Interviews From Another Zero

Playwright and Director Theresa Chavez and actress Marlene Beltran by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

For its 30th anniversary, About... Productions is remounting L.A. Real: a solo production based in Lincoln Heights. Just east of Los Angeles' Chinatown, this local performance is an interdisciplinary piece that explores the California myths and nostalgia affecting our perceptions of LA history and LATINX culture. 

From Another Zero did an interview with Playwright and Director Theresa Chavez and actress Marlene Beltran who stars in the piece.

Los Angeles has many layers and the Latin American/Chicano one is basic-crucial to the California town. That too comes with a bunch of stereotypes due to ignorance. In this interview, we try to clarify a few things:

Marlene, you are a first-generation Chicana. For people that are not aware or truly familiar, how would you define being Chicana and how do you embrace your Chicanidad in Los Angeles?

For me, being Chicana is a reclaiming of my Mexican / Indigenous Heritage. It is an identity that affirms the ancestral knowledge stored in my D.N.A. Being Chicana in LA means being politically conscious and aligned with social justice issues for the empowerment and well-being of our BIPOC communities. I embrace my Chicana identity through the Mexica tradition of - In Xochitl In Cuicatl / Flower and Song - I uplift our culture and history through storytelling, music, poetry, and dance to honor my ancestors and for its preservation for the generations to come.

How has this experience been preparing for L.A Real when it is a solo piece?

Marlene: The rehearsal process for this performance has been highly collaborative. Being that it is a solo performance piece one might expect to feel a bit isolated but there was often someone new in the room and there was always space for discussion and sharing of ideas. I especially enjoyed the songwriting sessions. We spent much time developing the concept for the songs and making sure they fit the mood of the piece. The final result is a haunting musical throughline to the piece that evokes a timelessness and torrent of raw emotions.

Theresa: I would concur with Marlene regarding the collaborative rehearsal process which is how About...Productions have always approached the creation of our original theater works. It’s important that we work with artists who are interested in a development process in which a group of committed artists bring their special talents and passionate ideas to the round table. In this case with L.A. Real we were working to reimagine a work that premiered 30 years ago and so we had a script to work from which I revised, including writing lyrics for the songs which are brand new to the production. Working with Marlene and César Castro “Jarochelo” on the songs was incredibly exciting and rewarding and has created a score and sound design that brings new life and perspective to the production’s content, flow, and intensity.

Marlene Beltran as the Mestiza Narrator; shot at Placita Olvera. Photo credit: Rob Aft

What can the audience expect from this play?

Marlene: The audience can expect to be lulled into a dreamscape where Los Angeles history, cultural identity, and family heritage meet. Where vintage photographs dissolve into video and music - weaving in and out of the storytelling landscape.

Theresa: Beautifully put by Marlene. The piece does have a strong interdisciplinary approach integrating text, music/song, paintings, a beautiful set design by Dorothy Hoover, vintage/ historical photographs that have been visually heightened by projection designer Ly Eisenstein, and original video that includes a black and white homage to the Twilight Zone television show (with Rodolfo Serling as the host). All of these create a piece that evokes the historic landscape and those that have walked this earth — the indigenous Tongva people, the Californios, the Mexicanos, and the Americans — and how they have related to it. The “Real” in the title refers to real estate, film reel, and the Spanish “royal” as the piece reflects on all these aspects of L.A. and how each has been historically used to represent its complicated history. It’s also a personal history for me as a 7th generation Californiana and encompasses a 250+ year history of my ancestral past. The Mestiza Narrator, played by Marlene, is searching for her own deep and visceral connection to all this history and she discovers it by reflecting on all the various ways she has related to uncovering this past — through the family — the women in particular; through the different ways historians and boosters have represented it; through Hollywood depictions; and through her own personal, emotional discoveries.

What is next for you both?

Marlene: I am pleased to share that I will be directing the play, “blu” by Virginia Grise in collaboration with 2Rhythms theater company which will open at the Wille Agee Playhouse in Inglewood, California in June 2023. 

Theresa: I’ll be working on several projects. The 2nd year of our Youth Theater Summer Intensive with the Getty Museum and Plaza de la Raza — a 6-week, 20+ hr/week program for local youth. And the creation of Adobe Punk: the concert — a version of Adobe Punk, which we will present in the Spring of 2024.

For more information regarding L.A Real and upcoming productions please CLICK HERE                    

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