Vecinos, written by one of Teatro Vivo’s very own founders, Rupert Reyes, is a play that captures unforgettable bits of life, such as discovering love and passion again, and which reflects the timeless truth that love is closer than you think. Vecinos first premiered in Febrary 2008 at the Mexican American Culture Center in downtown Austin. The show was reproduced this summer, and ran from July 31st through August 17th. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask a few questions to the playwright and one of the actors himself, Rupert, on his inspiration to write the play and the rewards earned from working on such a piece.
What was your inspiration for writing Vecinos?
I wrote as a tribute to my Dad. I was inspired by the love he had for my Mom, who died when I was 7 years old and his second wife, my Mom, who we call Susie, who he married 7 years later. They went everywhere together. He treated her like a queen and I can tell you that I never saw them argue. Maybe they did, but I don’t recall it. My dad was a gentleman and very intelligent. He read the paper and went back to school when he was in his 50’s to learn to read and write better. He had nine kids and 7 of us have degrees from the University of Texas. His devotion to his first wife my mom, is now eternal as he wanted to be buried next to her and he is.
What is it like to be an actor in something you’ve written and spent a lot of time on?
It really is no different than doing a play written by someone else. This is due to my writing style or inspiration, not sure what to call it. What happens in my writing is that I will find a story line, something someone says, and idea (like the love my Dad had for the two women in his life, Vecinos) and then characters begin to appear who want me to tell the story through their view. I find myself having to type very quickly to keep up with the dialogue. I really do see it in my head as a TV show or a movie. So even learning lines from my script is the same task as learning the lines in any play. There is one thing, since I have seen the play in my head, sometimes the choice the director makes goes against what my characters told me. So, I sort of gently nudge the director toward a different choice or the choice I saw in my head.
What sells you on certain people as opposed to others, especially regarding your own work?
Are you talking about artistic choices? Like directors, actors, designers? If so, it is people who I have worked with and enjoyed those processes. For others, new people, it is a sense or intuition that they are the right choice for this show. I have made mistakes and brought people on board who had to be fired or quit but this is rare. We have a specific way of working. When people come on board with Teatro Vivo, we tell them about our unofficial motto. “When this is all over, we want everyone, those in the show, the volunteers, the venue personnel and the audience to all say, ‘We want you to come back.’ ” So it you are being negative or uncooperative, you are talked to. We do a “Cena” before each production where we bring everyone who is working on the show together, actors, designers and crew and introduce them to each other and let them know that no one is more important in the show. That we need everyone in order to be successful. And that we appreciate that they are the ones in this show.
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing Vecinos to the stage?
The set. When I wrote this, I really had in mind two complete apartments. And the doors are very important in this play as they allow people to escape or enter into new experiences. Doors are very difficult to build and we never got the shake out of ours for this show. We have had more comments, positive ones about this set than any we have done before. Our designer made the set inviting and due to the space, the venue, people feel like they are in the living room with the characters. And then the narrator invites them in as well. We had to create this space and feel like we succeeded.
What is one of the most rewarding memories of this experience?
There are many rewarding memories. Wow, choosing the most? Tough. I think I would say that during a talk back, a woman sitting with her mother raised her hand and said that the play had opened her mind and heart. That it would be okay if her mom, who was a widow, wanted to seek some companionship. That it made her realize that we all have the capacity to love again and does not diminish the love we had for our first partner. I write plays to make folks think and ask new questions about issues that are important to our community. To seek solutions. I was touched that the impact of this play was so immediate and that the person felt free to share it in the “community” known as the audience.
To end, here’s an anecdote straight from Rupert—enjoy!
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between 2 “wolves” inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.