Wednesday, March 18, 2015

HOLAwave: How I Got To Broadway (Part 3)

[HOLAwave represents a series of guest blogs by industry insiders giving informative and educational tidbits for the Latino performer. They can range from acting and auditioning advice, tech tips, legal advice, marketing, producing tips, and so on. Get caught up in the wave– the HOLAwave.]


Alison Bechdel.
Two days before rehearsals began for Fun Home on Broadway, [cast members] Beth Malone, Emily Skeggs, Michael Cerveris and I took a road trip to Beech Creek, Pennsylvania to spend a night at the actual home where much of the action of our musical takes place. There, we were met by Alison Bechdel [cartoonist whose graphic novel was the source material and inspiration of the musical Fun Home], her girlfriend Holly, and her brother Christian. Alison gave us a tour of the Victorian home she grew up in and the small town she called home. What an incredible and rare opportunity to visit the community that Alison beautifully depicts in her graphic memoir and we have attempted to bring to the New York stage. 

Beech Creek is incredibly rural. There's Main Street, a few small residential streets and that's about it. It's surrounded by mountains and the Allegheny Plateau. We visited the Beech Creek Motel to have a drink at the bar but the cloud of cigarette smoke that floated over the scant number of patrons led us to just buy a couple of six packs and retire home for the evening. 

While I loved getting a glimpse into the small town life that Alison grew up in, I could not help thinking, "Where are all the Brown people!?" I'm guessing that looking for the Goya section of the Beech Creek Supermarket would be just as easy as finding Narnia. So, why on Earth did I end up in this play?

I'd like to think that if I had gone through the traditional audition process for this production I would have been cast... but that's probably not true. The Pérez that follows my first name probably would have made some casting folks unable to see me as a part of the tapestry of a small town in rural Pennsylvania. I have even had other Latino actors assume that it was my being Latino that got me the part. "Oh, so you play the Latino babysitter?" People often feel the need to qualify the role with my culture, which feels very short sighted. But [bookwriter and lyricist] Lisa Kron and [composer] Jeanine Tesori had the incredible audacity to cast a Puerto Rican in the role of several Caucasian men in Fun Home and [director] Sam Gold gave the green lightI can't begin to thank them enough. 

Roberta Colindrez.
When Gina Rodríguez of The CW's "Jane the Virgin" accepted her Golden Globe Award this year she said her award represents "a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes." Fun Home stands in subtle defiance against what is expected of Latino actors on Broadway, which seems fitting for a show that is all about perception and the expectations we put on ourselves and our families. 

[Cast member] Roberta Colindrez and I are adding a little flavor to this Fun Home family (Roberta was born in Mexico to Honduran and Argentinian parents). We often joke about how we're the only Brown people in Beech Creek. It's pretty cool that we both play characters that in reality are Caucasian. 

Joel Pérez in Alison Bechdel's
childhood home.
Another transfer production from the Public Theater [which also produced Fun Home] that is very deservedly getting raves is Hamilton. If you are willing to murder your first born or sell a kidney, you'll probably get a chance to see it. Probably. I had to poison a litter of puppies, but I got my ticket! When I sat in the Newman Theater watching Lin-Manuel Miranda; Christopher Jackson; Leslie Odom, Jr.; and the rest of that insanely talented cast on stage, portraying such iconic historical figures I was thrilled at the bold subversion of history that I was witnessing. Hell yeah! We are heroes. We are game changers. We have the power to change our word. If good theater is an honest reflection of our culture and society, it's about time that Latinos and African Americans are seen in a different light and Latino and African American actors don't have to feel their souls die a little when they get another audition to play a drug dealer, slave or prostitute. We're better than that.  

This week we move into the theater, Circle in the Square, and start to tech the show. So many people have put their faith in this production and I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of it. I can't wait to see the set!

To be continued....

Joel Pérez is a performer living in Brooklyn, NY. He's done work on TV in "Person of Interest" (CBS), "The Big C" (Showtime), and "Black Box" (ABC). He has toured nationally and internationally in In the Heights and Fame. He will star in the upcoming Broadway production of Fun Home after originating the role off-Broadway at The Public Theater. He has participated in developmental labs with the Sundance Theater Lab, Soho Rep, Atlantic Theater Company, and many others. He has also worked on several commercials and voice-overs. He's an ensemble member of Broken Box Mime Theater and Pregones Theater. He studied at Tufts University, The British American Drama Academy and Upright Citizen's Brigade. He is repped by BRS/GAGE and Abrams Artists Agency. For more information, click here.

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