It was wonderful to be back in the Music Center in Los Angeles this past Saturday October 22 opening the season at the World City series.
Barbara Leonard, director of the Music Center, commissioned the play which was premiered during the Paper Theater Festival in June 2008. The actors were Alejandro Benítez and Mauricio Martínez, part of FACTO TEATRO, with llive music, composed and arranged by Ernesto Anaya and played by him (violin-voice) and myself with a small diatonic harp built by David Kolacny.
While writing it I researched about the Mexican traditions around Día de Muertos, (Day of the Death).
Since my childhood, this has been my favorite tradition due to its colors, happiness, smell, imagination and the feeling of it being more a celebration of life while we are still alive than a death ritual.
Each region of Mexico has slight variations in the rich ways in which this tradition is celebrated. Pre-Hispanic Indian beliefs, mainly presenting life and death as a never ending circle, are mixed with aspects from the catholic religion in an extremely syncretic way.
Visitors from other countries have found this spooky, difficult to understand, illogical. That’s the way life is, anyway. I enjoy it even as we are never really prepared to face death. Día de Muertos shrines have been a useful tool to talk about death with children, family members and audiences.
I made seven short acts of the seven steps that, according to Náhuatl mythology, had to be passed on the way to Mictlán, the heaven that people who died a natural death were entitled to.
People had different heavens according to how they died. Warriors went to the same one as women dying while giving birth, and drowned ones went to a different heaven from those who died in a fire, etc.
The main character in my play, Procopio Solapas, whose name alludes to the Spanish words propia soledad, (one’s own solitude), reminds us of the most difficult situation we all humans have to face in different ways. All literature reaches this point, the highest peak of horror. Procopio is alone and does not understand that he is dead. Nobody understands him and he is desperate. We all have been there somehow.
I used the names and situations of these seven tests and placed them in a contemporary Mexico, with bureaucracy problems, conversations around tequila bottles, humor, lucha libre, and others, until Procopio reaches his own Día de Muertos tradition, with people celebrating his life and his death and remembering him after he is gone.
Every year, at the end of October, I buy papel picado with bright colors and decorate a corner close to the dinning table. I place bread in shape of bones, candies and skulls with our names on them, favorite foods and drinks from dear beloved ones who have passed away, pictures of our dead people, candles, incense and any other reminders of ways or wishes to bring spirits to come and spend a night or day within our memoires of them. This year the shrine was dedicated to my dear composer friend Eugenio Toussaint who passed away last February and who wrote five beautiful harp pieces for me in his “SUITE PA SU MECHE“.
Watching the multiracial audience sitting on the floor at the amphitheater of the Disney Music hall in L.A. that weekend – specially the children with wide open eyes – I felt how little it takes to embrace others by trying to say that we don´t have to be alone.
Music and education made this possible in L.A. last October 22.
Next season in Mexico: http://impreso.milenio.com/node/9057283