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I SEE YOU : LA MIGUELITO'S AMÉRICA AS AN AREÍTO by asha alvarez

Abstract

Example of an Ofrenda and an a candle of La Virgen de Guadalupe that would be featured in such an offering— a return to indigenous practices with honoring those who came before you; Both pictures by Asha Alvarez

I am interested in analyzing the gesture that came up a lot both in the question and answer discussion and during the show itself: the performers talking directly to audience members in Who Shot La Miguelito? In the very beginning of the show, two of the characters address members of the audience directly (in fact, I was one!), and it had varying effects! I had the opportunity to interview these two actors and more about how they felt talking to the audience. It was specifically directed at the members of the audience who sat on the stage. They are extremely close to the performers and can make eye contact. The actors answered a series of questions in order to go deeply into the different reactions that came out of this gesture and the intentions behind it. It made people uncomfortable, it created a sense of community, and it blurred the line between audience and performer. This gesture has its roots in indigenous practices, eschewing Eurocentric customs in order to connect. La Miguelito is an areíto and explores the differentiation between actor and audience by breaking down the fourth wall. I completed six formal interviews and numerous casual conversations regarding this topic and connected it to the original performance.

How Does The gesture affect the audience and the performers?

Crystal Haryanto (Sapphire Blue), Abner Lozano (Lolito), Anna Sharpe (Noktolonel), and Geovany Calderon (Coco Cocoa), Photo Credits to Ben Dillon
Two Tickets to La Miguelito that revealed a different point of view by Asha Alvarez

description

I am glad to say that I got the chance to see Who Shot La Miguelito? twice. I will focus on the first experience, as I sat on the stage and got to fully engage with the material and actors. In the very beginning of the show, the character Lolito (played by Abner Lozano) addresses several members of the audience. He walked around, making eye contact with all the people who sat close enough, including me. The script changed every night, so the experience was new every night. In the script, it is stated that Lolito specifically improvises dialogue with the audience. The gesture of talking directly to the audience could elicit many different reactions. As I had a personal experience with being called out twice, I may have had a different view of the show than someone who sat further away from the stage. I could see people cringing and looking away instead of making direct eye contact with the actors. I chose to continue watching and got called “baby girl” twice throughout the show. Because the words directed at me were positive, I might have a different perspective than some of the “white hipsters” in the audience (who also get called out by the entire crew).

Rose Escolano (Eklectic), Photo Credits to Ben Dillon

These are the questions that the cast members who were interviewed had to answer: 1. How many shows have you worked on before?

2. Have you ever worked on a show that required you to talk directly to the audience?

3. How did you feel about talking to the audience?

4. How did the audience react?

5. Was what you said to the audience scripted? Did it change every night?

The actors who responded were Crystal Haryanto who played Sapphire Blue, Janette Bow-Keola who played La Virgen de Guadalupe, Alice Zhang who played Yip, Anna Sharpe who played Noktolonel, and Abner Lozano who played Lolito. The first question was how many plays they had all been in before because I felt that it gave it more context— some of the actors had never been in a play before (or at least with TDPS— the Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies department). They all had experience with speaking or performing in front of an audience (ballet, speech and debate, or film). From a performer’s perspective, being on stage can be nerve wracking, especially in a non-traditional play like this. None of them had every directly interacted with the audience like this before either, except for Sharpe. She described how she was initially hesitant to "press" the audience like she did. Sharpe linked it to the real-life experiences of people of color, over-looked and ignored, iterating that it "...was OUR time and OUR space" (Alvarez 2019).

Luis Valdez, from Mummified Deer and Other Plays, photo by Asha Alvarez, a quote included in discussion with Miyuki Baker

Various actors described feeling scared or overwhelmed, except for Zhang who has experience with debate. In a question and answer session in the Performance in America lecture, Lozano expressed that he was naturally a very shy person, so it was difficult for him to confront the audience in the way his character Lolito did. The terms “confront” and “confrontational” came up a lot in my interviews. I had a casual conversation with one of my classmates, Danny, who considered how he would have responded if he had been confronted. He told me that he sat towards the back, because he thought that the seats on the stage were for the actors. He was surprised, but all he could do was observe and wonder what he would have said.

That night, Lolito said “que pasa?” so maybe he would have said “que onda?” Maybe, he shared, he would have stayed silent too. Zhang had a comedic character as Yip, so she said that sometimes people laughed, kept blank facial expressions, nodded, or avoided eye contact which didn’t bother her. Keola said something similar, but also that she had never felt as heard before as when she spoke directly to the audience as La Virgen. In Keola's own words, she said: “One of the main takeaways of our play was to give the "minority" populations a voice; to say it in the loudest voice possible that "I am here" and "I will not be overlooked." I think that by directly talking to the audience we truly conveyed that” (Alvarez, 2019). Crystal talked about being scared, but ultimately felt like it built up her confidence to “communicate and be a part of something bigger” (Alvarez).

Janette Keola (La Virgen), Photo Credits to Ben Dillon

Both Haryanto and Keola shared that the director, Sean San Jose, allowed the performers some flexibility with their lines directed at the audience. Keola stated: “the stage direction to project it to an audience member was added in later in the process, so we didn't really know what lines were gonna be breaking the fourth wall. However, I made little comments in the audience during the final "face-off" scene as a [sic] improv thing during rehearsals and Sean, our director, loved it so it became part of the script!” (Alvarez). I had my own thoughts about the play, after seeing it twice. I sat on the stage the first time and in the wings on the second night.

The experience was vastly different, but I was called out by Lolito when I sat in the front. I like to be in the front for any performance because I enjoy making that connection between audience and performer— I like to show that I am present, listening, and appreciating the effort that the whole cast and crew put into the production. I understood my classmates’ points of view, that it was possibly uncomfortable and confrontational. It very much depended on what the actors were saying each night and how they were feeling about the crowd— I definitely blushed a bit out of embarrassment. Lozano explained that he had about four planned confrontations/interactions with the audience: saying "hello" in English to the white people in the crowd, saying "hola" to bring it back to Spanish, "what's up/que onda" to provoke the audience a little, and "baby girl" to get a laugh and emphasize the humor too.

Janette Keola (La Virgen), Anna Sharpe (Noktolonel), Photo Credits to Ben Dillon

Sean San Jose alluded to his intentions when encouraging the actors to engage the audience, when he talked about building a sense of community. In this way, we were all a part of The Mission, we all saw what happened to La Miguelito, and we were all witnesses to the gentrification of the neighborhood. This reminded me of the debate surrounding the areíto, whether it was real or just a colonizer’s bastardization of a number of Indigenous practices. The areíto was not one thing to one group of people— it was many events and performances and concepts to many different people. Paul Scolieri describes how the areíto refers to any number of things, like just "singing, a festival, or a ceremony” (38).

At the beginning of each show, the actors would make an announcement that the audience was encouraged to vocally react in any way they saw fit. Sharpe stated that this is how theatre used to be and likened it to a church or worship experience where the whole community comes together and takes part in a ritual performance. During one performance, after the crew talked about how the audience didn't see them, Sharpe shared that an older white male repeatedly stated: "I see you." He felt moved enough to affirm the presence of the people of color onstage. Ultimately, La Miguelito could be classified as an areíto, has links to Indigenous performance, and blurs the lines between fantasy and reality when the actors talk to the audience. Who is then the actor? Who is the audience in that situation? Do we not all become both actor and audience in that situation? What is performance if not a connection between people resulting in a community?

In this way, Who Shot La Miguelito? is a representation of America as it is today. The United States has an ugly history of genocide of Native people, slavery of African people, and many other broken treaties and violations of human rights at home and abroad. But we also have a great deal of diversity in America, people from all around the world with all different kinds of backgrounds who may not have been present for said ugly history (both benefitting from and being harmed by it too), so the real question is: where do we go from here? That is a question that the play brought up for me, and it brought the same discomfort as the direct interactions between the actors and audience. The show's cast reflected our America, one with colors and cultures that are not all the same and do not necessarily mix together completely either. Hopefully, we can instill some sense of community in America one audience call-out at a time.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Asha I. “Abner Lozano Interview.” 19 Nov. 2019.

Alvarez, Asha I. “Alice Zhang Interview.” 11 Nov. 2019.

Alvarez, Asha I. "Anna Sharpe Interview." 18 Nov. 2019.

Alvarez, Asha I. “Crystal Haryanto Interview.” 12 Nov. 2019.

Alvarez, Asha I. "Daniel Baldauf Interview." 22 Nov. 2019.

Alvarez, Asha I. “Janette Keola Interview.” 14 Nov. 2019.

Brice, Anne. “In 'La Miguelito,' a Street Artist's Murder Mirrors Bay Area Gentrification.” Berkeley News, 18 Oct. 2019, news.berkeley.edu/2019/10/18/tdps-who-shot-la-miguelito/.

San Jose, Sean. “Who Shot La Miguelito? .” 2019, Berkeley, CA, TDPS.

Scolieri, Paul A. Dancing in the New World. University of Texas Press, 2013.

Valdez, Luis. "Mummified Deer and Other Plays." Arte Publico, 2005.

Created By
Asha Alvarez
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