(Photo of Héctor Buitrago.)
Sitting at Joe Allen’s restaurant in the theater district talking after a show with Colombian musician Héctor Buitrago and his North American manager Yuzzy Acosta, we were reminiscing about the wild music and cultural scene of Bogotá in the early 1990’s (I lived there for a year on a Fulbright). I was recollecting a wild night at a club that started with an art opening, moved into a full-fledged lucha libre (wrestling match) followed by a rock concert.
It turned out that all three of us were there on that night, and in fact Héctor had been the founder and owner of that club, along with several others. He was also at that time along with Andrea Echeverri starting to gain international acclaim for their alt-rock band Aterciopelados. From those days in the early 90’s until now, I’ve been an enormous fan of their music as well as Héctor’s solo efforts (Conector and Conector II). Héctor is one of Latin America’s great musical innovators, and he has a unique talent for all kinds of fusion, forging new sounds with influences ranging from traditional kinds of Colombian music to all kinds of modern sounds.
Héctor’s music is such a big piece of how I think of Bogotá, and I’m delighted to have him as collaborator for a Civilians project we are developing with him and playwright José Rivera. The play, Another Word for Beauty, co-commissioned by The Civilians and the Goodman Theatre, is a play with music, taking inspiration from the real-life beauty pageant that takes place each year inside Colombia’s largest women’s prison, El Buen Pastor in Bogotá. The project is Hector’s first foray into theater, and for José the project marks his most significant collaboration with a composer.
Thanks to Global Connections, I was able to bring Héctor and José together for a working residency in New York City which involved a workshop of the current draft with actors, a lot of work time for the creative team, as well as introducing Héctor to American musical theater—and Joe Allen’s. I took Hector to three musicals in three nights—Chicago, The Book of Mormon, and Once. Not that any of these shows parallels exactly how I think he and José will use music in the show, but I thought the three together demonstrated the range of possibilities for how music, story, character and tone can play together. And alongside all that I attempted to explain the differences between Broadway and Off-Broadway, commercial and non-profit, what a regional theater is exactly and what to expect in a new play workshop.
So, twenty years ago I was a guest at Héctor’s place—watching the lucha libre and dancing to the Pixies. Fast forward to the present, and it feels like a crazy wonderful dream come true, to be host to him in my town in both a literal sense and in the sense of welcoming him into his work in the theater.
Steve Cosson founded the Civilians in 2001. With the company: co-writer and director of Paris Commune, which was recently produced at the Public Theater and previously at La Jolla Playhouse; co-writer and director of This Beautiful City, which premiered at this year’s Humana Festival with productions at Studio Theatre in DC, LA’s Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and The Vineyard Theatre; writer/director of the long-running hit Gone Missing (New York Times critic Charles Isherwood’s Best of 2007 list), published by Dramatists Play Service; (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch, (2006 Fringe First award at Edinburgh) published by Oberon Books in the UK; and director of the company-created Canard, Canard, Goose?. The Civilians’ work has also been produced at A.R.T., Actors Theatre of Louisville, HBO’s Aspen Comedy Festival, London’s Gate Theatre and Soho Theatre among many others. Cosson has directed and developed many new plays including Neal Bell’s Shadow of Himself; Mat Smart’s 13th of Paris; Tommy Smith’s Air Conditioning, Anne Washburn’s Communist Dracula Pageant, world premiere of Peter Morris’ Square Root of Minus One; U.S. premiere of Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, U.S. premiere of Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love; world premiere of Erik Ehn’s Tailings, John C. Russell’s Stupid Kids, and In the Dark; also The Time of Your Life (Williamstown), The Importance of Being Earnest (ACT), Serious Money, and Guys and Dolls both for Carnegie Mellon. He wrote and directed Close to Shore for the San Diego Repertory Theatre, created from a six-month residency in a San Diego neighborhood. Wrote/directed Fingered, a response to The Children’s Hour (LA’s Common Ground Festival and San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center). He has taught and given master classes at Connecticut College, Carnegie Mellon, Fordham, NYU/Playwrights Horizons, UC Santa Barbara, Vanderbilt, Columbia, Colorado College, and the Yale School of Drama among others. Cosson was a resident director at New Dramatists, 2004 Obie grant for The Civilians, a MacDowell Fellow, and a Fulbright Scholar in Bogotá, Colombia. He holds an MFA in directing from UC San Diego and a BA in drama from Dartmouth College.
The Global Connections program was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Learn more here.