Francisco Solís is a theatre director on a mission. He is introducing audiences in Mérida to musicals that they have either long forgotten or never heard of before. The cult classic Rocky Horror Show and the groundbreaking rock musical Hair have been performed various times in Mérida over the past year.
Solís holds a BA in Theater Arts from Mexico’s National Institute of Fine Arts. He has been director of the Dream Theater Company for twenty years and recently began coordinating the Rubén Chacón Alternative Forum.
Q: Are you from Mérida?
A: I was born in Mexico City, but I started doing theater in Mérida at the age of 15. Later, I returned to Mexico City to get a degree in theater, because at that time there wasn’t such a degree in the Yucatan, and I decided that when I finished I would return to the Yucatan to share what I learned. Mexico today still “suffers” from an enormous centralization, with a great portion of the economic and cultural activity occurring in the center of the country. Because of this, I decided to return, to collaborate in the artistic activity of the Yucatán and participate, as necessary, in creating public works.
Q: What motivated you to stage the plays Hair and the Rocky Horror Show in Mérida?
A: I did The Rocky Horror Show for the first time at the invitation of the School of Arts of Yucatan. I teach there, and I was invited to direct a musical theater module. I had never directed this type of project and the only musical that I admired was this. I liked it, and as we started to put it on, I began to love it. I think it has quite an appealing aesthetic, while at the same time the theme calling for freedom and tolerance make this musical a very good option to demystify a genre that is considered banal.
Meanwhile Hair, which I was also invited to stage, captivated me by its call for peace. I just turned 40, so I’m not from the hippie era, but if I am, like many, an admirer of that ideology. I also think that the obligation of every artist is to participate in public awareness in their time and I consider Hair, with its call for peace and tolerance, its plea for making love and not war, will always be current.
Q: The actors in the Rocky Horror Show are spot on in terms of the body language and movements of their characters. How did they prepare for this show to make it so authentic?
A: Most of the actors are graduates of the School of Arts of Yucatan; others have studied acting at training centers such as Xpresión, and therefore have the skills to do this type of work. At the same time I am a director-coach. I always include the relevant training to develop the expressive skills required for the type of work.
Q. Hair hit Broadway in 1968. How old were you at the time, and what do you remember most about it? How is this play relevant to life in Mexico today?
A: Ha, ha, ha…I didn’t exist at the time, and there weren’t even plans for my arrival! I was born in 1972. But without a doubt this play transcended to my generation and even the youth of today are still talking about it.
Mexico is experiencing a difficult period of violence, perhaps not a “real war,” but much injustice, intolerance, discrimination and, worse, lack of awareness. The theater is always a weapon of freedom and conscience.
Q: An article called Mexico’s radical protests during the Vietnam War era “the forgotten story of 1968.” Was Hair part of this resistance movement in Mexico?
A: No, unfortunately not.
Q: Mexican-Americans have historically served in the US armed forces in disproportionate numbers. They were also key forces during the Vietnam war protests. Were people back home in Mexico aware of this?
A: I confess ignorance in this area, but fortunately today’s youth, as an example the “I am 132” campaign, enjoys a moment of awakening and soon will be a major factor in change.
Q: Rocky Horror began as a British stage musical in 1973 and was made into a film in 1975. A Mexican cast presented the play in Mexico City in 1976 (and did a cast recording). Do you remember this? How was the musical received at that time in Mexico?
A: My only contact with Rocky Horror was through the movie. Having done of bit of investigation, I learned that the first Mexican stage production was quite shaved down, almost self-censored, devoid, so that it would not be canceled due to its sensory, sensual, and sexual content. The lyrics were adapted to be lighter. Now I see that it is being presented in Mexico City again, but I do not know much about it.
1) In 2011, a community theater production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was shut down by authorities in a small town in Georgia due to its “questionable morals.”
2) This link advertises the The Rocky Horror Show performance in Mexico City in 2012:
Q: In America, the Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult classic. The audience – to this day -participates, for example, by throwing toast in the air when the characters make a toast, or throwing rice in the air during the wedding scene. Did it ever gain cult status anywhere in Mexico? Have you ever attended the film in the United States with this type of participatory audience?
A: No, I have not had the opportunity. In fact, in the Yucatan very few people knew about this musical; practically the only ones who knew about it were my cast and I. Well, except for the diehard fans that you have everywhere, who wanted our show to become more participatory – but that does not depend on us. The time will come.
Q: You staged Hair at a new cultural center in Centro with an off-broadway style theater space, called Tapanco. Do you find Mérida audiences are receptive to this new space? And how would you describe the theatre scene in Mérida?
A: Theater in Mérida has grown tremendously artistically, but not the public. There are new spaces, more actors, new proposals, but we still lack the public. Right now I am coordinating a small forum, recently inaugurated, called the Rubén Chacón Alternative Forum, located in what was once the penitentiary, the jail, and is an attempt to create a stronger theater arts movement in Mérida.
Q: What other plays have you produced in the past? Have you always concentrated on musical theater?
A: I have been directing for nearly twenty years. I have directed classics, children’s theater, contemporary Mexican theater: about 50 stage performances. However, my involvement in musicals is recent: The Rocky Horror Show, Hair and The Threepenny Opera.
Q: Mexican musical theater has had trouble achieving the quality of Broadway due to several factors. One is that the actors often must be only hobbyists in the genre (as opposed to dedicated professionals who act in only musical theater for decades and are able to earn a living from it), and secondly, the lack of institutions for professional training. Do you see this changing?
A: In the end, the theater is theater – realistic, musical, verse, body, etc. – and the contemporary actor must be prepared to insert themselves into any of these forms, after analysis of their capabilities. Training today has become increasingly personal. The actor is not born…he or she is made. One’s interest can be whatever it is, but to be able to live with responsibility and consistency in the theater is only possible through self-discipline.
Q: Is there interest in the musical theatre genre in the country?
The picture itself is difficult, but the light at the end of the tunnel indicates that we are on track.
Q: What are you working on currently?
A: I’m doing a sort of retrospective of my stage shows of the last two years. In late September and early October, I will present The Toy Factory by Jesús González Dávila, about the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968, which I am presenting as a call to not forget.
In late October, I will present a work by the contemporary Mexican playwright Marisa Gómez called Hope and Love Enough about the current difficulty of living life as a couple, how in modern times, sadly, love is not enough to preserve a relationship. And finally in November I will present The Dogs by Elena Garro, the former wife of Octavio Paz, dealing with violence against women.
As you can tell, I see my stage work as an active and fundamental part of my social concerns and commitments.
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The Rocky Horror Show concluded its 2012 season, but will return in July 2013. Hair will be presented at the OTOÑO CULTURALin November. Dates and times to be confirmed.