“I didn’t really have any experience in anything but the canon. You know, Shakespeare, the Lanford Wilsons, the David Mamets, that’s really what I knew. To see this guy and this piece about my experience as a Colombian, as a Cuban American, it just kind of shook me. You’ve put yourself essentially in a box - what kind of theatre artist will you be when you’re 22 years old – and seeing this piece kind of shattered that box.”
- Andres Munar, I AM THEATRE
There definitely is a model of what a theater artist should look like in the mind of a 22 year old and Andres clearly defines what so many of us have had to deconstruct for ourselves on our own artistic journeys. We are raised on the canons of Shakespeare and Chekov and constructed a theater identity based on the idea that if you are to call yourself a theater artist then these canons are where you must find the most nutritive value. This is the box of which Andres speaks. Although we may love the work of Shakespeare as young actors a part of the journey is to find a way to add value to the conversation and enter with a new point of view.
Growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn with Jamaican parents was not considered out of the ordinary. Many of my friends and neighbors were of Jamaican heritage while many others hailed from any one of the other islands in the Caribbean. What we knew was that there was a commonality in the experience of being in the U.S. but specificity in our various cultures. I have often winced at the fact that very little is known about Jamaican heritage and culture. I have often witnessed attempts to include some kind of non-specific, pan-Caribbean character or locale in a piece of work but I am still left yearning for more authenticity.
Andres’ journey toward finding out who he is as an artist is one that many of us who are first generation Americans have had to define and that definition often leads to fruitful conversations on a myriad of topics. The specificity of otherness is often ignored in the landscape of American theater. Perhaps it’s because you don’t know that you are missing a thing if you have never known that it could possibly exist. Therefore, we must ask ourselves where our responsibility lies in defining our voices. How do we get others to yearn for more variety in the landscape?
Are training programs responsible for or capable of developing artists who explore their roles in theater outside of the canon?
What was the last play that you saw that was truly thought provoking? Were the characters of a similar background to your own?
Let us know, or better yet, don’t just tell, show.
Heather Alicia Simms is a resident artist at the McCarter who has appeared on and Off- Broadway, regionally and on television and film. Heather is also an accomplished voice-over artist. She was raised in Brooklyn by her wonderful Jamaican parents. Tufts University BA: History/English and MFA from Columbia University. Heather was the recipient of a Fox Foundation Resident Actor Fellowship.