What is a Pastorela in your own words and why is it so important in the Latino community?
“The Pastorela has a long history in the Latino community. Brought here by the Spanish priest, it is a Christmas tale of the shepherds journey to visit the newborn Christ. It is a play that though it has the story of Jesus, can be a secular morality story for all audiences. It take the shepherds (who really represent “us”) through the struggles of the Seven Deadly Sins, which seems to be more and more relevant these days. The beauty of the play is that it can be produced with lots of entertainment and comedy values.”
How has Petra’s character evolved over the years?
“Petra was borrowed from my friend Rodrigo Duarte Clark’s “Brujerias,” a short play about a bumbling older couple. I liked the relationship and the character of Petra in that story, but I didn’t want her to be a fool or a farcical character; I wanted her to be smart, compassionate and someone who would fight for what is right. My first version had her speaking like someone with little education, little knowledge of English. She was very simple and this almost made her “simple minded,” something I wanted to avoid. I wanted everyone to see their mom, their favorite tía, or grandmother. We all hold these people pretty high up in our eyes, so Petra moved in that direction. She is now smart, speaks good English and Spanish, worldly in that she knows a lot of what is happening but she stay grounded. She is unconditional love incarnate.”
In your eyes, who is Petra’s character?
“My father, who fell from a ladder when he was in his 70s and made me look closer not only at how I had taken him for granted, but how the culture is moving away from respecting our elders. I guess this is what Americans do, but Latinos never would put abuela or mom in a home.”
What makes Petra’s Pastorela appealing to audiences?
“The Petra series is appealing because audiences see their family on stage. Some of the same conflicts in the plays are happening in their own lives. They get to laugh and maybe see the seeds of a solution. Non-Latino audiences gain insight into the culture but also see that we are not different. We are all human beings in the same boat, rowing against the same currents.”
What is your favorite characteristic about Petra?
“Her unconditional love.”
What do you hope to show audiences with this play?
“That faith is powerful. Petra never gives up hope that Rafael will come out of his coma, but she does let doubt creep into her life in any amount. Doubt is the poison that kills faith.”
What do you love about Teatro Vivo?
“That we have been able to reach some many different audiences in Austin; that we are respected as a theater company and theater artists. We do good theater; we want Latino audiences to be proud of our work and we want to make the community proud of us as well. I always say that our biggest competitor is ourselves and we are only as good as our last show. And one of the most important loves is that I get to share the work and devotion with my lovely wife JoAnn.”
Any advice to future playwrights?
“Advice to Latino playwrights: write our stories. You don’t have to only write Latino tales, but take the time to add one more to the very short list of good Latino plays. Plays can be the source for film as well, think “Real Women have Curves,” and “Zoot Suit.” What have you seen on screen lately? We do have emerging Latino actors and actresses, but we need the writers. And who is telling our stories? Most of the time it is not a Latino, think “Quinceañera.” There is a gold mine out there folks. Get your pen and get to it.”