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by Leah Bergman
Have you ever watched a film and been deeply and profoundly moved, or read a book that changed your perspective? That is the type of impact that the play El Nogalar, written by Tanya Saracho, is having upon audiences everywhere.
El Nogalar delves into the complexities that Mexico is facing due to the drug war. “It is topical and what is happening right now. If you take a glass and you put it on that area and look inside, everyone is being affected by that,” said Saracho.
The play artfully weaves through the intricacies of the Mexican caste system and how the drug war is affecting each person’s role within the societal unit. Saracho does this in such a poignant way that the viewer is able to see and feel each character’s point of view in a personal way. The pain and sorrow that is felt by the characters becomes universal where everyone, Latino or Non-Latino, can relate.
The play was inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. The name “El Nogalar” reflects what is grown in Mexico – Pecans. Saracho said,”My mom picked the name…, she said, ’Look it up on your internet. It can’t be cherries. We don’t grow cherries!’”
The name wasn’t the only twist that Saracho added; she made the cast mostly females. She likes to expose, “Life from the point of view of women. “ She continued with, “Talking about Latina women and Mexican women and complicating their image is important to me. It is also important to me to change their stereotype.”
Her vision of bringing light to the woman’s perspective began before being commissioned by Chicago’s Teatro Vista to write El Nogalar. Twelve years ago Saracho formed an all-women’s company entitled Teatro Luna. “When we formed Teatro Luna, we were called man haters in the press… My writing has been criticized for that. There are enough plays for men,” said Saracho. She contests claims of being exclusive by saying, “It is not exclusive. It is inclusive. I am including the female voice.”
The female voice is not the only theme expressed in her writing. Saracho passionately explains, “I’m obsessed with class– if we are speaking thematically. I’m obsessed by how we (Latinos) are seen as the immigrant in the U.S., and I’m obsessed with gender.” This would not seem surprising as she was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, but grew up in the adjoining border towns of Reynoso, Mexico and McAllen, Texas. She was entrenched in both cultures learning both languages. She was educated in the U.S. She attended high school in Texas and went on to Boston University to graduate in theater studies.
At Boston University her writing skills flourished. She put up three plays for the student festival. This, however, was not the beginning of her story telling. “I was the one who entertained the sisters and I was always a story teller. I liked to terrify them with “La Llorona”, a legend of a wailing women,” she laughs contagiously, and continues, “I used to tell jokes. Now I don’t even know one joke… My grandparents would put me on the table and you would either dance or tell a poem or a joke.”
There seems to be no limit to her storytelling and incredible talent. In fact, El Nogalar is actually the first in a trilogy that Saracho has written. Song of the Disappeared is the next play in the series. It takes place on the Texas side of the border where the crime element has now infiltrated. The last installment of the trilogy is entitled Nights. The characters have been kidnapped and stay alive by telling stories like in the book: Thousand Nights and One Night.
El Nogalar is so moving that it truly is a must see. Saracho’s soulful writing leaves a profound impact on viewers. This play has put her on the radar, and is only the beginning to a brilliant career. Saracho is definitely someone to watch for in the future.
Leah Bergman writes for Latino Weekly Review.
El Nogalar Now Playing to March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
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El Nogalar Now Playing to March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
by Stephanie Jones
If Anton Chekhov were Latino, playwright Tanya Saracho would have him covered. El Nogalar, her Mexico-set spin on the Russian classic The Cherry Orchard, comes to the Fountain Theatre by way of Chicago.
Saracho wrote the play in 2004 while performing as an actor in Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The LA-based Alfaro was then in the last year of his co-direction of Center Theatre Group’s Latino Theatre Initiative. At his urging, Saracho took the story she had in mind and went to work.
“I feel like when I met Luis, that’s when everything happened,” says Saracho. “He actually took me aside and said, ‘If you’re going to do this, you need to get serious about this writing thing.’ Because it’s not that I wasn’t serious. I had my own company [Teatro Luna] and we devised work, so we did ensemble-built performance. But as a playwright, I hadn’t written any plays by myself. But he was like, ‘You can do this.’”
With Alfaro on her side, Saracho told herself: “If El Maestro can do it, let me try it.” Alfaro has continued his guidance on the play, serving as the dramaturg for the Fountain production.
As an actor, director, and playwright, Saracho was able to remain hands-on throughout the development of her play. “All my three passions – they let me do all three things, which is very Chicago” — where theater artists tend to be hyphenates, she says. “They’re not one thing or another and it’s respected. It [prevents] pigeonholing yourself.”
The small Chicago company Teatro Vista commissioned El Nogalarin 2005. But Teatro Vista and the Goodman have a history of collaborations, and soon the Goodman expressed interest in it.
Saracho felt somewhat intimidated by the Goodman label. “I was like, ‘No, no. It’s the Goodman. The Goodman should not read my play.’” But at the same time, “it was really more than encouraging. It was like the seal. ‘Here you go.’ I mean people read plays and that doesn’t happen. Nice things like that keep happening. It just opened a lot of doors.”
The Goodman, which produces Latino Theatre Festivals every two or three years, “totally watched me and let me kind of do anything and just provided a stage. [That] was the biggest thing.”
Despite the encouragement Saracho received, she originally held back some of the play’s content. That was made clear at a reading of the first draft.
“I thought it was terrible. In the first version, I was really afraid of the crime element. I just adjusted it. It wasn’t as overt as it is now,” says Saracho. “I was like – when I first heard it – ‘What am I doing? Why am I a coward right now? I’m being a coward.’ ”
After some much needed character development and a little soul searching, El Nogalar was on its way. It received a staged reading at the 2010 Latino Theatre Festival, with the premiere following in spring 2011, produced by Teatro Vista and presented by the Goodman, at the Goodman.
“When I started Teatro Luna in 2000, our [Latino] audience was not used to going to the theater. We went to concerts, we went to dance, but theater was not where we put our disposable income as Latinos and the Mexican community,” says Saracho. “They would go see comedy but not theater. So, it took us a while to kind of nurture [them], and now they follow me to stuff and they also watch out for other [playwrights]. The movement took about 10 years and now we’ve trained the audience, [saying] ‘Look, this could be awesome.’”
Saracho was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, but moved with her family to McAllen, Texas — near the Rio Grande — in 1989. She majored in theater studies at Boston University. El Nogalar traces its roots to Chekhov, whom Saracho named as one of the few writers she identified with while in college.
“I’ve always talked about at cocktail parties and to anyone who would listen – ‘You know, Chekhov is basically Latino.’ In college, he was the most Latino playwright I came across, which is a bad thing — that I didn’t get exposed to Latino playwrights in college, because I was just identifying with any old Russian,” says Saracho. “The women, I identified [with them]. They resonated. They seemed familiar. They seemed Latin American. They’re full, rich, passionate, confident, flawed, complicated and they’re highly emotional. Highly flawed but really deep.”
El Nogalar tells the story of the Galvan family in northern Mexico, who have come home to claim their pecan orchard (“el nogalar”) after 15 years. Maite, the family’s matriarch, and her daughters return after squandering the family’s savings only to find the orchard overgrown, only two servants, and the land taken over by local drug cartels.
Director Laurie Woolery, who is also associate artistic director of Cornerstone Theater, speaks up. “How easy the land can be taken from people in Mexico and Central America is really, for me, what resonated because I know my tia and mother as immigrants – when they came her to the United States – it was all about [buying] land. Buy land. Own land here. Because in Mexico [and] Central America, it can be taken away from you. Even if you own it, it can be taken away. For me, what resonated about this piece is investment in the land, in the earth, where you plan yourself, where your family can grow up out of.”
The play also has present-day implications, especially in light of current conditions in Mexico and the large Latino population in Southern California. According to Saracho, characters like Dunia, the female servant desperately trying to help the Galvan women, represent people currently surviving in Mexico.
But the play as a whole makes a political statement, she adds. “It is always a political act to put brown bodies on stage. And we don’t think about it because we [Latino playwrights] are used to putting brown bodies on stage. I’m so excited that we’re putting five brown bodies on the stage.”
“I’m going to call the Fountain a mainstream theater because it’s not a Latino space or a [African-American] space,” Saracho says. “To have us here, I feel like it’s representing more than just these people. It’s representing a community, obviously not speaking for, but to have those actors. And Latina females – Latina director, Latina writer, a Latina stage manager. There’s something political about that, without seeing the play, but because of that I think it’s important.”
The all-Latino cast consists of Sabina Suniga Varela (Dunia), Yetta Gottesman (Maite Galvan), Isabelle Ortega (Valeria Galvan), Diana Romo (Anita Galvan), and Justin Huen (Lopez) with Frederica Nascimento designing sets and Lonnie Rafael Alcarez designing lighting.
“I think our Latino community here in Los Angeles is really diverse,” says Woolery, “and one thing that I really applaud the Fountain for is wanting to expand the diversity of their season by putting El Nogalarin. I’m excited for the Fountain audience to be able to experience something different. Even within that Latino cast there’s diversity in it. I know that the play is very specifically placed in Mexico, but I love that the casting was inclusive and I’m just hopeful that people are going to come out and see it and support it. I think it’s an incredibly beautiful play.”
Woolery adds that “what’s exciting about playwriting specifically right now is the new voices that are coming out. I mean, who would have ever thought wrestling would make it onto the stages of the theater world [in Kristoffer Diaz’sThe Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity] and be up for one of the top prizes in the country? And I think that gives me great hope for theater in general because so much of what you hear [is] it’s such a struggle to keep a theater open and running and people coming because movie tickets are $15. So, you’ll spend that but will you spend $15 on a play?…How do we encourage people to keep coming back and having that experience?”
In LA, more than in many cities, notes Woolery, “Geography is a challenge, because “for us to go out and support each other’s work…sometimes just getting across town will take an hour. But I think there is a spirit of people wanting Latino theater to be successful. So, I’m hoping not the just the regular Latino audience but others who don’t necessarily feel that theater is for them will come and see El Nogalar and that there’s an accessibility for audiences to be able to come and feel like their story’s on stage. That there is a place for them in the theater world, that their stories can exist and have value.”
Saracho points out the growing struggle between the theater experience and the virtual experience.
“We just don’t sit and witness and experience the full experience [outside theaters],” she says. “The person coughing – that is part of the experience. The person unwrapping the [wrapper], the actor that kind of flubbed a line. All that is live theater. [Film] is so perfect for you on the screens. It’s all cut up for you – cut, paste, and done for you, all the thinking. But in this, you’re going to see some cellulite, you’re going see some split ends. Do you know what I mean? It’s real people up there.”
El Nogalar Jan 28 – March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
Stephanie Jones writes for LA Stage Times.
Playwright Luis Alfaro has won a 2012 Joyce Award. The annual prizes, which carry a $50,000 cast grant, are given to commission artists of color to help them create new works with cultural institutions.
Luis is currently our dramaturg on El Nogalar, working at the Fountain Theatre with playwright Tanya Saracho and director Laurie Woolery.
Working with Enrique Adyanthaya and Marlina Gonzalez, Alfaro will write a season of plays based on the ideas behind the fusion of Latino and Asian cultures, that will be created in collaboration with two Minneapolis/St. Paul theater companies, Teatro del Pueblo and Pangea. The plays will range from love stories of interracial couples exploring tensions between their two communities to a children’s story adapted from a fable.
Alfaro’s plays include Electricidad, Downtown, No Holds Barrio, Body of Faith, Straight As A Line, Bitter Homes and Gardens, Ladybird, and Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner.
Other 2012 Joyce Award winners include visual/multimedia artists William Pope.L and Rafael Lozano-Hammer, and choreographer Reggie Wilson.
Our love and congratulations to Luis! Bravo, Maestro!
El Nogalar Jan 28 – March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
Here we go! Preview performances are now officially underway for El Nogalar at the Fountain! Previews started this weekend with early audiences getting their first look at our West Coast premiere by Tanya Saracho, directed by Laurie Woolery. El Nogalar opens Saturday, January 28.
Previews are “work-in-progress” performances prior to the official opening this Saturday night. During previews, the director and design team watch and take notes, still tweaking and adjusting the production.
A special highlight of the weekend was the arrival of Fountain Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor to the preview performance on Sunday afternoon. Deborah is still recovering from a compressed-nerve injury in her spine. But she was there at the Fountain this weekend for the Sunday matinee! Still a little wobbly on her feet, she looked great and is improving every day! She expressed how happy she was to be back at the Fountain since sustaining this injury on December 31st in her home. Welcome back, Deb! We love you!
El Nogalar Jan 28 – March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
Laurie and Tanya Chat in the Fountain Cafe, Tech Weekend
El Nogalar Jan 21 – March 11 (323) 663-1525 More Info
Tanya Saracho’s tale of humor and heartache in a changing Mexico
Director Laurie Wooleryand dramaturg Luis Alfaro team up on an explosive tale of humor and heartache in a changing Mexico. The West Coast premiereof El Nogalar (“The Pecan Orchard”) by Tanya Saracho opens at The Fountain Theatre on January 28, with low-priced previews beginning January 21.
When the Galvan family returns home to Mexico after years in the U.S., they must come to terms with encroaching drug cartels, economic upheaval and a new class order. Inspired by The Cherry Orchard, Saracho makes Chekhov’s classic story her own, instilling it with a thrilling sense of immediacy. The deeply felt story of changing times and class divide is vividly portrayed using a mix of English, Spanish, Spanglish and Espanglés – but audiences will have no trouble understanding Saracho’s funny and complex characters.
Dunia (Sabina Zuniga Varela), the Galvan family’s housekeeper, watches Maité Galvan (Yetta Gottesman) and her daughters Valeria (Isabelle Ortega) and Anita (Diana Romo) spend their wealth and risk losing their home and beloved pecan orchard to a drug cartel. Despite warnings from Lopez (Justin Huen), Maité disregards her declining fortune as stubbornly as she ignores the sinister capos simmering at her doorstep.
“When I was in school, I felt that Chekhov was the most Latino playwright I came across.” explained Saracho in an interview. “I thought, ‘I know this dude, his characters. These women are my aunts, my cousins.’ ”
“This play humanizes what we’re reading in the news everyday,” says Woolery. “These women are from an old family, wealthy landowners with political connections. But in this new Mexico, class is turned on its ear.”
El Nogalar was developed in a staged reading during the Goodman Theatre’s Latino Theatre Festival, and premiered at the Goodman in 2011, produced and commissioned by Chicago’s Teatro Vista where Saracho is a resident playwright. American Theatre Magazine published the script in the July/August 2011 issue along with an interview with Saracho, who has been dubbed “a major playwriting talent” by the Chicago Tribune and a playwright “of national stature” by The New York Times.
El Nogalar Previews Jan 21 – 27, Opens Jan 28 323 663-1525 More Info
Our upcoming production of the west coast premiere of El Nogalar (The Pecan Orchard) by Tanya Saracho is set in modern day Mexico. Directed by Laurie Woolery, the play will be performed on an open, stylized, multi-use set where the various locations of the story — both interior and exterior — can all magically take place. It is the job of our talented and award-winning set designer Frederica Nascimento (Opus) to make it happen on the Fountain stage.
A sneak peak at the design model for the El Nogalar set:
Cool, eh? Wait til you see the finished set! Beautiful and magical …
Set designer Frederica Nascimento works in theatre, opera, dance and film. Recipient of numerous awards, received her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts/ NYU with the J. S. Seidman Graduating Award for Excellence in Design. Graduated from Superior School of Theatre and Cinema, IFICT Theatre Institute, and Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University of Lisbon. A scholar with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Luso-American Foundation and a member of the Portuguese Architects Association. Directors worked with include José Álvaro Morais, Manoel de Oliveira, Wim Wenders, Pina Bausch, Robert Wilson, Jane Campion, Rogério de Carvalho, João Canijo, Nuno M. Cardoso, Ruben Polendo, Annie Kaufman, Will Pomerantz, Julia Frodahl, Heather Woodbury, Phyllis Nagy, Chris Fields, Simon Levy, Ron Sossi, Ken Barnett, Larry Biederman, among others. Collaborates with Johannes Wieland Dance Company in NY and is a Usual Suspect for the New York Theatre Workshop.
El Nogalar Jan 21 – March 11 (323) 663-1525