Backstage at The REP: Manifest Destinitis
 
Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, September 28

SPANISH COLONIAL SYSTEM

The Spanish Colonial Casta was a hierarchical system of racial classification created and enforced by Spanish elites in Mexico during the colonial era as a means of controlling and segregating peoples.
 
Before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Spaniards had a strong fascination with the “purity of blood” in connection with religious sentiments. During the Spanish Inquisitions people with Jewish or Muslim heritage were expelled from the country. People who fell under the suspicion of having “tainted” blood and could not prove the purity of their blood faced dire social, economic, and punitive consequences. The national obsession with blood purity was transferred to the Americas as part of the Spanish conquest.
 
Directly following the Spanish conquest of the new world relations between Spanish soldiers and native peoples created a new process of mestizaje, or mixing of the races. The children of mixed-race unions would not be called Spanish, nor would they be called indigenous; instead a new system of classification would be invented to categorize mixed-race people based on biased assumptions towards the purity of Spanish blood.
 
This system was used to determine social standing and corresponding decorum of relation-ships and respect. The system was used to determine eligibility for marriages, political office, and the priesthood. Further, it was also used for taxation scales and for economic purposes.
 
The system initially began with three categories: Españoles, white Spaniards who were further subdivided into Spanish born Peninsulares and American born Criollos; Indios was the blanket term applied to all indigenous peoples; and Negros defined the black Africans brought to the Americas as slaves. Eventually, the Spanish crown shifted the Casta system into a division of Indian and Non-Indian. The República de Indios and the República de Españoles which included Spaniards, blacks, and mixed-race peoples.
 

In the 200 year history of the Spanish Colonial Casta system the categorizations grew and expanded as new generations of mestizaje required new classifications. Ultimately the beginning of the 1800s saw over one hun-dred different racial variations. Paintings like “Las Cas-tas” are visual reminders of the attempt to visually cate-gorize the categories of racial identification.

 


 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, September 21

THE ROMANTIC CALIFORNIO ERA

--From Ramona Bowl Amphitheatre
 
"I am going to write a novel, in which will be set forth some Indians' experiences in a way to move people's hearts," wrote Ramona novelist Helen Hunt Jackson in 1883.
 
The Califorino era lives on in our minds as a romantic and beautiful time. But where did that sense of romance first start? It began with a novel by Helen Hunt Jackson.
 
Every century or so, a story will emerge that carries so much social and emotional importance it becomes first a classic, and then… iconic. The tragic tale of Ramona and her lover Alessandro is just such a story. Like Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, and even a more modern fable like The Great Gatsby, “Ramona” has planted itself in our cultural consciousness in a very unique way. When Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel “Ramona” was first published in 1884, it was hurled against the public mindset like an ocean wave against a row boat. The sheer gravity of its message could not be ignored. It became an instant best seller, and, as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had a generation earlier, not only changed the way people looked at the world outside their own comfort zone, it gave the average citizen a look into a culture they had previously only heard in rumor.
 
The Ramona novel and subsequent Ramona stage play contributed greatly to the romanticizing of the Californio era. Initially staged as a tourist draw, the stage plays introduced audiences to a tragic story of unrequited love.

 
Helen Hunt Jackson was one of the most popular women writers of her day. Though for most of her life she had shied away from the weighty political and social issues of the late ninetieth century, in 1879 Jackson suddenly emerged, in what seemed a flash of civil consciousness, as one of America’s leading advocates of Indian rights. She called for changes in the government’s Indian policies, and documented its overt actions in an 1881 book entitled “A Century of Dishonor”. Jackson described in vivid detail the broken treaties, brutal murders, and deceptive government policies that had become the norm for the Native American people. Forced onto reservations, disease and death soon took their toll. American Indians were heading towards extinction.
 
The popularity of the novel helped to re-color the Californio era in the minds of readers and theatre-goers. The city of Ramona in San Diego county changed its name from Nuevo in 1894 to capitalize off the popularity of romanticized Californio life in Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona.
 
Towns and communities across California would host extravagant Ramona pageants to celebrate the love story between the two main characters. The pageants would feature elaborate costumes, large casts, and spectacular backdrops. The pageants were tourist event seeking to bring visitors to small towns and stimulate the economy. To this day Hemet produces an annual pageant in an outdoor bowl with a sprawling cast and is a full community festival.
 
The pageants are significant because they were, and are, an example of how theatre can be used to sway popular opinion. The romance of Ramona went a long way in reintroducing and redefining the entire Californio era into a time where love was a motivating force and where people worked toward harmony.


 

 

















Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, September 14

HISTORY OF MOLIERE AND THE IMAGINARY INVALID



--From NYU’s School of Medicine Literature Arts Medicine Database
 
Moliere is widely considered the greatest writer of French Comedy. He was born Jean-Baptist Poquelin and baptized on January 15, 1622 in Paris France. After his mother died young Jean-Baptist’s father saw to his son’ education. His father expected his son to take up the family’s upholstery appointment or another reputable trade like the law, but Jean-Baptist renounced the inheritance of his father’s appointment and instead devoted himself to the theatre. In 1643 he and nine others would form the Illustre-Theatre and he began to use the stage name “Moliere”.
 
Much of the history surrounding Moliere is myth, focusing on scandalous behavior and romantic involvement with very young company members, but the more colorful stories about the man are largely based in legend.
 
Moliere was an expert satirist for whom no topic seemed off limits. At the premier of The School for Wives Moliere caused a scandal for his critique of aristocratic women in front of the very women who came to his theatre. An even greater scandal surrounded the production of Tartuffe in May 1664 because of the play’s critique of the Catholic Church and religious hypocrites.
 
After a long 5-year period of intense scrutiny and authoritative pressure following Tartuffe Moliere began again to experience widespread acclaim. The Imaginary Invalid was his final play, both as playwright and actor, in 1673. He wrote the play while he struggled with tuberculosis and performed the role of Argon with a deep cough for the first four performances.
 
The Imaginary Invalid manages to poke fun both at the medical profession and at its gullible clientele. Argon's ailments are the product of his Imagination and the drastic remedies he so willingly consumes to avoid them. The deceptive doctors are ignorant, ineffective, and arrogant.
 
Moliere is to have reportedly said before his final performance: "Can I refuse to go on when so many persons' bread depends upon it? I should reproach my self for the distress I might cause them, having sufficient strength to prevent it."
 
The examination scene may bear traces of Moliere's own unwilling entry into the legal profession, which is said to have taken place many years earlier with a night of drinking and a substantial bribe.
 
Argon is a man who rails against medical expertise just as Moliere despised the doctors who treated his tuberculosis; however, unlike Argon’s imaginary illnesses, Moliere’s illness was very real and midway through the fourth performance of The Imaginary Invalid Moliere collapsed and died later that day.
 
He died without sacrament nor did he renounce his actor’s profession, and therefore was buried without ceremony after sunset February 21, 1673.

 

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, September 7

MANIFEST DESTINY

From UShistory.org

Expansion westward seemed perfectly natural to many Americans in the mid-nineteenth century. Like the Massachusetts Puritans who hoped to build a "city upon a hill," courageous pioneers be-lieved that America had a divine obligation to stretch the boundaries of their noble republic to the Pacific Ocean.
 
 
Independence had been won in the Revolution and reaffirmed in the War of 1812. The spirit of nationalism that swept the nation in the next two decades demanded more territory. The "every man is equal" mentality of the Jacksonian Era fueled this optimism. Now, with territory up to the Mississippi River claimed and settled and the Louisiana Purchase area explored, Americans headed west in droves. Newspaper editor John O'Sullivan coined the term "Manifest Destiny" in 1845 to describe the essence of this mindset.
 
A symbol of Manifest Destiny, the figure "Columbia" moves across the land in advance of settlers, replacing darkness with light and ignorance with civilization.
 
 
The religious fervor spawned by the Second Great Awakening created another incentive for the drive west. Indeed, many settlers believed that God himself blessed the growth of the American nation. The Native Americans were considered heathens. By Christianizing the tribes, American missionaries believed they could save souls and they became among the first to cross the Mississippi River.
 
For many others, economic motives were paramount. The fur trade had been dominated by European trading companies since colonial times. German immigrant John Jacob Astor was one of the first American entrepreneurs to challenge the Europeans. He became a millionaire in the process. The desire for more land brought aspiring homesteaders to the frontier. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, the number of migrants increased even more.
 
 
At the heart of manifest destiny was the pervasive belief in American cultural and racial superiority. Native Americans had long been perceived as inferior, and efforts to "civilize" them had been widespread since the days of John Smith and Miles Standish. The Mexican elites who ruled Texas and the lucrative ports of California were also seen as "backward."
 
In 1840, the entire southwestern corner of the United States was controlled by foreign powers (shown in tan), and the territorial dispute over the Oregon Territory (light green) had not been settled. But by 1850, the U.S. had control of lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific, covering almost all of today's continental United States.
 
 
Expanding the boundaries of the United States was in many ways a cultural war as well. The desire of southerners to find more lands suitable for cotton cultivation would eventually spread slavery to these regions. North of the Mason-Dixon line, many citizens were deeply concerned about adding any more slave states. Manifest destiny touched on issues of religion, money, race, patriotism, and morality. These clashed in the 1840s as a truly great drama of regional conflict began to unfold.

 

From the Rehearsal Hall: An Inside Look at Manifest Destinitis

by Salomon Maya

As I write this we are starting the 3rd week of rehearsals for Manifest Destinitis, gone is the pomp and circumstance of the first meeting. If there is one thing I take from this experience is that it is truly hard work. Rehearsals now step up into a form of light speed, something that some actors may not be accustomed to. Being off book isn’t a suggested date, rather a necessity. The phrase “I can’t block you if you have a script in your hands” never rings more true than on this project as characters are moving all around the stage.

In prior theatre projects. I felt like I could “get away” with just being as close to a character as I could be. After working on Manifest, I now am ashamed to even call my prior work genuine. Our director demands truthfulness and genuine performances on stage, no matter how “wacky” the character. For example, one of my characters in Manifest is a 19th Century Shakespeare Performer reciting the last lines of Romeo and Juliet…in Spanish. Okay, I can do that, I’m a fluent Spanish speaker…let’s rock right? Wrong. As I tried to deliver the lines, Sam kept pushing me to find more of a Shakespearean look to my movement. Full disclosure, the closest to Macbeth I’ve ever been is probably the drive thru window at a McDonald’s ordering McNuggets, suffice to say I will not be seen at the Bard anytime soon. Yet for such a small moment in the play, I was being pushed to make the audience believe that for that moment, I was a true Spanish Shakespearean actor. And let me tell you, as a writer and actor who normally deals in realism…it wasn’t easy. I was given research material on stances and how to deliver the lines properly. As I left that days rehearsal, Herbert (the playwright and actor) came up to me, patted me on the shoulder and said, “comedy is hard.”

Am I on my way to a Kenneth Branagh like career? Heck no, but my advice to any actor reading this is the following:

1.       Do your homework. Research your part, come prepared.

2.       There is no such thing as a small moment or small part. Every line is important, honor the text.

3.       Embrace the stillness of theatre (especially with your hands).

4.       Learn your lines as quickly as you can, you’d be amazed as to the different things you’ll find in the character once you have everything to memory.

In the end, as we approach tech week, I am so proud of being part of this project. I truly am a lucky man to come in to rehearse with some of the best artists this city has to offer. I believe this piece will have the audience laughing at the same time pondering the current world we live in. I hope that our characters are not only memorable but genuine for all of our audiences. 


Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, August 31

WE ARE EXCITED ABOUT...

Herbert Siguenza joining our San Diego REP staff for the next three years as Playwright-in-Residence, thanks to a grant funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Herbert is well known as one of the founding members of the nationally acclaimed performance group Culture Clash who have written and performed dozens of award-winning plays such as Radio Mambo, Bordertown and American Night: The Ballad of Juan José. Herbert has also developed many of his own plays with us at The REP that have gone on to join the list of our most memorable shows, including: A Weekend with Pablo Picasso, El Henry (in association with La Jolla Playhouse), and Steal Heaven, all of which he also starred in. 

Manifest Destinitis is Herbert’s first play of this residency and it is a whopper. Just in time for the election, he has written a farce based on Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid that plays with the political stress and strife we all feel in times of change. It is a mash-up of historical and contemporary issues that is smart and exceedingly funny. 

Through our volunteer council Amigos del REP—which Siguenza founded in 2012 to spotlight Latino writers, actors, and directors—we did several public readings of this play as it was developed. Each time we did a reading of this play, the room exploded with laughter. And, as it often is when working with Herbert, it was a joy to watch the piece expand and deepen as he soaked in the feedback, responses, and audience reactions. 

We are also thrilled to be opening and closing our season with two powerhouse Latino/a focused plays. (Make sure not to miss Into the Beautiful North by Karen Zacarías.) Manifest Destinitis is actually our 50th production of a Latino/a -focused play. And there is no one else we would want at the helm as director but Sam Woodhouse. His vision for this play is to really draw the connections to our current political climate to heighten the emotional impact and also the comedy for our audiences. 

Sam is eager to start working with a cast of San Diego favorites, many of whom are also members of Amigos del REP. The cast includes: Mark Pinter, Jenn Paredes, Roxane Carrasco, Jacob Caltrider, John Padilla, Richard Trujillo, Salomon Maya, plus Herbert Siguenza as the servant (in drag). We have a powerhouse of a show for you with incredible costumes, set, and music! 

Come. Laugh. Invest. Explore.


 
Jim Carmody's Photo Blog
Jim Carmody is a professor in UCSD's department of theatre and dance, and is a photographer specializing in theatre and dance performances. Jim will be sending us photos every week from the Manifest Destinitis rehearsal hall.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

From the Rehearsal Hall: An Inside Look at Manifest Destinitis

by Salomon Maya

Almost all of us remember the first day of school. Wearing new crisp clothing mom bought along with manila folders ready to put useless papers in. Call me a dweeb but I always loved the first day of school, even though I could see when the teacher would get to my name in roll call. That’s normally when I’d hear the typical “I’m sorry if I mispronounce your name but is it Sol-o-man?”

That’s pretty much how it feels when arriving to the first rehearsal for a new play. You rekindle friendships with people you’ve worked with and shake the hands of some you’ve never met. That’s how intimate the theatre scene is in San Diego. Even though I had never worked with, let’s say, a Mark Pinter, I had definitely been a huge fan of his prior work having seen him in Clybourne Park (one of the 1st plays I saw at the REP upon moving back to San Diego) and now knowing I’d be sharing the stage with him…well that’s just awesome!

This will be my 5th production with the REP, two cast in a show three working as an understudy, so I felt like a veteran walking into the Creative Rehearsal Space in Chula Vista. The murals encompassing the walls inside a stark reminder of what lay beyond the “happy door” on the right. As an actor walking into the first rehearsal, you always lock eyes with the first person you encounter and embrace. For me it was fellow Amiga del REP Elsa Martinez. We reminisced being in this building a couple years prior when we were understudying for another REP show, In the Time of the Butterflies.

Yet before I can even continue working the room, our Stage Manager called everyone inside the rehearsal space. A large circle of chairs greeted us. As this wasn’t my first rodeo I knew what that meant…the SD Rep tradition of “the question.” The REP has a tradition of asking one question, pertaining to the production we’re gathered for, and for Manifest Destinitis the question asked was if we could recall a moment in our lives when we experienced the California state of mind.

One by one, people introduced themselves, what they would be doing for the production and answered the question. I gave a quick anecdote on my days as a stand-up comedian in Hollywood. Designers, actors, dramaturgs, all sharing what the California state of mind meant to them. Some sharing personal tales, others inspirational credos. In the end, the entire Manifest Destinitis family created a new state of mind, the Manifest State of Mind, a crazy, funny and soulful tale of family, language, culture and surfers. You can’t get more California than that.

In this blog I hope to give you an inside look into the ups and downs of the process, to be as genuine as I can be and express to you everything I’m going through as an actor…to show you my own state of mind. 


 

Jim Carmody's Photo Blog

Jim Carmody is a professor in UCSD's department of theatre and dance, and is a photographer specializing in theatre and dance performances. Jim will be sending us photos every week from the Manifest Destinitis rehearsal hall. Take a sneak peek at our company meeting and first rehearsal!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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