Mexican-American pro-wrestler, Melissa Cervantes is quoted saying, "What you don't see is the struggle, the battles and the wars I've gone through to be here. To be who I am."
My guests today are three passionate and strong actors, who have all overcome their own struggles, battles and wars. They use their experiences to take the virtual stage and find ways to speak, ride bicycles and even wrestle one another — in completely separate rooms. They told us all about it before the rehearsal for the new play, "Luchadora!"
Hi, I'm Nick Scaringelli. I'm a junior majoring in theatre and English with a focus on writing rhetoric and literacies, and I play the role of Hannah in "Luchadora!"
Hi, my name is Lauren Voorhees. I play the role of Liesel and I am studying computer systems engineering.
Hi, my name is Lucia Mora. I'm a freshman and my major is theatre and film in minor. And I play the role of Lupita.
Thanks to all three of you for being here and talking to us today. First off, let's start with this general question, what got each of you into the performing arts and got you interested in theatre?
For me, in my country, that's Spain, we don't really have a theatre industry or like a huge theatre industry, and it's not really considered something you do for a career. So, I've always wanted to move to the States to actually pursue that acting career.
And I want to focus on film, but I think that you cannot be a good performer unless you learn how to do theatre. So, that's why I got into theatre and I feel like that's the base of being a good actor.
For me, I got into theatre — so I played sports my whole life, I played softball for 10 years, soccer for a long time — and some of my friends like, "Oh, you should do theatre tech."
And I was like, "Sounds fun. Let's do it."
And then I met some people there, and then I started doing improv and that led me to doing acting and shows. And then, that was kind of my little journey to theatre.
And I was like, "Oh, I definitely want to do this when I still get to college, even though I'm not majoring in it, it's still something I really enjoy and it brings me a lot of joy to my life."
For me, I auditioned for a musical. It was "The Sound Of Music" my freshman year of high school on a dare, and got cast. I actually wasn't able to perform in it because I was going to be out of town, the performance dates, but that got me involved in my original high school's drama program.
And then I just got addicted and it turns out that it's one of the only things that I'm good at. And so just kind of have to roll with it, because I have no other marketable skills.
I love hearing everyone's stories about how they first get into performing arts, because it's either "I always have wanted to do it" or, "someone dared me, and I was just bored."
Let's go right into the show. Tell us about your upcoming project, "Luchadora!" Can you give me a brief synopsis about the show in general?
So I interact with a lot of people who are very removed from theatre and the performing arts, and so trying to explain plots of plays to them is very difficult because they're just not used to how specific certain things can be.
And so, I just have to say, "Well, it's the story of Mulan, but instead of ancient China, it's 1960s Texas and it's Mexican lucha libre wrestling."
And so, a young girl has to take her father's place in a big wrestling match instead of the army.
I also use the Mulan thing because it's really hard to actually explain that. But it's basically, yeah, you've said, a girl who doesn't really know much about her life and she keeps learning things throughout the process of wrestling and practicing with the mask maker, who's like her wrestling teacher. And she, from the beginning of the play to the end of the play, she's come from like, a teenager to a young woman.
And it's like all the process, like with friendship and all the evolution of the characters, it's really huge and really important.
So currently, as everyone knows, we are living in the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, we have been getting a vaccine rollout. We have been seeing a slight decrease in cases.
How has that been trying to do stuff like lucha libre wrestling and bicycling onstage. in a virtual setting, when you can't really see the person you're wrestling or riding bikes next to?
A lot of imagination, baby.
It's been interesting. I mean, I'm really thankful that we're able to do a show because I was scared we were not going to be able to, when I was like, "Oh my gosh, my freshman year, like, I'm not going to do anything."
But then this came up and I think we are all experiencing at the same time and we are all learning through it. I think it's a really good story in the future to say, "Hey, I performed during COVID-19 and like I wrestled during COVID-19," and people are going to be like, "How did you do that?"
I was like, "Well, we had these tech people and the director and we combined all this and we made it work."
And we have David Barker, as our fight choreographer.
And I was so excited to work with him and he was like, "We don't know what we're doing right now, but we're going to do something."
So, we made it work and filming on stage, fighting with the dummy, I was like, "Wow, I would've never thought I was going to be doing that."
And the fact that I'm doing this, it's something to remember, not going to lie.
So last spring, the spring of '20, I was involved in ASU's production of "The Crucible," which just got straight up canceled when COVID came to town. And then this past fall, I was in ASU's production of a show called "Machos," which was the first show of the season, and it was also the first show completely online, and so we were the "guinea pig show."
Instead of being in the FAC basement — as we are now all in separate classrooms, all with our own setups that were set up by the techs and maintained by the techs — we all had our supplies dropped off at our apartments or homes, and we had to set it up in our rooms, completely rearrange our rooms and rearrange our lives, to accommodate an eight-by-eight-by-eight green screen and equipment set up and it didn't work.
And now, so going into "Luchadora!" when the department has had time to learn from "Macho," and they must have learned from the previous shows, "Hedda Gabler" and "Heddatron," obviously, they don't have the process down to a science, but they have pretty much found a way to make making theatre online as streamlined as possible.
And we're really getting to a point where we have prior experience, where even if we as the actors don't have prior experience to bank off, the techs do, and the production team does and that's a really important thing because we have people that we can go to for advice and answers. And so it's something that you don't see in a lot of other online productions.
One thing, I'm so grateful for the people on the tech side of things, because we wouldn't be able to do any of this without their help and the stuff that they've done already so far is just so amazing and I'm so grateful to be able to work with them in a way that's safe and socially distant and be able to create a good show.
And it is frustrating because sometimes I think like, "Oh, I wish I could ride my bike on a turntable and watch the wrestlers wrestle."
But you know, you can't do that. So, I just try to focus on what we can do, and we're still able to make art in a safe way.
Every time we've talked about theatre in the past year, it's been around, "How do we adapt and how do we change up the formula that's been in place for centuries, almost."
And I think it's very interesting to see how people do stuff. Like you said, like riding bikes, like wrestling, doing football, like, any kind of the physical, very performative activities and see them transfer to a virtual setting.
Let me ask you guys this, how has it been adapting to your characters? What is something that you see in them that you see yourself? What is some things that you didn't have prior experiences with, but maybe relate to in some way? Can you guys elaborate on that a little bit more?
Liesel is exactly who I was at 10 years old. Like, I am very different than who I was when I was younger. I was total tomboy, always tried to play sports, always got dirty, always fought boys and stuff and that's exactly who Liesel is. And it's very exciting to go back to my roots and who I used to be, in a way that's authentic. I'm very grateful to have this role.
For me, I feel Lupita — she evolves a lot around the show, as I already said, and she matures with all the things that have been going on in her life. And I think that's something that also has happened to me.
Something happens to you and then you realize, "Oh, you have to fight for what you want, you have to work hard for things that you actually want to achieve."
All the processes that she does to become a professional wrestler and a world champ, and all the hard work that's behind, that's what I based on my life.
I think that, "Okay, you can be lucky, but you have to work hard for being lucky."
I'm really happy that I have to do this character that's also independent and strong, but also she would do anything for her family and her friends and I think that's values that really stand out for me, as the character.
So, something I forgot to say when I was introducing myself, I use she/her and he/him pronouns. I am gender-fluid and the character Hannah that I play is a 19-year-old German immigrant, who joins the football team and also enlists as a soldier and fights in the Vietnam war in 1968.
So something that I've talked about with the directors, something that I've thought about on my own time, is the question of "Is the character, Hannah, completely cisgender? Are they gender nonconforming or any kind of other identity under the sun?"
And the consensus that he and I have kind of come to is yes, Hannah isn't quite cis.
And so, for me, it's very comforting to be able to portray a character that is very much me.
Because when I tell people, "Oh, I play a 19-year-old gender nonconforming, German immigrant," they look at me and they say, "yeah, that tracks!"
So, I've had a lot of fun doing that. However, it has been very difficult because I've never had to put myself into the perspective of a bootlicker before.
And there is no research material available for teenagers in 1968, who were pro-Vietnam war. Because everything you read about is people burning their draft cards and people protesting the war and not actively enlisting. So, that's a challenge for me personally, because it goes against my politics. It goes against the politics of people my age, in that time period. And it's something that I've never even considered before. And so, I've had a lot of fun diving into that aspect of the role.
I think that's very interesting because you see all these stories that take place in the 1960s and, not necessarily in modern times, but in the very recent past, you don't really get to see a lot of diversity when it comes to gender identity.
I think that's very incredible that you were able to find that with Hannah and very incredible that you were able to see an aspect of yourself and pick it apart in the script to very much understand her as a character. That's just amazing to me. So, thank you so much for sharing that.
What is something that you want the audience to take away from "Luchadora!"? What is a feeling they might have, a thought that they might have, or just a moment that you want to burn into their memory?
I'm really going to focus on the actors. I think we have such a diverse group of actors. I love it. I want people to see how aside from all that's going on, we still work together, like how working all together can make something so beautiful.
Cause I feel like "Luchadora!" has such a message behind it. It's like 1960s, a Mexican family, a German family dealing with all of the issues that were going on in the US. And we all have our own backgrounds that we can incorporate into this, because we all have seen or experienced something like that in different ways.
Not as extreme, probably, but in different ways for people to see how things were and are and how we can make something beautiful out of it. I think that that's really good.
I really want people that take away two messages.
One, the first message is that girls can do anything boys can do and they could do it even better.
And the second message I want people to take away is the idea of the diversity.
Our show is very diverse with people from all different parts of the world and all different places. And I love how "Luchadora!" makes that shine and really brings that to the forefront. Like, Lucia is from Spain and there's a lot of people from Mexico and you can really see the heritage come to light in the show. And that's something that I love to see.
Yeah, I definitely agree with Lucia and Lauren. The takeaway from the show would definitely just be the importance of family, as well as chosen family. You know, there's a great scene where you have one girl who comes from a Mexican family who is comforting, a girl who comes from a German family after the death of a loved one.
And they are, you know, sharing food in a way that is very reminiscent of the way the communities are built in real life. And these people, these characters, love each other very much and would do so much for each other in a way that family does and so they are very much like found family, chosen family.
And so I think that people should walk away from "Luchadora!" with a sense of community and, you know, leaning on the diversity aspect of it — community with people that are different from you makes you better.
You know, that's something that's talked about in the show.
The setting of the show, the town that it takes place in, is full of immigrants and so, the main character talks about how when she rode her bike as a kid she could hear songs in Spanish, songs in English, songs in German, all these different languages, all these different cultures coming together, and — God, I'm going to sound so cheesy right now — that's the American dream.
And that's what makes America what it is, because America is supposed to be a melting pot where cultures aren't assimilated. They are appreciated and participated in, in a respectful manner that makes everyone's lives richer.
Yeah, definitely. I think that, especially in today, it's very important to take note of diversity, to take note of people's backgrounds and just have empathy for them and treat them as human beings. As simple as that may sound. Let me ask something for Lucia really quick. What has been the biggest adjustment you have had traveling from Spain and going to America? How have you adapted to such a drastic shift in your life?
Actually, there are many perspectives. Sometimes when I come here, it's like — because I meet people that are so welcoming — it's really interesting to see how Europe sees America in this day.
People were like, "Why are you going there? Are you crazy?" and all that.
And then other people were like, "Oh yeah, that's amazing. You're going to have so much fun."
So, it was these two perspectives, and for me, sometimes it has been hard. Not going to lie. It's not beautiful all the time, because sometimes people won't take you serious because this is not your first language, or you're not from here or your culture is different.
Sometimes they get upset because you don't know what they're talking about.
And you're like, "Okay, I'm learning here. I don't know what you're talking about because I've never seen it in my life."
Same as if you come to my country and you'd be like, "Oh, what's going on?"
It takes time to actually adapt to some places.
But luckily, ASU, in general, it's very big, very diverse. You can find your place. You're going to find people who are going to be there for you and they're going to also help you adapt. And I'm really thankful that I have found these people, even if they're not a lot, but I found the people that actually treat me as if I'm one of them.
And, like Nick said before, the American dream — that's why I'm here. So, that's what I'm looking for.
And I know that people seem to believe in it. Americans who really want that in their life and that they are showing that to internationals. So, I'm really thankful for that.
Awesome. At the time of recording, we are currently meeting just before your guys' rehearsals. What has it been like moving into the performance space now? Being in your separate rooms and just adjusting to the green screens, the lights, and everything happening around you, can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
So, when we first got in the space, I had the green screen up and then my things got moved around and I couldn't put my laptop where I needed to put it so I could virtually go into Zoom and do my acting and stuff.
And I knocked the green screen over, rehearsal blocks were moved around, it was just a gigantic mess and it was a really hard adjustment at first. But now that I'm feeling more comfortable in this space, it's very nice.
It's been scary.
But not in a bad way, it's been, "Wow, we're actually doing this," because at first, you're at home, in your own space.
And it's like, seeing people on Zoom — which really sucks because I really want to meet the team — and even in the breaks we have right now, it's so good to actually talk to you guys. I don't know. It's super exciting.
It makes me want to be in the play even more. I love it.
But, now that I'm with all of you, it's like, "Yes, that's why I do this."
The teamwork, meeting everyone, seeing everyone's face being so happy about it.
It's hard because I mean, I've never done a show like this. It's going to be hard to adapt, I guess, but it's so rewarding that it's going to be worth it.
Pure relief. Because, as I mentioned earlier, I was in the show last semester where we put the green screens up in our own homes and that was just, you know, you wake up every morning and it's there, you go to bed every night and it's there.
And they had a phone camera that was constantly on, and so it would sometimes just make noise that you couldn't turn off. Being able to come into the space and to be able to separate work from personal life is such a blessing. It's amazing.
And it also is just so nice to see human beings. Like, I get to walk down the hallway and there's people in the hallway. Sometimes people will knock on my door and I get to put a mask on and answer it. It's awesome. I love it.
Going off with Nick and Lucia said, seeing my cast mates is the most wonderful, best thing in the world. The day that we met, we warmed up outside. Seeing all of them and feeling their energies and seeing who they are and making eye contact, not over Zoom. It was such a thing that I took for granted and I didn't know that I could lose, and it feels really good to see everyone.
Like I said, you guys are about to start your next tech rehearsal. I want to honor and value your time. So, thank you guys so much for being on here. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, Peter.
My thanks again to Lucia, Nick and Lauren. These three have been working hard on building their characters and perfecting their performance in a virtual setting. Be sure to catch them and the rest of the cast of "Luchadora!" on April 16th, 17th and 18th. You can get tickets by going to the ASU Herberger events page. For the State Press, I'm Peter Vezeau.
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