For the first time, in the almost 20 years I have been writing about Latino artists and theater professionals, I never had the opportunity to interview an award-winning Latina who is a theater director and a choreographer, and who happens to have a ten-month-old baby waiting for her any moment she has a break from the stage. Rebecca Martinez is currently directing the play “I’m My Own Wife” at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, which has been called “Smart and Irresistible” (New Haven Register) and “an astonishing production” by a reviewer who is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. I need to thank Deena Nicol-Blifford, Associate Director of Marketing & Communications for facilitating this e-mail exchange.
Rebecca Martinez’s talent is impressive. She has directed 18 plays in many different parts of the country, as well as in Nicaragua and Bolivia. She has also created ten choreographies, two of them receiving awards. Reading her biography, and some of her writings it not difficult to understand and appreciate, her commitment to support Latino playwrights and actors and to bring to the Latino community the kind of theater which speaks to their own experiences some of this work she has done as a member of El SOL project collective, which encourages and presents works by Latino playwrights. She was recently awarded the Colorado Henry for Outstanding Direction for her production of Anna in the Tropics at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
In a very moving essay she describes the effect of seeing the play “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, had on her, within the context of her own ancestry. She wrote: “I come from the conquerors and the conquered. My family had land taken from them that had been taken from others. Outside of the southwest, my people are unknown, my history is erased, my narrative is unknown, my culture is unheard of. It’s complicated to live in the only country you’ve ever known, a country that tells you, generation after generation, you are not wanted.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH REBECCA MARTINEZ
BESSY REYNA: Where are your parents from? Did they speak Spanish at home? Where did you grow up?
RM: I was born in Denver, Colorado, where many of my Martinez family still lives and grew up moving between Colorado and Nebraska. My father was born in Alamosa, Colorado, a small town near the border of New Mexico. My family has lived in Colorado and New Mexico since before the time it was Mexico. I have indigenous ancestors from the southwest and ancestors who were among the first Spanish conquistadores to enter the region. My father is one of eight (surviving) children, his older siblings spoke no English until they went to school. My father and his younger siblings grew up speaking English and Spanish. My generation was the first in our family to not speak Spanish as our first language. I grew up with a knowledge of Spanish and we spoke a little at home. I used to listen to my parents singing songs in Spanish and I always wanted to understand and speak it, but I didn’t learn to speak it until I was a teenager. My mother’s family is Bohemian and German and when I was little, we grew up in a small town in Nebraska where many of the grandmas (including my own) still spoke Czech to each other.
BR: first play you saw? What Memories you have about it?
RM: When I was little living in Denver, my parents took my sister and I to a dinner theater to see The Sound of Music. I had seen the movie several times, but after seeing it live, I didn’t care so much about Maria or the kids, I wanted to be the nun who sang ‘Climb Every Mountain.’
BR: When did you become interested in directing?
RM: I think I’ve always been interested in directing, I just didn’t know what it was. I remember we used to have talent shows when I was a kid and I was always directing or choreographing something silly set to music. I started directing professionally at Milagro Theatre in Portland, Oregon. I was hired as the director of their touring folkloric dance company and I began to direct the company’s mainstage shows and found that I loved having a greater share in the storytelling. Many of the shows we made at the time were devised with loose narratives surrounding the music and dance, and I loved building the audience experience, both in the arc of the storytelling and also how we engaged the audience. I worked as a devising director for a few years before starting to work on existing texts and now I split my time between working with writers to develop new work as well as directing productions based on existing scripts.
BR: FIRST PLAY YOU DIRECTED? EXPERIENCE?
RM: The first play I directed was Ardiente Paciencia by Antonio Skarmeta, a fictional story about Pablo Neruda and his postman. It was also the first play I directed in Spanish. Since Spanish is my second language, there’s lots of vocabulary that I hadn’t learned, particularly theatre terminology. The actors were all bilingual, so I was able to direct in English and the actors would respond in both languages. From that production, I learned how to bring my interests and vision to an existing script. It was also a delight to work on such a beautiful story.
BR: By now you have directed more than 18 plays, have some others in development and also directed staged readings. How do you decide which plays you want to be involved with? Do the theaters presenting the work are part of the considerations you have to make a decision?
RM: There are lots of different factors that go into pairing a director with a production. In some cases, I have a relationship with the playwright to develop a play and then we’re able to move forward with production. In other situations, I have a relationship with the artistic director of a theatre company and they pair me with a playwright or an existing play that they have programmed in their season. In either scenario, it’s important to me that I love the play I’m working on, so that’s primarily how my decision making is guided.
BR: Do you have a Favorite playwright?
RM: There are so many fantastic playwrights, I’m not good at choosing one favorite. Focusing on Latinx writers, I’ve had the privilege to work on productions by some of my dream playwrights – Luis Alfaro, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Karen Zacarías, and Octavio Solis, in addition to working on productions or developmental readings with fantastic writers like Marisela Treviño Orta, Guadalís del Carmen, Mando Alvarado, Alexis Scheer, Beto O’Byrne, and Julián Mesri. There are too many favorites to name here, so check out the writers of the Latinx Playwrighting Circle, the playwrights who have been a part of the Latinx Theatre Commons Carnaval festivals, the 50 Playwrights Project list, the plays that the Sol Project has co-produced and have featured in Sol Fest and the New Play Exchange.
BR: Your background is very impressive, aside from being a director you are also a choreographer. Is it like shifting from one talent to another, or are they complementary?
RM: I find directing and choreographing to be complementary. In both, I am looking for what story is being told and tuning my senses to the flow, pacing, and rhythms of the moment. And when choreographing transitions between scenes, I look for opportunities to explore subtext and tone and think of these moments as a way to complete what came before, to lead us emotionally into what’s coming up, or sometimes, as a palette cleanser that gives the audience a moment of rest. For me, the choreography is another tool to support the way the larger story is told.
BR: Does being a female affect the jobs you get as a director?
RM: Honestly, I’m not quite sure. There are some folks who have reached out to me because they were interested in specifically having a female director helm their production. What I can say is that female directors in general, and specifically, Latinx directors, are underrepresented in the field and often not given opportunities that male directors are given. So if you’re looking for a powerful Latina director to lead your production, let me know – I’ve got lots of names to share!
BR: Do you prefer directing more than choreographing?
RM: I love the act of storytelling, and whether I’m directing or choreographing, I’m always looking at how to bring out the subtext, the unspoken moments of the characters. I prefer directing because I love to play with all aspects of storytelling, and there is choreography in everything I direct, even if it’s a transition or a series of unspoken moments and gestures between characters. But when I get the chance to build choreography to music, I jump for it.
BR: Your experience with different community groups? El Sol Project?
RM: I’m a member of The Sol Project Collective, envisioned and founded by Long Wharf Theatre’s artistic director Jacob Padrón, which is an initiative dedicated to getting the plays of Latinx playwrights produced in both NYC and nationally. I’m also an advisory committee member of the Latinx Theatre Commons, which is a national movement of theatre folks focused on increasing the visibility of Latinx theatre across the country. Being that Latinx folks are underrepresented in every aspect of theatre, from actors to designers to directors to producers to technicians to administrative staff, it has been important to me to do what I can to advocate for our stories and our artists to get the visibility we deserve.
BR: I KEEP waiting for someone to produce Ana and the Tropics in Connecticut, maybe you could be the one to propose it.
RM: I directed a production of Anna in the Tropics just a year ago at the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs. It was the first all Latinx cast that the company had brought on for the work. I love that play and I’m excited to see a continued interest in the story.
BR: Your next project
RM: In March I’ll be working on a new play in development called Phases of the Moon by Bryna Turner as a part of the WP Theater Pipeline Festival.
BR: What do you do for fun?
RM: I have a 10-week old baby, so right now fun consists of hanging out with her and introducing her to books and toys and music. In a larger scope, I have always loved travel, both for fun and for work. Being in new places always shakes up my perspective and keeps me from getting tunnel vision as an artist.
“I’m My Own Wife” by Dug Wright, Directed by Rebecca Martinez with Alexander Park in the role of Charlotte von Mahisdorf will be presented at Long Wharf Theatre until March 1, 2020.
For more information please contact www.longwharforg or call 203-787-4282.