Interviews From Another Zero:

"Acknowledging that I am not Cuban, means that I need to ask for help"

Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx, Director of Cultural Programming at A Noise Within in Los Angeles Shares His Vision and Work as He is Also Directing the Upcoming Production of Anna in the Tropics and championing BIPOC stories in American Theatre 

by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Jonathan-Muñoz-Proulx. Photo Courtesy
Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx a San Diego native that has made Los Angeles his home since he went to USC to study acting, graduated, got an agent, and while heading to auditions found that he also needed to direct in order to tell the stories that he wanted to tell, give opportunities to his community, initiate projects, and bring people together. He tried to direct in LA for six to ten years only getting small projects or a directing gig in a university. People wanted his input more so as a Latinx consultant or producer and as he got more of those tasks under his belt, he then was brought on by Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz, East West Players in Little Tokyo, and finally, full time for the first time in 2018, into A Noise Within in the artistic department.

"I am able to really have a hand in artistic curation and programming, being an artist and a director and also, what is probably most important to me is this community engagement work and really building repairing relationships with communities which have been historically excluded from the theatre."

It was Producing Artistic Directors at A Noise Within, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott that brought Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruzto Jonathan's attention. A play about a Cuban-American cigar factory in 1929 Florida. "I had read it years ago, I knew the play, Geoff and Julia brought it to me and as we talked about it and fell in love with it, I always assumed Julia was going to direct it because she is Cuban.". Up to that point, Jonathan had never directed at A Noise Within stage so when he was asked to direct Anna... it was very exciting. "It really defined how great this partnership and collaboration has evolved and graduated to one of really deep trust, so it really came from them." 

Jonathan also shares that directing is usually a very lonely process. "The funny thing is that you have such a big team, designers, actors, producers, the artistic directors, there are a lot of people you are working with. But frequently, -and this is not a judgment about the partnerships-, frequently there's no one else who is doing your job with you, looking at the things you are looking at, the blocking, the pace, the staging, the musicality, the overall the structure of the show. And you are really looked at to be the expert to have those answers, that is what makes it lonely I think. I think also in the American theatre, there's frequently an expectation or burden put on the directors to be the visionary of the project, to have some grand experimental interpretation that revolutionizes the show in a way that has never been done, and that is beautiful I love that but, my way of working is I believe much more collaborative and responsive and much more a facilitator. I have a vision, a taste that I am really confident in but I really look forward to hearing from and being surprised by the people in the room, and my vision is pivoting and changing all the time until it really finds a collaborative voice.".

In this time when a lot of people in theatre are being held accountable and have had to shift in order to really be diverse, I had to ask Jonathan about the dynamic of him directing this project without being Cuban. "Absolutely, So I am Mexican...I Identify as bicultural, I am Mexican, I am French, being Queer is also a big part of my identity but I am not Cuban. I will say that For a Noise Within, it was so obvious to us that the director of this play should be Latiné or Latinx, the cast all needs to be Latiné or Latinx, a couple of our actors are Cuban, others are from different cultural backgrounds but all are Latiné or Latinx. It was also important to me that as I look at the best designers in town, I am really curating a team that engages and centers the work of Latiné and women designers so all these things, we are a piece of it. I will say that, acknowledging that I am not Cuban, means that I need to ask for help, means that I need to do a lot of research, I need to lean on Julia for her cultural eye to look at authenticity, we also bring in a Cuban cigar rolling consultant who is with us once, sometimes twice a week for multiple hours at a time, telling us about the choreography, the dance rolling the cigars. It really is a dance! stripping the vines of these leaves and working with a fourth-generation roller to make sure the authenticity and the ritual is sincere and true. I have no doubt that this production of Anna will be different than a Cuban director's production of Anna. I am all about what is true and what is authentic so I try to strip away the pretending so I am not trying to fill the gaps and make this the most Cuban production possible and looking at who we have in the room and looking at how we make sure what we are doing and how we are doing it is authentic and not offensive or artificial. But I am also aware that I am not the person to layer on a bunch of pretending to make us something we are not because then I think it veers into the world of offensive or caricature. So, just embracing who we are and who we are not and asking for help when we need it.".

The rehearsal process is of six weeks and to still be careful regarding COVID protocols, the first week of rehearsals was via Zoom so Jonathan could see their faces and the actors could see each other's faces as well. Week two and three were in person but with the cast masked, going now into week four still with the masks and probably keeping it that way until before opening. Onstage there were also aspects that Jonathan had to take into consideration like intimate scenes and some with actors sharing a cigar. "We had a long conversation, "How safe is it for our cast to share a cigar", something that seems very simple but in today's reality carries a lot of loaded reactions and emotions". He also took into consideration the audience's safety with actors walking throughout the space making sure the social distancing is there.

How do you envision the audience leaving after seeing this play? I ask...

"You know this play has such highs and such lows, it is a real rollercoaster and I hope the audience comes with us and is leaning forward in their chairs for the rollercoaster of the joyous euphoric highs and the really dark, really silent low moments. I think that the play sends us off -I am not giving anything away- but, I hope that they leave with a feeling of hopefulness, a feeling of new beginnings, fresh starts a chance to start over. Because this play is so artistic, theatrical, and poetic because language is so centered in this play. I hope the audience picks up on whatever lines resonate with them. There are a couple of lines that for me are just such magic and poetry that I just repeat in my head multiple times a day. One of those lines is Marela saying "I collect moments like tiny violet petals in a jar" and this idea of saving memories and savoring memories and us having lost so much this year whether it be a physical loss of loved ones or just the loss of our careers or our old realities, this play invites us to really pause, and meditate and marinate on stillness, quiet, simplicity and what we have and carry with us that is intangible objects and that is seen through the meditation and stillness of the rolling. The meditation and the stillness of smoking a cigar and through the mediation and the stillness of being the listeners to Anna Karenina as the lector reads the book. So, I think this play is the antidote to social media, technology, and these Zoom screens that I am having such eye fatigue from. I hope we can just pause, close our eyes, and be taken away by the poetry and the music of these words".

This production centers more on English but there is a version in Spanish that Jonathan hopes could be produced in LA. In the meantime, as the Director of Cultural Programming at A Noise Within he leads a program called "A Noise Now" with incredible community partnerships that are coming up actually two days after Anna opens. On March 28 they will be presenting The Conference of the Birds which is an adaptation of Persian poetry through choral music and dance on the Anna in the Tropics stage.

"I want to acknowledge that there's a lot of exciting programming I am producing".

As our chat is coming to an end, Muñoz-Proulx also shares for the people that are not familiar with his work, that it is usually very theatrical and magical, involving music and sometimes dance. "I am not so interested in realism, there's a reason I do theatre as opposed to film and television. I like to say that I take the character's inner poetic life and I tease it out to fill the room, so I take that inner heartbeat and expand it to fill the room with music or light or movement, so for anyone that has seen Anna in the Tropics before, and I know a lot of people have, there have been multiple Southern California productions, this production might be the most magical and most theatrical that folks have seen. There are moments of heightened poetry that really go beyond the language and we are amplifying to something quite special so I cannot wait for people to see how we breathe magic into this very poetic play.".

I have never seen a production of Anna in the Tropics and I am already salivating... "Things change when new people are in the driver's seat and this is not your grandparents or even your parents' Anna in the Tropics. This is a very youthful, very colorful, very visceral magical production."

I praise him for championing BIPOC stories that resonate with us and with artists that look like us onstage.

"I hope everyone knows the power they have in seeing these shows. When audiences come and see these plays, they continue to happen. Whether or not, audiences come and see Anna in the Tropics, though I hope they do, I am sure they will be happy with it. It is so important that audiences go see plays written by, created by, and centering BIPOC artists throughout Los Angeles or wherever you are because that, unfortunately, is what is needed for this work to keep being supported, so vote with your dollar, vote with your presence in those seats, that's what it going to get us on those stages. Yes, I am an artist but I am also a member of the theatre community and a member of the LatinX community and community first. I think we do this to heal, to grieve, to nourish our souls. We do this to be in a room next to people and feel the extremes of our humanity and I love being the artist in the laboratory and tinkering with the work, but more than that I love the magic of bringing people together building community, and supporting our stages as being a tool or voice for our community to come together and have those heightened experiences".  

Anna in the Tropics will run March 20 through April 17, 2022, with press performances on Saturday, March 26 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 27 at 2 p.m. Single ticket prices start at $25 and are available at, by phone at 626-356-3121, and at the box office located at 3352 East Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, Calif.

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