I wrote, a bolero, was the conversation between Cita and her teacher, who is racially mixed. She is Anglo and Mexican. It deals with the theme that it is OK to have plural identities.”
Martínez is a classically rained musician with an impressive résumé that includes a Masters in composition and theory from the Longy School of Music. He has studied with Bert Van Herck (Harvard) and at the Schola Cantorum of Paris and l’Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris.
During the luncheon they performed the song, with Martínez on guitar and featuring San Román as Cita and Schroeder-Arce—a singer and musician in her own rite—singing the role of the Teacher, normally played by Krishma Trejo, a Ciudad Juárez native and University of North Texas Dance and Theater graduate. The theme of the upbeat song is: Sí, se puede (“Yes, you can”). We can be whatever we dream. All of us.
Mónica Alonzo noted that the play is especially inspiring for woman.
“Coming from a family of 11, with six brothers, I can understand tradition,” she said. “But the important thing is to recognize that there is opportunity for all. La tradición se respeta [“tradition is respected”], but there is always the possibility to adapt it to changing needs. In this play there is something for everybody. It speaks to those who want to follow the traditional role of mothers, which is a fine one. But it also says to young woman who want to venture into the professions: you can decide your own role, your own future? How badly do you want something? How much are you willing to work for your dreams? This is a great example for our youth.”
The performers added their thoughts about the play and their roles.
Aisha San Román, a McAllen native who studied at UT-Austin, says she understood Cita who, “was born in the United States, but she has a love for Mexican mariachi music. She meets an inspiring teacher, and then goes to her mom to mediate. All typical stuff that happens in many families…”
Vanessa DeSilvio, who starred in Kitchen Dog Theater’s 2013 production of Octavio Solis’ Se Llama Cristina, plays the mother and sees herself as “the mediator between what the husband wants—a better future for his kids—and what her daughter wants. Along the way they all discover the beauty of one’s roots and an intergenerational connection. “I could identify from my own Venezuelan roots,” she says, “and the pride in my identity that my parents passed on to me.”
Michael Alonzo, a UNT senior classical music mayor, a high tenor originally from Little Elm, plays the role of the older brother, a role that was expanded after a talk-back that was held after a reading of the play, held in Dallas by the American Society for Theater Research conference in October 2013. “He plays the acculturated brother, the one who is into getting a higher education, going to college,” Alonzo says, “not interested in the mariachi family business.” But, as a good brother, he eventually supports Cita’s wish to participate in the family mariachi band.”
Krishma Trejo, originally from Ciudad Juárez and a UNT Dance and Theater graduate, plays the pivotal role of Teacher. “I am proud to be both Mexican and Anglo. I see myself in Cita. Even if it means going against her father, being true to herself is the most important thing.”
Iván Jasso, who plays José, a member of Cita’s father’s mariachi band, “wants things to progress, for mariachi to include women, so he supports Cita’s participate in the band.”
Flatt added that “this is really a family story not just a kid’s story.” She then introduced Cara Mía Theatre’s David Lozano, who participated in the early development of the play in Spring 2012.
“This play has been a mission of Robyn’s over the past two years,” Lozano said. “We got to know each other along the way, and she asked Cara Mía to workshop the play, exploring the cultural aspects and thinking what it means to be Mexican and American in this country. The story is so strong. To have so many communities involved in the production is great.”
Among those communities are the University of Texas in Austin, which held a reading and then its first full production; the University of North Texas, whose Dance and Theater Department Chair, Lorenzo Garcia, provided developmental reading of early draft of script for ASTR Conference, October 2013; the Technical Theater Class of Highland Park High School, which provided costume and scene designs, now displayed in the DCT lobby; and Alegre Ballet Folklórico, which will participate in the finale of the play at weekend performances.
At the Dallas Children’s Theater’s Baker Idea Symposium on April 5, which features Mariachi Girl, there will be mariachi and Ballet Folklórico groups from Greiner Middle School, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Stoneybrook High School of Round Rock I.S.D, Anita Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Adamson High School, the Southern Methodist University Meadows World Music Ensemble, Journeyman Ink, Dennis Gonzalez and Mariachi Rosas Divinas.
In addition to the run at DCT, there will be a free performance of Mariachi Girl at the Latino Cultural Center as part of the center’s Target Second Saturday program on April 12 at noon. Mariachi Girl will also be performed for D.I.S.D. students at the LCC on April 8, 10, and 11, 2014.
» Teresa Marrero is Associate Professor of Latin American and Latino Theater, Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of North Texas in Denton