Interview, theater

An Interview with Jill Benson

by Julie Stewart

Jill Benson is the driving force behind a creative first in Merida: a murder mystery dinner theatre. Better known for tirelessly volunteering to help street dogs through her association with Sanctuary Evolución in Uman, Jill recently began rehearsals for a four-act play she wrote titled Murder in Mérida:  Love Kills.

 

First off, why are we using the “re” spelling of theatre?

Oh crap…is it supposed to be spelled differently?  That darn spell-check!

 

Can you explain the concept behind a murder mystery dinner theatre in 5 words?

Great show and awesome food!

 

What is your background in playwriting and theatre?

Well, I love to write and I love to act. When I was a kid, I was a big ham. My friends and I would imitate Carol Burnett and other sitcoms we saw on TV. We got together and rewrote and acted out commercials.  I can remember doing ‘Trix are for Kids’ for my classmates one day. The first play I wrote was a comedy sketch for the high school talent show. The synopsis of the sketch was the delivery of a baby in a hospital operating room.  The props person (my best friend) forgot to set the doll (the baby) under the delivery table.  The doctor was to reach under the table for the doll, then pretend he had delivered the baby.  Since we forgot to put it there, during the prime moment of the delivery, my friend – not knowing what else to do – just threw the baby onto the stage. The flying baby hit the doctor in the head.  All of this totally unintentional and one big screw up, but the audience let out a great laugh. So, I deemed it a success.

In my 20s and 30s, I got involved in commercial acting. Corporate training videos, local and regional commercials, and in-store infomercials.  I also got a non-speaking role in a Spike Lee mockumentary called CSA: The Confederate States of America.  If you ever see it, I’m the school teacher at the very end…if you blink, you’ll miss me.  I later joined an improv group called ‘Full Frontal Comedy’ and began doing Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre.  I had the most fun doing the improv and dinner theatre – you just never knew what was going to happen.  During that time, I was also part of a group called Actors for Actors (AFA).  We wrote and performed scripts, sketches and monologues.  I loved that period of my life.  Like all things, life takes you down different paths. My interests changed, I went back to school for environmental studies and worked as a field tech for an environmental consulting company.  Then, well, Mérida called and here I am.

 

What inspired you to write this murder mystery?

White wine…mostly Chardonnay.

 

Murder in Mérida was a work in progress for several months. What processes did you use to write and hone the play?

Well, there is this really cool thing going on in Mérida called Open Mic Night. All of my friends were doing it – and they were all brilliant! Poets, short story writers, comedians.  I thought, I have to get in on this. It’s hard not to be inspired when you are surrounded by so many talented people.  So, I began by writing the script, and bringing it in sections to Open Mic Night.  It was a great way to see what worked and what didn’t.  Writing a murder mystery can be a little tricky because all the pieces have to fit.  I would think I was a genius with something I came up with!!!… then someone would point out how it didn’t make any sense!  After a few rewrites, a couple of readings at friends’ homes, and the next thing I know, we’re talking about doing a show.

 

Are any of the characters in Murder in Mérida fashioned after local personalities? And if so, can you tell us who?

Most people who know me, know that I am an animal lover and that I support a local animal protection group called Evolución. When I first started thinking that I might write a script, I thought it would be fun to fashion the characters after dogs at the shelter. They all have their own unique and sometimes crazy personalities. So…..all of the characters in the show are based in part and named after some of my favorite dogs at Evolución – many of whom have since been adopted. So, for example, our beautiful actress of stage and screen – Vienna -is based on a very proud wiener dog of the same name at Evolución. She has since been adopted. Gustavo, our inspector, is based on a dog named Gustavo at the shelter – he is always full of energy and interested in everything. He is still available for adoption.

 

Which character in the play do you predict will be most memorable?

Hmmmm, that is hard to say. I mean they are all so memorable. And I have to give credit to the cast for that. They are such an amazing and creative group of people. And they are just so funny. It’s like we never know what is going to happen from one rehearsal to the next. There is one actor that comes up with a different line at each rehearsal, he just makes it up, and we never know what he is going to say – it’s all everyone can do not to crack up!!

 

Are you planning to write another play anytime soon?

Si!! Stay tuned for Murder in Mérida:  Love Hacienda Style!

 

Your email sign off is the Ghandi quote: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” How is Mexico faring using those standards?

Well, every country has its own unique challenges with this, it all comes down to people and the choices we make. But I am an optimist and I believe not just Mexico, but the world as a whole has made and will continue to make great strides. Really, mankind has been on this earth for such a small amount of time, we are still evolving. Just because we have done things a certain way for decades or centuries, does not mean that we have to continue down that same path. The power of choice is a very powerful thing and one not to be underestimated.

How is Mexico faring? As long as there are groups and activists who are working to strengthen animal protection laws, we are seeing improvements. But to really see a change, there needs to be a change in the social consciousness. And that always starts with ourselves and the people we touch. We create social change with our own behavior every day. And it doesn’t have to be huge, just the little things we do can make a difference. For me, I like to show public displays of affection towards my animals, and show compassion for street animals. Children learn by what they see. If they see acts of kindness, they will learn kindness.  If they see acts of violence, well…you see where I’m going with that.

 

One of your hobbies is distance running. You won an award at a 10k race in Merida about a year ago. That’s impressive! Tell us about it.

Hehehehe!  Well, yes, I do enjoy running.  And I try to run on at least a semi-regular basis.  I am not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but I find that for me, running helps me not just physically, but mentally as well. It helps me purge the problems of the day. And so, yes…I am proud to say I won third place in a 10k race. Shall I tell you all about it? Well, after the race I sat down in my usual state of dazed exhaustion when one of the organizers came up to tell me I won third place in my category and to come to the stage to accept my medal.  I was surprised, as I am usually pretty slow (la tortuga!), but I very proudly walked up to the stage to accept my award.  Wow! Third place in my category! Females, ages 40-50. Not too bad! My ego goes up a notch!  ….Now for the full story. Ok, I admit it. There were only three people in my category!  And the first place winner could have run the race almost twice and still beat me…but hey, I got the medal…right??

 

What other talents do you have?

Hmmmm, well I know how to make tofu taste like chicken…sort of.  My dogs think I have an excellent singing voice. I can parallel park a Ford E350 passenger van in a parking space the size of a gnat.

 

Who did it?

The butler!

 

You can see the trailer for Murder in Mérida: Love Kills at: www.meridamysterytheatre.com

 

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Interview, theater

Interview with director Francisco Solís, a socially-minded Meridiano

by Julie Stewart

 

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.

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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.

 

Editor’s notes:

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:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXnz9jsfA_k&feature=related.

 

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.

* * *

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.

 

 

 

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theater

Mask of the Jaguar

by Graham Thatcher
(an excerpt)
Graham Thatcher came to the Yucatan to do research for the play and wrote much of it while staying in Merida.The play centers around the actions of the Franciscan monk, Fray Diego Landa, who arrived in the Yucatan in 1549 and is most remembered for destroying all available written records of the Mayan people and torturing and killing about 160 for heresy while holding his own inquisition.  

Real-life historical character, Gonzalo Guerrero, appears in the play.  If you’re not familiar with him he was a Spanish sailor shipwrecked along the east shore of the Yucatan in 1511 who went on to become a warlord for a Maya chief, and taught the Maya tactics and strategies that helped repel the Spanish invaders for some twenty years.  He married the chief’s daughter and fathered the first mestizos in the new world. 

 

DE LANDA

[Concluding the reading]

Therefore, any deaths or harm that shall come your way will be by your own fault and not that of his Majesty, the Church, or any of us. You will be to blame.” So forth and so on – sign here as testimonial.

 

CAPTAIN

How do you know our language?

 

OLD WOMAN

My husband was one of you. I forgave him for it. He used to say that was the declaration that makes us guilty for all the crimes and sins you will commit on us.

[Beat] Are you sure? About the fruit I mean. I don’t know what you call these things in Spanish but they’re real juicy and sweet.

 

DE LANDA

Where is your husband?

 

OLD WOMAN

Dead. He was killed by you, . . . your people. It’s a long story and I get tired of telling it. He held you off for a long time, but now he’s dead and you people keep coming and claiming this land for God who already owns it in the first place and all I want to know is do you want a little fruit?

 

CAPTAIN

What are you called Madam?

 

OLD WOMAN

I am Lady Wak-Kan-Ahaw. You can call me “Lady 6 Sky” or “Old Woman”… if you say it with respect.

 

CAPTAIN

I’ll take one of the bananas please, Lady Wak-Kan-Ahaw.

 

DE LANDA

Captain! Resist this evil! This temptress is seducing you into sin to your eternal damnation.

 

CAPTAIN

Take it easy Padre. She’s a lady and it’s just a banana.

 

DE LANDA

Seize her!

[He falls to his knees in fervent prayer as the CHILD runs off stage for help]

 

CAPTAIN

Seize her yourself.

[To the OLD WOMAN] I’ll take a banana.


OLD WOMAN

[Indicating the Franciscans]

Are all the “grey dresses” like that?


CAPTAIN

They don’t get out much.


DE LANDA

[Seething]

Seize her! [One of the MONKs grabs the OLD WOMAN from behind]


CAPTAIN

[Sighing deeply]

Let her go Brother.


BRO I

[Zealously officious]

On whose authority? You have no authority over us. I obey Fray De Landa in all things.


CAPTAIN

[To DE LANDA who is still deep in prayer]

Padre, don’t do this. There may be a thousand of them watching us . . .


DE LANDA

[Eyes rolled back in fervor]

God will protect us in His Holy work.


CAPTAIN

God and whose army? I’m not making my stand on this beach over a banana.


[BARBARA the OLD WOMAN’S daughter comes running in with the CHILD]


BARBARA

[Sees the Spaniards and stops in her tracks]

Oh no! Not again! [She charges the Monk holding her mother]

Take your hands off my Mother you grubby little pig.


BRO I

[Shrinking back from being defiled by this young woman]

Faaather!?


[DELANDA snaps out of it but stays on his knees as the MONK releases the OLD WOMAN and falls to his knees in prayer. The OLD WOMAN and the CHILD cling to each other.]


BARBARA

Is there no end to it? Cowards!


CAPTAIN

Madam. I’m sorry. This is not what it seems.


BARBARA

No? What is it then? My mother is the daughter of a Lord. She is the widow of one of your own. Is it not enough that you have reduced her to this existence. She is defiled by having this filthy little priest with his hands all over her.


DE LANDA

He is not a priest daughter. He is a brother of our Order.


BARBARA

Oh good. I feel so much better.


DE LANDA

He meant no harm. We have not come to harm you. We have come in love to bring you Christ and salvation. I have dispatches for your King . . . your Chief . . . your Head Man.


BARBARA

There is no one left. Some old priests, some lesser Lords and their sons. For thirty years you come and go and we die by the thousands. Montejo killed everything in his way then left for somewhere else. Then they came back and killed some more and then left again. All the time we were dying of great sickness. The babies, the old ones. One in four is left. We’ve seen it all, we’ve heard it all before.


DE LANDA

Yes daughter, then you understand.


CAPTAIN

Padre!


DELANDA

No, no, I mean we will not desert you. We have come to release your souls from the torment of ignorance into the Blessed light of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ so that you may enter the bliss of Eternal Life. We are here to stay daughter. We are here forever. We will not leave.


BARBARA

[To CAPTAIN]

How do you even talk to these people?


CAPTAIN

Your mother is free to go. Please accept my personal apologies. [BARBARA, the OLD WOMAN and the CHILD, exit together. To DELANDA and the MONK]  Nice start Padre!

 

C 2012 by Graham Thatcher – all rights reserved

 

 *****************************************************************************

 

Graham Thatcher is the Artistic Director and primary performer for Periaktos Productions. Since appearing in his first acting role at five years of age, Graham has performed in or directed over 150 community, university and professional theatre productions. He is the co-author and solo performer in Clarence Darrow: Crimes, Causes and the Courtroom, Maxims, Monarchy and Sir Thomas More and Impeach Justice Douglas! toured by Periaktos Productions. He is the co-author and director of Thurgood Marshall’s Coming!, and The Women Lawyers Club. Graham has authored several other theatrical plays, including commissioned works and The Mask of the Jaguar, about the cultural clash between the Maya and Europeans during the Spanish Conquest.

Over the past thirty-five years Graham has engaged students of all ages in university classrooms, business board rooms and convention meeting spaces. He serves as a communications consultant to businesses and individuals and is the co-creator and presenter of Periaktos Productions’ CLE programs, “Word of Mouth: A Workshop in the Art and Ethics of Oral Communication for Lawyers.” He holds a B.A. from San Francisco State University, an M.A. in Theatre from the University of South Dakota and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Minnesota. He has been listed in Who’s Who in American Education and Outstanding American Educators, and is a recipient of the Governor’s Award from the Minnesota Council on Quality.

Photo by Eleanor Bennett

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Interview, theater

An Interview with Grant Cogswell

A life fit for the big screen

by Julia Stewart

Grant Cogswell lives life large. So large, so outrageously at times, that a movie was made about him. Released last year, the movie recounts Grant’s underdog run for city council in Seattle, Washington, where he remains a folk hero. Grant has been at turns a cab driver, civic crusader, music reviewer, poet, novelist, journalist, movie writer, movie subject, and now small business owner.

These days, we find Grant quietly running a bookstore upstairs in the American Legion building in the hip Condesa district of Mexico City. However, things may start heating up a bit again for Grant. Last year saw the release of his book The Dream of the Cold War: Poems 1998-2008. This year, his bookstore has been listed in the 2013 edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide. And an interview with Grant just appeared in the June issue of Forbes Mexico.

================================================================================

Q: You are quite well known in Seattle, Washington, first for co-spearheading a successful monorail referendum in 1997 (which later was defeated) and then running for City Council in 2001 (and losing by a respectably small margin). Does this fame translate at all to Mexico City?
Customers from Seattle remember me. Nobody else knows or cares or even have context for what happened in Seattle, which is a blessing of the highest order.

Q: In the recent Forbes Mexico article, it says that Mexico saved your life. In what way?
The great vibe of people here, the climate, the healthier lifestyle (if you stay away from panques and refrescos*). So generous and open and engaged in living. When you’ve had childhood trauma, and ‘issues’ and come from a relatively ‘cold’ country, these things are completely necessary.

[*pound cake and soft drinks.]

Q: It’s not very often that Hollywood makes a movie with A-list actors about a part of a person’s
life. The 2012 film Grassroots was made about part of your life. How was it received? What did your family think about someone making a movie about you? Do you think you’ll ever do anything again that someone would make into a film?
The movie sank like a stone. I don’t exactly have family in the States, per se; my brother and my partner and her folks kind of just stared, openmouthed. Like my best friend, they know me, and they weren’t overly impressed, which is the appropriate reaction, I think.

What I’m doing now isn’t exactly dramatic. I think if 9/11 hadn’t happened right before the election I lost, there’d be no movie, I’d still be in Seattle politics and wondering what the hell happened to my life. All is for the best.

Q: In one interview you stated that you felt like you “trashed your youth” and that time spent as an activist in Seattle “wasn’t any fun at all.” The campaign manager for your Seattle city council race and the author of the book on which the movie was made, Phil Campbell, said nothing was accomplished by the campaign. With such an outcome, what would you advise other young activists to do differently?
I should just shut up in front of young activists, because the cynicism and false progressive stance of Seattle burnt out my hope for that place. Young activists need to have hope to do what they can do. Nothing was accomplished by the campaign except it ended up putting about a hundred grand in publishing and movie rights in Phil Campbell’s pocket, so you’d think he’d be the last to say nothing came of it! The real winner here is him.

Q: Your city council campaign was underscored by the belief that public transport could “set a city apart.” You were driven by the belief that Seattle had a chance to avert some of the more unattractive configurations and growth patterns of many other large American cities. On the public transport and livability scale, how do you see Mexico City faring? What makes it work (if you think it does)?
Mexico City is a splendid place to live. The public transit is overcrowded, but incredibly efficient. It seems higher density would help eliminate some of the horrifically long commutes many people have to endure, but this is a city still understandably nervous in tall buildings.

Q: If you could make a set of five rules for all cities to live by, what would they be?
1. Build for people, not cars. 2. Don’t make hoops to jump through for small businesses. If someone wants to sell sandwiches grantbthey made on a blanket, don’t shut that down with a bunch of paperwork. Let it thrive or fail. 3. Ban liability. You break your neck on a step, it was your fault for not looking where you put your feet. The city can’t be built to make your life perfectly safe. 4. Plant trees everywhere possible. 5. Don’t sell naming rights to corporations. That’s really the death of the connection between place and culture.

Q: There is a great mini-clip about the movie Grassroots with you and the real-life city council incumbent Richard McIver in which you say: “I’m here to make art, make friends, make love, and let other people handle policy.” (To which McIver laughs and replies: “All right!”) What are you in Mexico for?
All of the above.

Q: One magazine article on you is titled “The Man Who Loved Seattle Too Much.” Do you have any such feelings for Mexico City, or any other place in the world for that matter?
I think I love Mexico City far more deeply than I ever did Seattle, because I love it for what it really is instead of a dream of what I can make it into.

Q: Did you really ever run around Seattle in a polar bear costume, as seen in the movie? Have you ever considered a costume for Mexico, like a big taco or something, and what would make you threaten to wear it?
A big taco? I would never dress up as a big taco. I woolgathered out loud at meetings of the transportation committee about wearing a polar bear costume if I won until they stopped making policy that advanced climate change. I should make shit up out loud more often, I guess, because that polar bear ended up on a movie poster.

Q: You co-wrote the screenplay for a 2007 horror film Cthulhu, based on the 1926 short story “The Call of Cthulhu” by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. Do you have plans to write more screenplays, and if yes, what about?
I actually have two more completed screenplays I’d love to see made. One about Ukrainian internet brides, the other about the last year of John Keats’ life, set in the contemporary U.S. I love screenwriting; it’s just so hard to ‘finish’, that is, to get the movie made. If one of those got produced or if I had the chance to work with my brother on something – he’s a way better screenwriter than I ever was – I might get back into it. Right now I’m surprising myself by writing fiction for the first time in almost twenty years.

Q: Tori Spelling was in Cthulhu, Jason Biggs (American Pie) was in Grassroots, as was Joel David Moore (Avatar), Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother), Cedric the Entertainer, Tom Arnold, and others. Did you get to meet any of these actors?
I met them all, but got to know Tori best. She’s an amazing woman, extremely intelligent and funny with a great heart, and completely in on the joke that is her fame.

Q: You were a populist activist two decades prior to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Do you still believe that one person can change the system? Can you point to any good examples of this in Mexico (or America)?
One person, if they are visionary enough, and ready for – or forced into – total self-sacrifice, can do a lot. I think Julian Assange and Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have really done some things we won’t see the end of soon, and been great heroes for truth against power. I’m pretty impressed with ex-Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard and the way he just pushed forward environmental initiatives without putting his finger to the wind. That guy will be president someday. I met him at a party, actually. Unfortunately the party had an open tequila bar and I was falling-down drunk.

Q: In several photos, you are wearing a white or black cowboy hat. What is the significance behind this?
I started wearing a hat with a brim because I was extremely sensitive to sun – because I was living in Seattle and Portland and wasn’t getting enough of it. I also kind of had to dress up to deal with the shame of hustling for money to make my silly, silly movie (Cthulhu, not Grassroots). I kind of look at that fat, coked-up fool with the goatee now and shake my head. Not my best period.

Q: Your bookstore is called Under the Volcano Books after a twentieth-century literary masterpiece of the same name by Malcolm Lowry. You have the pleasure of living within miles of the two volcanos featured in that book – Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl. Have you climbed either of these, and do you feel they are part of your present life?
Have I climbed them? Popo is erupting multiple times a day right now. The city is high and cold enough for me. I lack any desire to be at a higher altitude, so, no. They are pretty. Popo, from where I live, uncannily looks exactly like Rainier from downtown Seattle. A coincidence as meaningless and perfect as the world itself.

Q: You currently are the owner of the only all English-language bookstore in Mexico City, a metropolis creeping up on 20 million people, and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. What’s a day like at the Under the Volcano Books in DF?
Kind of quiet, with people coming in and out throughout the day. I don’t sell a lot of books, but enough to keep us going and get by. My mission is twofold, to give the city the resource of the books, and to open up writing time for myself. Sometimes, even, the second of these happens.

Q: You have noted that one of your goals with the bookstore is for Mexicans and Americans to learn about each other’s cultures beyond stereotypes; you have also found that the majority of your clients are Mexicans who want to read in English. If you were to recommend three books to these clients that you think would best help them to comprehend the modern American psyche , what would they be?
Hoo! Now we’re talking. Well, I think Cormac McCarthy’s recent work is nearly without parallel. My friend Daniel Gildark said he really considers Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men and The Road a trilogy about the past, present and future of violence. Are they about Americans more than anyone else? A little, so I’ll throw those up there. I think Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is a good map of where the American psyche is right now, the part that doesn’t make the sad headlines. I gave that to my partner’s dad, and told him if he didn’t like the people in it, then he could rest assured that he really did not like gringos. I don’t think you can even talk about America without talking about the legacy of slavery, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved is probably the best book on that topic, as well as one of the very best books by anyone in English, ever.

Q: Do you still have the seal of Seattle tattooed on your arm? Do you have any other tattoos?
I’m not going to get a tattoo the size of my hand removed just because Seattle is full of idiots. That would hurt like hell. I have no other tattoos that I can talk about.

Q: Mexico Review, your international literary journal is reportedly being launching this year. When can we expect it? What will the format be, and will we be competing with you for magazine submissions?!
Mexico Review has been cancelled. This isn’t yet the capital of American literature in exile. I think it will be. I think in a decade you won’t be able to walk a half a block without hearing an American accent. But it’s still being discovered, for gringos. I find that writing – and reading – are solitary acts and that I do not enjoy attempts at ‘community’ in the context of a literary community that are other than the very most casual. Writers are difficult people, and of course they always want you to tell them you like their work. Most of what is written is bad. I don’t have any interest anymore in being the filter who has to pass that judgment to people. Self-published books are terrible, too. Have you ever read a good one? Leave me out of it, grumble, grumble. Life is short and I have too many books to read, and write.

To learn more about Grant’s store, check out: http://www.underthevolcanobooks.com

 

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diane grondin 5

Photo by: Diane Grondin

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theater, translation

Hunting Guide

By murmurante teatro

WRITTEN BY NOÉ MORALES MUÑOZ
DIRECTED BY JUAN DE DIOS RATH
PRODUCED BY ARIADNA MEDINA
ENGLISH TRANSLATION BY FER DE LA CRUZ

SCENE CREATOR: JESÚS HERNÁNDEZ
SCENE CONSULTANT: JORGE VARGAS
PSYCHOPEDAGOGICAL CONSULTANT: DE PAULINO DZIB

INTRO

There is a borderline that, on some occasions, is presented for us to decide whether or not to cross it. It is a threshold. To cross it is to transit from one reality to another. When you cross that threshold, you´re no longer the same.

All of us here have once found ourselves in front of certain thresholds which fascinate us, scare us and before which the hunter or the pray, the wrong doer or the victim will find himself in a game of intermittent roles which we all have sometime played.

We present you with these tales as lose pieces left in a crime scene, with the intention of building a guide with them not to provide solutions or certainties but to formulate questions

about the hunt that goes on in the so called “white” Mérida of Yucatán.

I AM 55.2%

I always wanted to play the trumpet since I was a girl but it wasn’t until I was in a prep school in arts that I had the chance to play the violin. My dad gave me a new piano as a present. I started to take clarinet lessons right away but had to quit them, along with school, to work in a cantina. I wash dishes because I don´t feel ready to deal with customers. I am been told that they can be rude or they´ll touch you or are nasty with you.

There´s a musician in my family, though: My brother; my older brother who left to Mexico City to study music, and with whom I haven´t spoken in a very long time. I have much to tell him but I don´t call him for fear of telling him things I may later regret, even when there are things that we can say to each other without words.

A little while ago I found his old cassette tapes and I wanted to put something together with them, along with the empty bottles that I brought from work, to create an object that may form something of the two of us. It reminds me of some exercises that I did when I was still in school but this is just for me and its meaning cannot be measured with a grade.

I still miss school, my friends, some of the teachers, some routines but there are things that I realized being out of school, like the fact that at the school they´ll promote competition not only among students but also among professors and parents. It´s always the thing of who knows more, who believes to know more, who deserves better grades, as if grades were to define what one is. A grade is only a number. Numbers themselves are cold as statistics.

Statistics in Mexico say that every 52 seconds a student drops out of school and that, of every 100 students who enter elementary, only 14 reach college, and that more than half of Mexico´s teenagers are below poverty line. But my brother went indeed to DF to study.

It´s not that everything is perfect for him. Sometimes he has no money and calls home; then my folks send him what they can but it´s never enough. Soon will come the time when they won´t be able to help him and he´ll have to think of what to do to survive.

Sooner or later, we all have to think of what to do to survive. This may be the reason why they had fire drills at schools. The bad thing is that not everyone took them seriously; not even I.

I remember the drills in which the teacher, upon hearing the fire alarm, would get up calmly, chatting with other teachers or scolding the students that were being silly. There was a time that a teacher wasn´t notified that there would be a drill and was teaching his the class in my group. He got so scared when the alarm went off that he forgot what he had to do as a responsible adult in front of a group and simply took his things and went out running. He just fled. After that, the teacher became the whole school´s mockery. Both students and faculty remembered his face all scared and his clumsy run.

I now understand. I understand that teacher. The fire drill made sense for him because he believed in the need of saving his own life. Fleeing became an act of life or death. I understand those who flee. I understand my brother because I wish I could flee, leave everything behind, chase a dream or wake up to a nightmare.

But, at the same time, there are little things, people, and routines that don´t let me run away, even when I´ve been wanting to for so long. I may be just waiting for something to happen, or cultivating nostalgia, growing old.

I´m already judgmental of myself again, feeding what corrodes me.

THE SCORPION AND THE FROG

The Scorpion and the Frog is an ancient fable of African origins but I know a different version that I would like to share: The scorpion is anxious to cross the river because otherwise he will die. Then he sees the frog swimming nearby and he thinks it´s his last hope to cross. He calls him and says: “Please, help me, the humans burnt the forest and threw pesticide on this side of the river and, if I don´t cross it, I will die and won´t be able to join my kind.”

Ths frog stares at him and says: “Yea, right! I help you cross and, when we´re in midstream, you will bury your sting on my back. Then, when I ask you why, you´ll say ´Oops! I´m sorry, I couldn´t help it. It´s my nature.´ I know the fable. it´s older than the tortoise; so I won´t fall for it and risk my neck this time.”

The scorpion looks at it with awe and says: “Well, you´re right in that the fable is very old and, of course, I also happen to know it but it´s not quite correct. The true nature of a scorpion is not to kill the frogs that risk themselves to help them. The true nature of a scorpion is to survive, just as any other animal. That is why I ask you to help me join my kind who are in the other shore.”

The frog is convinced and allows the scorpion to climb on his back. They start to cross. When they´re in midstream the frog grabs the scorpion´s stinger and stings himself with it. Terrified, the scorpion looks at him and says: “What is wrong with you. Why did you do

that? No we will both drown!” The frog replies: “I´m sorry, I couldn´t help it. It´s my nature.”

I think there are a couple of things to think about this. One is that, by principle, a frog and a scorpion should not cross a river together. I feel like I grew up the son of a frog and a scorpion who decided to cross a river together, who hurt each other and this made me grow up in fear and guilt. Fear made me vulnerable as a scorpion with its stinger folded. That is why I ate too much; so much that I grew very fat. I was a fat and fearful kid and the other kids would realize it. At school there were certain acts that I would suffer; for instance, crossing the soccer field. Every time I crossed the soccer field I would get hit by a ball, or by a few balls. I would feel fear and fury and would sweat. I´d sweat a lot. My clothes would get soaked until one day that all changed. I was about to cross the field and I started sweating oceans, as usual, so I stopped and took off my wet shirt. I left it on the side and crossed the field with a bare torso. I´ve no idea what the others thought. I don´t know if they laughed at me and mocked me. What I do know is that I stopped playing a roll. I understood that fear makes us play certain roles that change constantly. Sometimes we sting others; other times we get stung by others but we generally sting ourselves.

[Text projected on the wall:
The emperor scorpion is a very frail being, actually.
When I have it on my hands, I feel its enormous fragility
and the fear of hurting him is greater
than that of being hurt by him]

CAN ONE LIVE FRAGMENTED?

The only thing I wanted to do was to stop feeling what I was feeling at that moment. It´s an escape. It´s as if nothing existed upon closing my eyes; as if the world ceased to be.

Falling into depression is total despair. You feel agony, an oppression in the chest, you´re short of air, no one understands you, you feel unprotected, you feel the world falling upon you.

This happens because we all have a limit: a limit to laugh, a limit to cry, a limit to tolerate. When you really try to, your life changes and it´s no longer the same. You exceed the limit and it´s as easy as saying I live, I don´t live, and what? Who cares? It´s my life, mine and no one else´s.

It´s a very strong pain. It´s as if you had a broken mirror and saw your reflection in it, as if you saw all the fragments and no matter how hard you try to put them together, it will never be the same. It´s that no one can live fragmented.

After knocking on so many doors, I finally got a job. I learned my lesson: I didn´t mention that I was under psychiatric treatment, because in the world out there, as I call it, when they

know that you attempted suicide, they´ll point the finger on you and marginalize you, more so if you´re a woman.

Now I am in a dilemma because I have a job and I am happy but the schedule is in conflict with my therapy and I can´t go. Also, I can´t take the medication as indicated because it would affect my performance at work. But I´m happy because I have a job.

CLICK

Not that long ago, it happened here in Merida—the so called “white city”—that two friends got together to chat. They were old friends. As it often happens among men, their friendship was based in aggression, mostly subtle aggressions, heavy jokes, disapproval disguised as just kidding. As in many friendships among men, one was the constant aggressor and the other one, the victim.

That afternoon—or evening—when they got together, they were into their beers or rum for that matter. The thing is that the aggressor started to victimize the victim, as usual. But this time a limit was reached. That afternoon—or evening—in the heat of the beers—or rum—the victim didn´t play cool with his usual roll and decided to counterattack. Surprised, the aggressor felt his warm blood flowing up his face and let himself be driven by it, and by an instinct to defend himself, even when that man who was just returning the previous aggressions was his friend, one of the people closest to him.

Then another limit was reached when the aggression became physical: A hand padding the other´s back stronger than usual; a finger coming too close to the other´s face; a hand that pushes it away; a push followed by another push; a slap in the face; a fist that travels in the air and thrusts into a jaw, into a nose, and the air full of fear, of strikes, of blows, and the sequence gets out of control. The fists tremble with the arms. The bodies strike and retaliate as never before. The faces are heat up.

The victim can no longer stand it and runs inside his house to his room from the yard where he received his old friend as many times before. Frantic and covered with sweat, he feels his stomach boiling. A sharp pain between belly and genitals makes him fall. He gets up at once and opens a drawer where he looks for something messily. He finds the gun. A gun that someone gave him once and he decided to keep, “just in case one day…” A gun he had barely touched before but he grabs, he checks—all six bullets are in place for him to unload on that asshole who´s out there yelling at him and keeps on yelling although he no longer can distinguish any words. He´s no longer there—he´s nowhere actually. He is one with the gun, completely alone for the first time in years; alone with his thoughts. He closes the drum, releases safety catch as it goes click.

Click.

And the victim goes back that night to that house, to that room; thee victim that falls heavily; the victim who hits the floor; the victim who refuses to go over the threshold; the

victim who won´t become the aggressor and who stays there, in that room, alone for the first time in years, feeling how time has become something else.

UNDER THE MERIDA SUN

The heat in Merida. The Summer heat in Merida. The Summer heat in Merida every day that you have to wear the school´s uniform. It´s amazing how you sweat after a few steps; how you sweat when you realize your classmates restart a cycle you know well; a cycle that has you as an axis; a cycle consisting only in mocking you, in screwing you up. They´ll study you more than their Math books. They´ll detect any change in you, if you wear your hair differently, if you´ve drown anything new in your notebook, if you say something in class.

And you sweat much more when the bell goes off announcing that the school day is over, and that you´ll get out alone, and that you´ll have to cross that empty lot full of rocks to head for home. You know what it´s coming: Two or three will be there at the empty lot before you and they´ll await you.

When you get there, soaking wet, they´ll have everything ready: An arsenal of mockery for you; newly thought ideas and, when the moment comes, the push, the slaps, some random kick, until they get you on the floor and kick you harder. They´ll take your backpack, they´ll hide it, they´ll throw your belongings to the dry, red earth. If they´re in the mood, they´ll take your shoes and will throw them far away. They´ll deal with you as a chicken in a kitchen, except that, here, what gets on your sweaty skin instead of flames is the dry red earth. They may even record your humiliation with a cell phone, to then upload it for millions of people to witness it.

Today, however, something went different: Your hand found a rock of a good size and weight. Your fingers clutch it with no one noticing. They don´t notice it indeed as they´re laughing of you: How ridiculous you must look like that with your face all red as if broiled with sweat and dirt, moving clumsily as a circus elephant. But you´re now standing and your hand is gaining impulse with the rock toward your closest attacker. When you see him laying there, covered in blood, you cross the threshold to realize you can no longer stop. Then you crash his head with the rock once and again until you see his brains.

And then, the silence. A silence almost peaceful that no one dares to break. As you run away, you don´t know where you´ll stop, nor you care to know. You only know that, when you´re asked later if you would do it again, you won´t help it but to smile before you say yes.

PEOPLE HERE WILL DRINK ANYTHING

When I was 14, my sister asked me to come with her every time she went jogging. She wanted to lose weight and gain shape as she was going to run in the Miss Yucatan pageant. I accepted. We would wear our sweat pants and go out jugging, every day, around the neighborhood.

My sister always wanted to participate in the Miss Yucatan thing, maybe because my mother was queen of the Lion´s Club in the city where she grew up and my sister used to look at the old pictures and admire her crowning ceremony, my mom wearing elegant dresses, riding on a carriage all nicely decorated. Beautiful she was.

My sister didn´t win. Twice she didn´t. She never became Señorita Yucatán so she quit working out and jugging but I continued. For years I wore those sweat pants in the morning, even if I´d gone out partying the night before. I went jogging on Avenida Campestre, by myself. It was my moment of the day to be alone, especially since there was always some sort of tension at home; a strange tension. I think I´ve managed to handle tension even when I´ve lived in it all my life. Well, as my mother used to say “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” and “Every cloud has a silver lining”. I imagine she knew that well. She was from Sinaloa, in Northern Mexico. She grew up milking cows, riding donkeys, and chasing chickens. As a girl she was a free soul. Her headaches started at age 14, during the time when my grandma left my grandpa for being such a bohemian and a womanizer, you know what I mean? A bohemian as many local men, being Yucatan one of the states with the highest rates of alcoholism nationwide. My father was bohemian too. I suppose that´s how tensions started, since my Sinaloan mother married my Yucatecan father; when my Sinaloan mother, who wasn´t bohemian, married quite a bohemian “yuca”. She who would always get headaches that made her lay in bed for days. He who always liked to drink; a habit I found out about when I was older. I must admit that he had I never saw him drunk when I was a girl, because my mother took good care of putting us to bed very early, way before the sun was down. I never understood why she did that or what it meant to be an alcoholic. I though it was some kind of an allergy or skin rash. I never saw them argue. Everything seemed perfect, even when there was always something in the atmosphere creating tension, for instance, my mother´s migraines. She loved having children. She has five and used to say that she would have loved to have thirteen or more, as aunt Chelo did; that pregnancy was one of the happiest stages in her life, she´d say. I don´t really share her view. When you get pregnant your body gets deformed, your feet get swollen, everything hurts. Of course, it´s a good excuse to keep your husband at bay.

One day, after years had gone by, when I already knew of my father´s alcoholism, I asked my mother why she had never left my father; why she had never divorced him. She said because of us, her children. “It´s the cross I must bare”, she said, and bore it to her last days. One evening, when she was already very ill and could barely speak, she asked me to tell my father to let her go. What he did was ask the doctors to give her “quality of life”, whatever that may mean. What it translated into was prolonging her suffering a few more months until she died without having had the opportunity to do what she willed during the last days that she could talk and move around.

We, the relatives, are very selfish. Despite the tensions that have´n ceased, I think my life has been better. Tensions of skin, tensions of gender, tensions that, true, won´t unleash the

same forms of violence as in other parts of the country, still detonate things that mark people profoundly; things that people don´t talk about, situations that people hide… Maybe that is why my mother got sick. Maybe that is why people will drink anything here in Yucatan, what makes them dizzy, what makes them drunk, what they like, what they don´t and what hurts.

[Statistics projected on the wall:
6. Yucatan holds the first place in alcohol intoxication nationwide.
5. In Mexico, one of every 6 children who suffers bullying commits suicide.
4. In Mexico, about 15 million illegal weapons circulate.
3. In Mexico, suicide has become the third cause of death between the ages 18 and 35.
2. Mexico holds the first place in violence against minors worldwide.
1. 55.2% of teenagers in Mexico are below poverty line.]

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Noé Morales Muñoz was born in Mexico City in 1977. His professional activities have developed mainly as a playwright, theater critic, teacher, translator and literary essayist. He was the theatre reviewer of the Mexican cultural supplement La Jornada Semanal from newspaper La Jornada for almost a decade, and has been a regular contributor for other newspapers and magazines. He has received artistic development grants from the Mexican Foundation for Young Writers, the National Fund for Culture and Arts, the Laboratorio Fronterizo de Escritores/Writing Lab on the Border, the Royal Court Theatre of London. He took part in the 2009 edition of The Word Exchange, a fifteen-day residency at the Lark Play Development Center in New Yok City in November 2009. He has received two awards for his work. The first of them was the 2007 National Theatrical Essay Award, convoked by the National Institute for Fine Arts and PasodeGato magazine. The second was the 2010 Chilango – fmx Scenic Arts Award, promoted by Editorial Expansión and the Festival del Centro Histórico of Mexico City. He has had four of his plays produced throughout México, and has developed collaborative scenic works as dramatist, stage manager, producer, director and assistant director with some of the most outstanding Mexican theatre companies, like Teatro Línea de Sombra, ASYC Teatro de Movimiento, Realizando Ideas, El Rinoceronte Enamorado, and Cardumen Teatro.

Fer de la Cruz is a Yucatecan poet born in 1971. He has received two national, two regional, and one state-wide poetry awards in Mexico and is a member of the founding faculty at the School of Creative Writing of the State Center of Fine Arts, in Mérida. He is also coordinator of the Historic Mérida branch of Centro de Idiomas del Sureste, where he was a teacher for 20 years. He holds an MA in Spanish from Ohio University and a BA in Philosophy. As an independent editor, writer, translator, and cultural promoter, he has participated in cultural festivals, conferences, and book fairs in Mexico, Cuba, France, and the United States. His poems appeared in the books “Redentora la voz” (Ayuntamiento de Mérida, 2010) and “Aliteletras. De la A a la que quieras” (Dante, 2011), as well as in the chapbooks “La cuenta regresiva. Radiografía urbana mesozoica” (El Drenaje, 2012) and “Seven Songs of Silent, Singing Fireflies” (JKPublishing, 2008): delacrux@hotmail.com.

 

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Mel

Artist: Mel Blossom

Devil

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