Working in the Theatre: The Ghosts of Lote Bravo

Working in the Theatre: The Ghosts of Lote Bravo


[Music] I want to write the people that scare us
the most in society because I think if we can really start to understand why they scare us and what they represent and see their humanity then we can have a more nuanced understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world that we live in. [Music] I wrote this play specifically for an American audience to root for an immigrant to cross the border illegally by the end of the play. [Music] The Ghost of Lote Bravo is about what people will do to survive and to protect their families. I had a fellowship at Juilliard and this was the very first play that I wrote for that fellowship and it was selected for the NNPN Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights’ Workshop and from there Borderlands and The Unicorn decided that they were going to do a production of the play. Rolling World Premiere for me is really a huge stepping stone in my career. It means that really for the first time my plays are getting real productions and real visibility in a way that they haven’t before. It’s very exciting to be part of the Rolling World Premiere. I think that you’re working on a national level. You know that the playwright is coming through and taking notes and almost always makes revisions between the first and second, even the second and third productions. Sometimes we think we’re an island; we’re the only theater that wants to find playwrights or playwrights of color or female playwrights or young playwrights. You get together with these other theaters in the NNPN; it’s like wow! They’re all looking to do this. [Chatter] Right now, I’m in rehearsal, two rehearsals at the same time, at Borderlands Theater in Tucson, Arizona and The Unicorn Theater in Kansas City. So I’ve been flying back to back going from one city to another city, one city to another city. It’s a bit overwhelming, if I’m going to be totally honest. [Laughs] It’s a lot to juggle two completely different casts, two completely different interpretations of the script. Just being in the dynamics of two very different theaters that operate in very different ways and have very different budgets for the play and trying to figure out how to try to give them as much of a road map for this play as possible in a very, very, very short amount of time. [Music] We don’t own our own theater. We’re a
very small company and so part of working outside, I mean we are in the desert, it’s not the same desert as Lote Bravo but it’s still very similar. I think it’s helping actors to get a little more
experiential feeling. And then there’s a gate right here. Sometimes people walk through and they stop and see us working. [Music] Borderlands Theater has has a long history of doing plays that have a historical background or documentary background of current or historical issues in our community. Hilary Bettis has done a thorough job of investigating the complex reality of these border residents in a way you will not read on the front page of a U.S. newspaper. A couple of years ago I heard an interview with a photojournalist who had documented Juarez since the early sixties and talked about the change in the city and the city going from this quiet
suburban middle class tourist town to this city riddled with extreme violence and extreme poverty and it was almost overnight. One of the things that he talked about was the murders of women on the border and that a lot of these bodies were
dumped in Lote Bravo and nobody had ever been arrested for these crimes. They were literally getting away with
murder with impunity. That led to this obsessive desire to understand what the circumstances of these people’s lives were. I really believe that what’s happening on the border is one of the greatest human rights atrocities of our generation. These people are refugees that are fleeing violence that’s been caused by NAFTA and the way that we we want cheap goods but we don’t want to pay people for that. There are many things that are attractive about the play but really what for me was more relevant the first time that I read it was that these women are working women within the maquilas. And in that space, in one of the largest free trade zones in the entire world, they are being constructed as cheap labor and disposable within the system. Which really makes them more disposable to our side. And there is that conflict that is at the center of this piece. We need to pay attention to the fact that neo-liberal processes are interacting with the patriarchal structure, ideologies and colonial histories in this area where the global south and the global north meet. She’s laying out the facts; this is how powerful I am, I know the truth to everything, I know the entire trajectory of this bottle of tequila, all of the blood on this hand, this money that has the blood of all of these people on it. She’s bringing this story, this bottle, full circle back to her hypocrisy and her complacency in the system. I think what’s really interesting about doing this play in Tucson, Arizona specifically is that this is a town that is really extremely politically active in issues happening on the border. This is a story that really is about their own backyard. [Music] Everyone that’s in this production cares about border issues. Everyone here knows the message and has something to say. I’m an immigrant. I grew up
undocumented in this country. And the wait to actually even sit before an immigration officer was fifteen years. And then when it became my turn to to become a legal resident, then everything changed because at that point it’s like I could become legitimate, and not fear that something was going to go wrong and I was going to be sent to Mexico; a country that I really don’t even know, other than visiting my family. Could I even handle going back to the country I was born in and grew up as a child but had never really made it my country because this is my country. [Music] The Unicorn is unique in Kansas City and probably most of the Midwest. We produce shows that have never before been seen in Kansas City and very often in the entire Midwest and sometimes anywhere in the world. I don’t want to produce plays that are necessarily about the people who come to see the play. I want to shed light on a different group of people. I like people to to walk into the theater and learn something completely new that they didn’t know before they walked in. [Music] So everybody! We saw Hilary? [Excited greetings] We have Hilary back with us! [Dog barks] [Laughter] I just have to say that I think it’s so cool that as you well know, nobody gets to rehearse from the first day of rehearsal on the set and here you have the set! You’re going to get to know your spacing… It’s always a nervous thing, to start the first day of rehearsals. As a director you do all the work you can ahead of time. I’ve worked on the play for over a year now since first reading it and trying to prepare as best you can. The casting process here in Kansas City is sometimes a little trickier than it might be in New York. Very often when I pick a play and people say, oh, you can’t cast that here. I go, ha! We will cast it here, we will find the actors. And we always find the actors. I think it’s really important to help develop actors and if you only do plays about middle-aged, middle-class white people that’s the actors who are going to get the opportunity to excel. You have to go looking for playwrights, you have to go looking for stories El Reloj, he’s a tricky character. He’s somebody who is kind of forced into a world that I don’t think he fully understands. [Dialogue] The first sit-down we went through my first scene. He has the mask completely on. He’s fully machismo. He’s very proud, cocky Everything that means to be a man in this world. And it’s the complete opposite of who I am as a person. I remember being very nervous about what is this playwright going to think? They cast me, this suburban kid, who is kind of Mexican. I mean, I am but I don’t speak Spanish. It’s just very different from my identity. [Dialouge] This story, for me, is pretty close to home. I’m Mexican-American but my parents came here from Juarez. I visited Juarez a lot when I was younger but now in the past ten, fifteen years I haven’t gone back because of the dangers. My uncle, he was murdered himself in gang-related violence. It’s true. The violence is true. I guess trying to humanize Roberto Castillo is my greatest challenge. It’s easy to say that he’s a corrupt police officer, but as the cards unfold, we see that there are so many players that are involved in the game. That he is doing what is necessary, not just to advance as an officer, but to survive. It’s a story that hasn’t been spoken about in the volume that it needs to be heard at. I think the thing that I was most excited about in reading this play the first time was seeing such strong female characters. Both Wanda and her daughter, Raquel are put in unimaginable circumstances and they act with incredible bravery. So much of her journey and her relationship with the Santa Muerte is about breaking down this wall of judgment and denial and the world being black and white so the more that you can find those moments, I think at the top of the scene as opposed to the sadness and the begging. I mean, certainly that is there, and you’re desperate to find your daughter but you’re disgusted at yourself for even talking to this this woman. [Music] [Dialogue] My character, Raquel, is a fourteen year old girl and she decides that she’s going to become a prostitute in order to feed her family. [Dialouge] This play really empowers the female characters in a way that I have never seen. There is no apology for being a prostitute because it’s a demand of the market. There is no need to victimize or infantilize, to turn you into a poster-child. People, just by being people, they are granted full humaneness. I grew up really yearning to see strong, fierce, unapologetic, courageous, no-bullshit women and I think that was one of the big reasons why I seriously became a writer because I feel like these stories are not being told. But this world is populated with women who are like this. This was a world that I was not familiar with. I’ve actually never been to Mexico and I’ve never done this type of research for a play so even just the dates of articles; I open up articles that are talking about a recent murder or a group of women that have missing or any of the topics that we’re talking about in the play. I’m shocked by how many there are but also how frequent those come up. This is a current issue. We’re not looking at a war that happened forty years ago, we’re looking at a constant, current battle that women are facing. We all have not realized the exploitation of women from the global south as something that is there and we cannot do anything. We have naturalized exploitation of bodies, we have naturalized exploitation of the environment, and we have naturalized the massive consumption of goods that are being produced and
we need to know about this. I think we all need to create conscience and decide that we have to do something. [Music] La Santa Muerte represents the holy dead. She’s a very important saint in Mexico. A saint that is not officially recognized by the Mexican church, yet a saint that has a lot of influence in our communities. Usually when you think of a saint, you think of somebody who had been living, and then through death, kind of has a title that is given to them. Santa Muerte has always been dead, she is the spirit of death. What particularly speaks to me in this play, is having a deity that speaks to the needs of the working class people. This play provides a voice to those members of society in Mexico on the border that perhaps no one is listening to. I think that whole dynamic of the way human beings create the gods that they need for their situation is fascinating. It’s something that’s been happening since the beginning of humanity. The playwright for la Santa Muerte has chosen for her to have three different robe colors; the purity of a white robe, the blood red robe and the black robes of death. We also wanted her to look kind of sexy and street, which you see in some imagery of a sort of corset and ruffled skirt and boots. It’s a interesting combination of, you know, sexy death. [Music] Well, the Man in the Black Hat is rather mysterious character. He has his dark side, which I guess everybody in the play has, but I think that more than anyone else, he has reconciled himself to that. I think the play is very much this Greek, Shakespearean tragedy. All of these people, every single character in this play, is motivated by love. They love their families, they love their children, the the two teenagers in the story fall in love with each other, and through their falling in love, are really able to have a new understanding of the world for the first time. [Music] A play on the page is really just a blueprint for building something in the live, three-dimensional space. It’s really like everything you write is really theory until you have the opportunity to get in a room with other people and I love, love, love, love being in a room with with smart directors and smart actors who bring their own passion and their own talent and their own voice to the work and then suddenly it becomes this really magical experience when everybody is in sync, building this thing together. The place is very important to portray because it is the whole culture of this script. This script could not really be set anywhere but this sort of Mexican-American border in Lote Bravo. I like that we see the interior of Wanda’s home while seeing the exterior of the bar. And the header is a very cool touch to bring the hodgepodge pieces of the city and just wipe it across the whole stage. We’re getting away from the very specific literal kitchen play where after sitting around a table and talking about very realistic subjects in a realistic way. I loved the heightened ability. You have the opportunity to make a big, big picture, so you have to do it in a different way. [Singing] I am really excited to see this play in real, live, three-dimensional space. I’m also anxious to see how audiences react to it because it’s gonna be a hard play to watch. It’s a play that really questions some of our fundamental belief systems. It questions our lifestyle as Americans, our consumerism. I’m a little nervous about whether or not ultimately the audiences are going to walk away with the same theme that I’m hoping to get across from the script, which is having compassion and and empathy for people that are stuck in harrowing circumstances that really have been created by the United States, by our economic and corporate policies. [Music] I think there’s a narrative that’s already out there, that’s been out there for a long time that is not friendly, to put it mildly, to Latinos and immigrants and I hope that it allows a different conversation to start on a national level. My family understands why they came to this country. I understand why they came to this country. But many people don’t understand the struggles and how it is life or death for certain people and the reason why they come here is to find
a better life. [Music] This play being translated into Spanish. To really have a real, international dialogue, I think it’s imperative for people of both languages, in both countries to be able to experience the story. [Music]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *