Transforming Under Pressure
A conversation between PTC’s Dramaturg, Creative Engagement – Joanna Garfinkel, and Fringe New Play Prize Winners JK JK, Jenny Larson and khattieQ, about the making of Catalina La O presenta: Ahora Conmigo in a constantly changing world.
Each year of working on the Fringe New Play Prize for PTC has been formative in the way I approach dramaturgy and collaboration. If anything, this year was even more so – I started working with Jenny and khattie in January, and in March the Pandemic hit. What I had imagined would be a practice with lots of studio time and collaboration “in a room” suddenly became laptopped windows into each others’ homes. More than just overcoming strictures and regulations, I am continually impressed by Jenny and khattie’s ability to transcend our worries about our far away families and friends, our worries about the world and ourselves, and to make something that speaks to the experience of isolation and bewilderment that this year has brought. Maybe transcend isn’t the right word, to transform our heartbreak and suspension into something wild with joy and protest. I started a conversation with Jenny and khattie in August to reflect on our process, and we updated it again in November, because everything is always changing. – Joanna Garfinkel /Dramaturg, Creative Engagement
You can see Catalina La O presenta: Ahora Conmigo through November 29th.
JG: What was the inspiration behind the piece?
JK: khattie created the character Catalina La O many years ago. Catalina is inspired by the legendary singers of Puerto Rico, Myrta Silva, Yolandita Monge, Lucecita Benitez, and more. khattie performed Catalina with a band as a musical act. Jenny suggested years ago that we turn the piece into a one-person show. In 2018 khattie had a life changing accident and could no longer play in bands. In response to this, we decided it was time to start making the play. In 2019 we started writing in earnest.
JG: How has it changed since the initial idea?
JK: Our first iterations were only a few pages, about 15 minutes of material. We had a scene where khattie put on Catalina and a scene where she arrived at her television studio. Initially Catalina was searching for their lover. After these first workshops we decided to have khattie come out of Catalina in front of the audience instead of getting into her, and we decided to have her search for her mother instead of her lover. Then we met you and your dramaturgical questions opened this tiny 15-minute experiment into a full-length play.
JG: What do people here perhaps not know about Puerto Rican music/baladas singers?
JK: It is rich, vibrant, layered and complex.The Puerto Rican identity is one that accepts a multiplicity. They speak openly about being African, Espanol, and Taino, and the music reflects the multiplicity. These balada singers were amazing! One was openly queer, their existence was in itself an act of revolution. These singers were feminist, they were political, they produced their own music, and they pushed against the structures that attempted to repress them. We stand in great admiration of their strength and resilience.
JG: How has the experience of the play changed since the Pandemic?
JK: We went from the expectation of a live performance and seeing Joanna in person every week to Zoom workshops in the living room and seeing your face on the screen. It was wild. We were up in the air about what the show would be for a long time. It was hard to keep creating but also really a gift to have the deadlines and the weekly meetings with both you and our producer Shanae Sodhi. We started talking about alternative plans once the pandemic hit, but jumped fully into the choice to film the piece in early July.
Then we decided we’d have invited guests and future collaborators join us to see the piece in person during dress rehearsal (legally and safely distanced, of course). So in rehearsals we had capacity limits, and we were building/ working towards both a live performance and the film. Then we had four invited dress rehearsals with four invited guests at each. And then we filmed for two days, also with capacity limits that forced our incredible design team (Erika Champion on sound, Zach Levis on lights and production management, and Michelle Thorne on costume design) to work the crew. After that Rob Leickner, our amazing and generous DP and Editor jumped into post-production with Jenny (and help from Anton and khattie on the final songs). The film was complete on November 15th.
JG: What art do you/or how do you like to experience art now?
JK: We were able to attend an outdoor event hosted by Rumble Theatre recently (Tremors) and it was so nice to see people in person. We also watched our dear friend Jesus Valles show online, Undocumented, and it moved us to laughter and tears. We are embracing the need for online experiences to keep us all safe. But can’t wait to be around people again.
JG: Anything in art/culture/music/theatre you’re enjoying that you want to recommend?
JK: I would always recommend that people watch artists that are breaking boundaries, drag performers, punk rockers, and anything that is not just conforming to the status quo. Oh and I would also recommend the upcoming show Be Longing by the frank theatre (not only cus I’m in it, says khattie, heehee)
JG: Tell us about the future of the piece!
JK: In March 2022, we will premiere live as an associate production of Neworld Theatre and a co-production of the frank theatre company. After that, we hope to tour the piece, and we also look forward to seeing if the film can have a life after this run.