Monday, November 28, 2016

Tío Louie Reporta: Marlene Villafañe Goes To Hollywood... and finds herself

HOLA is proud to present Tío Louie Reporta, where filmmaker and Executive Producer of Prime Latino Media, Louis Perego Moreno (affectionately known as Tío Louie) interviews actors and multimedia-makers in the business of show.

In this edition, Tío Louie talks to actress, singer, writer and HOLA Award member Marlene Villafañe, who recently presented her self-penned solo show Marlene Goes To Hollywood at Teatro Círculo in Manhattan's East Village. The production was a result of her winning The ONE Festival, a festival of solo shows.

and finds herself

Marlene Villafañe.
Is she the 21st century Lucille Ball? Is she the Puerto Rican Eartha Kitt? No, she’s the Real McCoy– or shall I say, the real Mirta Silva who hails from Spanish Harlem, but loves all those greats with whom she was raised watching and laughing with family and that shaped her artistic career. But she gives a whole new twist to being a lady of comedy. This lady can make you laugh, because she loves to laugh— and she can sing to boot. And we’re not talking a horse of another color. This is a classically trained lyrical coloratura singer who if given the classic crystal glass audio test will shatter the ca-ca out of it. This lady is funny, a great impersonator and she is spiritually attuned. And as she rolled out the one-woman show she wrote and performed in Verónica Caicedo’s The ONE Festival, a festival of one-person performances, she won the coveted Audience Award with Marlene Goes to Hollywood. As I sat down with this lady in an interview, this is her story and unique journey.

Winning the 2016
The ONE Festival.
Tío Louie: What is at the root of this one-woman show?
Marlene Villafañe: Well, it’s me growing up as a Latina born in Spanish Harlem, but raised in the Upper West Side [of Manhattan]. Then I go into how gawky I was. I was a late-bloomer and not being decisive about what I wanted to do in life. I was not great in school, but I loved watching these TV shows and pretending to be these characters. It was a wonderful release for me. It also helped me escape or feel my insecurity. I was able to laugh while watching TV and growing up. I had studied music. I could sing jazz, opera, I could be funny– and all while telling stories. But I didn’t have a niche. I was trying to find what I wanted. My focus was not narrow. Finally, a few events in my life pointed me in that direction of... this is for me. It was accepting my power. It was about how good I was and not being afraid of that, in order to show the talents that God had given me through the platform that the show provided.

Performing with her cousin,
singer Javier Luis.
TL: You thanked God when receiving your award and cited the higher power several times. Describe the significance of your faith and spirituality?
MV: Everybody in life goes through ups and downs and spiritual growth. I always grew up in a spiritual household, but I would come in and out of it. Occasionally, I would go through these panics, even as a working actress that stemmed from insecurities or whatever. My family helped keep me grounded. I prayed a lot. I started meditating. Writing my story, this show helped me a lot. I surrounded myself with positive people. I took time to be by myself. I also had the gift of laughter. Singing helped a lot and being surrounded by loving people. To me religion and spirituality are two separate things. Don’t get me wrong, to a specific person who is in a particular stage in life that may be lost, a religious organization helps them find themselves. The point is that my upbringing was very spiritual. Whether religion or not, people need something that helps them. Religion and politics are a whole different thing, especially when it comes to controlling people... I don’t want to go there.

TL: You have a superb voice that is obviously classically trained as you did a rendition of an Italian operatic aria in your show that blew the audience away. Tell me about your training?
MV: I am a lyric coloratura from when I was studying at the Manhattan School of Music. I studied there for four years and for two years in the master's program there. I remember hearing Maria Callas as a college student, which is why I had to put it in my one-woman show.

TL: You are a remarkable comedic actress, where do you tap into to channel these great women from comedic history?
MV: Watching, observing, researching. You then have to put yourself in the moment. That’s when real magic happens. Can you get nervous in executing this? Yes, but it’s about being spontaneous. I meditate beforehand and stretch so I can be limber and free. I do my prayers and deep breathing and affirm things that keep me feeling good– to stay happy and be good. My best teachers have told me to be in the moment and really listen within and trusting that that force will take you… just surrender and have fun. Trust in the now that magic can happen on a comedic or dramatic level. My teachers would say, Listen to the silence or your partner.

TL: What are your $0.10 worth of advice [originally 
2¢, but increased by Tío Louie for inflation] for comedic actors when it comes to the challenging task of character impersonation? 
MV: Listen carefully. Observe their mannerisms, their sound, speech, rhythmic pacing and timbre that they are known for possessing. You have to listen and work with someone who is an expert with that person and bounce off them to refine the character. Pick people that you can do an impression of easily. There are certain characters that you can try to do an impression, but my voice lends itself to do Eartha Kitt and Gracie Allen who I did in my one-woman show. Observe a lot and work with someone who has a keen ear for that person.

TL: What’s next?
MV: I want to continue writing and continue developing this show, and taking it out there and trust that what comes to me is going to be very good. I am believing that God is supporting me to write and develop my show. I want to continue being me and being true to myself. I would love to have a show on Comedy Central, something like Carol Burnett, Tracey Ullman– just a really great show. I love sketch comedy so I can invite my great comedian friends and form a great ensemble. I loved In Living Color– I love Jim Carrey.

For more information about Marlene Villafañe, click here.

Louis Perego Moreno (Tío Louie)
Founder & Executive Producer of PRIME LATINO MEDIA, the largest East Coast network of Latino multimedia-makers, actors and musicians in bilingual Latino and mainstream media, digital and entertainment. An interactive Content/Impact Producer and Educator who for the past 34 years has owned Skyline Features, a bilingual multimedia and educational production company developing documentaries, television programming and advertising commercials featuring Latinos, Blacks, Women, Urban Youth and LGBT.

Facebook (personal page): Louis E. Perego Moreno
Fan page: Tio Louie
Facebook Group: Prime Latino Media
Twitter: @TioLouie
Twitter: @PLMSalon

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