(To learn more about Marcy Arlin’s Artist, Immigrant blog series, click here.)
What do you love about theatre in the U.S. for yourself and in general?
I like that in NYC you can see small experimental work and big Broadway productions as well as theatre from all over the world. But I love theatre in the U.S. mostly for the same reasons I love theater in general. It is important. It is a unique art form where we reveal a bit of our humanity and lift it up to an audience to hopefully help them experience worlds outside their own and maybe to be the mirror that helps them understand their own lives.
What do you miss about working in your homeland?
I started working in Theater, professionally, here in U.S. but I was involved in the performing arts in Mexico and I loved it because of the late night conversations, the people, the artists, the audiences. I have a sense that the important conversations were deeper and always easier to have. And I don’t remember worrying about how difficult it was to put on a show in Mexico; there are so many producing issues here that sometimes they overwhelm the artistic work.
How have your combined, in your work, both country’s theatre training and culture?
When working on a production, I’d say that my theatre training in the U.S. brings the brains, the technique and my experience from Mexico brings the heart, the empathy. A lot of my performance training in Mexico was around Mexican rituals, traditional celebratory events and folkloric dances. Here, I got certificates at several acting academies and earned an MFA in directing.
I am sure my varied experiences seeps into all my work, but not until recently did I actually create a piece that combines Mexican rituals and dance with traditional story telling; the workshop of it at INTAR Theatre was amazing. I will not be afraid of doing it more often.
Several years ago I created a piece for a Mexican dance folk company in NY and one of the female dancers I was working with had a night job; she danced for money. A dollar a dance. Intrigued, I went to where she worked and encountered a world I had not experienced. It was a Mexican restaurant by day; by night it was a dance hall with a complicated set of rules reminiscent of the Taxi dancers in San Francisco in the 1920s. The place was full of what appeared to be immigrants from Mexico all displaying a joyous, confident demeanor and dancing up a storm… they were somehow “home.” So I decided to create a theatre piece about this I called “Dance for a Dollar.”
My piece is like a snapshot of that dance hall. The characters living it up dancing to current Mexican dance hall music; traveling into memory with traditional folk dances and using an abstract physical vocabulary in an attempt to open up a window into their soul. All this work was based on interviews and observations of both dancers and clients. I later brought in a playwright to help me deepen and formalize the text and create new dialog.
How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?
I never really did think of myself as an immigrant: I had a U.S. citizen mother, a Mexican father, and I grew up on the Mexican side of the U.S. border. This “line” is where I always lived. For a long time I actually felt privileged to be in this position, until I physically moved to the U.S. Although a citizen, I became an immigrant, a Latino… and to this day, that still sounds weird to me, “I am Mexican” sounds much better. But, alas, some of my friends say that I am now more American than Mexican. And I do find this to be true in terms of the mechanics of directing or producing a play. I learned all of that here. But although I’ve been here for 30 years and begin to have the same perspective as someone that grew up here, I keep reaching across the border to find my wisdom, inspiration and childhood memories.
How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
It gets me into the conversation of the Latino identified theatres, but I feel it does narrow the directing opportunities at other theatres. There is an irrational belief that one can only work on certain kind of plays.
Do you feel you are asked to only do certain kinds of work?
Indeed I do. I believe it’s partly because people don’t have the time to get to know you as an artist, and partly due to the choices I’ve made in my career, the artists I know and the voices I promote.
Do you enjoy the Latino-identified theatres?
I love them and love working with them. I feel at home. They take the time to know me and to develop my work.
What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?
I’m remounting a production I directed earlier this year in NYC by Mexican playwright Sabina Berman and taking it to Cabo San Lucas, México. I am finishing up my “Dance for a Dollar” piece (co-created with playwright Mariana Carreño) readying it for its premiere at The Miracle Theatre in Portland, Oregon in May 2013. Also, I am working on finalizing my translation into English of “Partida.” a wonderful new three-character play by Mexican playwright Luis Ayhllón. I have not finalized the title in English, but its literal translation is “Departure.” It’s about two lawyers at a small import/export business; one is about to get fired. Both are willing to do anything to keep their job even if it entails betrayal and enduring large amounts of humiliation. It is a play that is universal dealing with elements of great drama: survival, deceit, power, and specific enough to allow us to see the modern Mexican world and its flawed characters.
What is your residency/citizenship/visa status? How does it affect your life as an artist?
Even though I was raised in Mexico and didn’t move here until I was 21, officially, I have always been a U.S. citizen.
Daniel Jáquez, a member of SDC, is an award-winning director, a translator and a producer whose work has been seen throughout New York City, across the U.S. and abroad. He is an advisory committee member for The Lark’s U.S./Mexico Word Exchange program, an artistic associate of the Miracle Theater in Portland, OR, and Teatro V!da in Springfield, MA. He was the director of INTAR Theatre’s NewWorks Lab and co-founder/Artistic Director of Calpulli Mexican Dance Theatre. He is a graduate of the American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theatre Institute at Harvard University. His teaching experience includes: Adjunct Professor at Manhattanville College, Teaching Fellow at Harvard University, Guest Artist/Teacher at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College and many community workshops in dance and theatre. Daniel grew up in Ciudad Juárez, México. (www.DanielJaquez.com)
Marcy Arlin is Artistic Director of the OBIE-winning Immigrants’ Theatre Project. Member: Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Theatre without Borders, League of Professional Theatre Women, No Passport, and Fulbright Scholar to Romania and the Czech Republic. She curates Eastern European Playwrights: Women Write the New. Her project East/West/East: Vietnam Immigrants Out of War, is a binational, Vietnamese/Czech/English theatre project based on interviews with American and Czech Vietnamese. She created Journey Theatre with survivors of war and torture. Directing venues: 59E59, QTIP, LaMama, MESTC, Vineyard, Oddfellows Playhouse, Artheater/Köln, Nat’l Theatre of Romania. Co-Editor Czech Plays: 7 New Works. Teaches theatre at CUNY, community-based theatre at Yale, Immigrant Theatre at University of Chicago (her alma mater) and Prague Quadrennial, Brown, and NYU.