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Interview with J. Otis Powell‽

By Paige Patet
December 4, 2013


For many, improvisation is frightening to think about. At the mere thought of going scriptless, mouths go dry, heart beats rise, and palms begin to sweat. Improvisation seems to strip us of our calm, collected manners and our ability to think straight. However, as J. Otis Powell‽ reveals “Acts of creation begin with improviXation and there in lies change and the rub.” When we begin to shed our prescribed methods and actually embrace improvisation, creation though art begins to bloom and change can truly start to form. In a short interview with J. Otis, I was able to gain some understanding into how ImproviXing Change came together and what he hopes to leave us with.

What is behind the name, ImproviXing Change?

What’s behind the name? Lots of sources. Originally it’s from a poem I wrote, ImproviXation #107, which was named after a painting, and it got recorded on a DVD. I knew that piece was going to be influential. But then I also looked at the capital X and the implications it has historically, culturally, and politically—Malcolm X, slaves having to use an X as their last name. I also think about the image in Spike Lee’s movie about Malcolm X where a flag burns into a burning letter X. From that, image critic Amiri Baraka wrote “If the flag catch /fire, & an X /burn in, that X is Black.” That X is Black. So, I wanted to bring the weight of the capital letter X to the piece. But also, I was improvising with the title. I was improvising the spelling. Just like the performance is improvisation, so is the spelling. So it comes from a lot of places.

What brings these artists together?

Me. As curator I selected each of them based on experiences I’ve had with them. They could go back for years or be something new, but I thought each of those experiences brought a lot to bear. Each of the artists values the aesthetic of improvisation, which is what the performance is about and that is why I chose to bring them together.

What is the role of your art within this set?

I am a spoken word artist. I am a curator and a producer. All of these come to bear in the participation of the performance. I produced all the PR and I selected all the artists. Also, my own performance of spoken word within the performance is my art.

What do you hope your audience takes away from the performance?

It’s hard to say. I don’t know what we’re going to do at the performance; it really is improvisation. Nothing is prescriptive. It’s something courageous that the artists are doing, going up and performing something with improvisation. The audience is, then, is just as important as the people on stage. They are participating in it just as much as the artists. It’s not something calculated. I want to give them something with integrity and fire in the performance, in the hopes that they catch it.

Come catch it at “ImproviXing Change” on Friday, December 13, 2013 or Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:30pm at the Pangea World Theater Studio.

Interview with José Torres-Tama

J Torres-Tama Voodoo Man Image 1

By Lura Wilson

What do you believe is the importance of telling not only your stories but especially the stories of others in immigration communities?

In the Latin American tradition, the poet, performing, and visual artist bears a social responsibility, a mythic duty, to document and articulate the people’s struggle—la lucha de la gente—when they are denied effective means to have their voices heard in their fight against oppression and their many oppressors.

I am an interdisciplinary artist, and through my writings, performances, and visual art practices I explore the underbelly of the “American Dream” mythology. Also, I am an immigrant born in Ecuador, South America, and while I am a naturalized United States citizen, I consider myself a bilingual native of the Hemispheric Americas. Immigrants’ rights drive my thematic concerns.

As an Ecuadorian-born immigrant raised in New Your and New Jersey, I have been hearing the stories and challenges of my immigrant community for many years. I am deeply committed to using performance and experimental theater practices to cultivate the stories of people on the margins, of those who may not have a voice. In my extended Latino family of many aunts, uncles, and cousins, I am the storyteller, the keeper of the family’s history. It has been a duty entrusted upon me by my great grandmother, who told me that I need to tell our story. She would say that in the U.S. people think that immigrants come from nothing, but she would emphasize that we came form something. Our family tree that includes one of the ear;y presidents and revolutionary leaders of Ecuador, Eloy Alfaro, a well-known poet and pianist Colombia Tama, and a Supreme Court Judge of Ecuador Gustavo Tama. We also have family in politics and law, theater and telenovelas.

During this current state of persecution of Latino immigrants across the so-called land of the free, it is a prime directive of mine to archive the many stories of individuals who are suffering under this anti-immigrant hysteria, which has been exacerbated post-9/11. This anti-immigrant sentiment has been extended to include our Muslim brothers and sisters, and Middle Eastern immigrants as well. Under such a heightened state of persecution, all immigrants, Asian, Latino, African, Muslim, or Middle Eastern, are under suspicion. In presenting the real life stories of immigrant activists, Dreamers, and immigrant day laborers and workers, my aim is to humanize the dehumanized immigrants who have been stigmatized by right-wing zealots and blamed for everything that is wrong with the United States today. Make no mistake, the current persecution of immigrants is another episode of long-lasting and disturbing legacy of such demonization of a country that boasts it is a a nation built by immigrants. My goal is to expose the hypocracy of a country and system that demonizes immigrants while it readily exploits their labor. In “ALIENS,” I perform the stories of various immigrants who share their dramatic tales with me, and it includes a Nicaraguan woman who crossed the border at the tender age of eight to reunite with her father; a Honduran day laborer who almost lost his left arm in a reconstruction job post-Katrina New Orleans; and a Mexican Methodist Minister who petitions you to see the Christ figure in the persecuted immigrant.

For the “ALIENS Taco Truck Theater Project,” I am looking to develop stories that reflect the parallel struggles of Latino and Middle Eastern immigrant communities, and through this process based on interviews of real people, these performance also serve as performative documentations of real lives under persecution.

How do you feel art is a tool for social change?

In a country that boast freedom of expression for all, we are generally made to feel that our voices don’t matter but as artists, I think we need to make loud noises about the issues that are pertinent to our lives. We need point out the madness that exists and the inherent contradictions of a system that has gone mad, like a bad sci-fi B movie.

This beacon of democracy called the United States imprisons more people than any other country in the free world. I think that is mad and disturbingly ironic. This free country also supports torture and still operates a base for it in Cuba, which is suppose to be the mortal communist country enemy. Why do we have a base of torture there? Why has Obama not closed it down? How is it that this resident, who is the son of an African immigrant, has deported more immigrants than any other executive chief before him? No one could have imagined this when candidate Obama looked so princely, and like the “one”, the “Uno” from a new matrix, the humane choice of a “Yes, We Can Reality!” that would bring us out of the dark ages of the previously “Bushwacked” nation. This is a meta fiction reality we are living here in “freedomlandia.”

No matter what happens with Immigration Reform, the dark legacy of Obama’s perverse million plus of deportations will remain a stain on his years in office.

When my immigrant brothers and sisters are under such attack, I do not have the luxury to make “art for art’s sake,” and wallow in meaningless experimental theater practices that have nothing to say about the human condition and the atrocities committed in the name of freedom. I have to raise my voice against such oppression, and if artists are not engaged in exploring the issues of their times, then they are just creating work that helps to propagate the power structure. I have no time to waste, and I have to use my creative strategies in poetry, the visual arts, and performance to challenge the abuse of power. I think that artists engaged in practices that are only about aesthetics are basically sticking their heads in the sand. I think we need to question such choices, which are most likely made by artists whose communities are not experiencing social attacks and marginalization.

I look to develop a “divine marriage” between experimental form and social content to create an art of human consciousness. Whether any of it can lead to social change, can be considered questionable, but it will not keep me from trying because I need to make a record of my lived perspective as an immigrant still pushing the promises of this experiment called the United States. Time will tell whether our efforts can be fruitful, but I have no choice than to speak the pain that my community is experiencing. In the process, I have to entertain my audiences, and while there is inherent drama in my work, there is also humor. As such, there is NO GUACAMOLE for immigrant haters.

Do you have a target Audience? Who do you believe needs to see this show?

Everyone needs to see this work, and I especially invite Tea Party members and other GOP patrons. I hope to move their hearts and stimulate their minds, and even make them laugh. In the process, I break down the myths that have been created to demonize immigrants today. Most of the folks demonizing immigrants today, are themselves the great, great grandsons and great, granddaughters of previous immigrant generations, and if they are the descendants of Pilgrims, then, they are the descendants of some of the first “illegal aliens” in the Americas. For such folks, I recommend self-deportation for the sins of their colonizing ancestors. In “ALIENS”, I ask, “Since the Pilgrims arrived without papers, why were they not deported? Unless, you are a Native American, you really have no real claim to these lands which were appropriated from the true owners.

I think that Latino immigrants and other immigrant communities should experience this work because they will see themselves in the stories being performed. There are specific stories, but they resound with the universal truths of human stories and archetypal struggles.

How would you like to see this show engage with the community?

If the work rings of truth, it will resonate with the communities that experience it. Hopefully, for those who might have bought into the demonization of immigrants, it will offer them a more human perspective and move their hearts to understand that this is a universal work of a people under persecution. For immigrants themselves, and especially Latino immigrants and Latinos in general, it is important to see our stories on stage because the anti-immigrant hysteria affects all of us, whether we are U.S. citizens, legal residents, or undocumented workers. We are all labeled suspicious because of our brown skin, and how does that relate to the legacy of vilification experienced by our African American brothers and sisters in our culture, who have been judged not by the content of their character but by the color of their skin. Of course, I am paraphrasing the historic quote of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and if he were alive today, I am sure he would stand with immigrants and our communities.

By taking these stories and putting them into a performance how are you giving back to the community and bringing these things full circle?

It is real life stories that are the most truthful, and through the research process I engage in, the goal is to take these stories of people living in the shadows and bring them to bright lights of the stage. In doing so, the stories of individuals’ lives are reflected and they reflect the lived lives of the larger communities. Most often, the stories that make it to the performance script represent some of the most archetypal and epic struggles, and some present heroic triumphs under the most difficult circumstances. As such, they demonstrate the strength of individuals, and that is of prime importance to communities under attack. I am not sure if one can measure how this may give back to the community, but it is my goal to offer another truth about immigrant communities whose people are being diminished and criminalized.

How do you think the mobile element of the show will change the way you and an audience can engage with the work?

The larger goal for the ALIENS Taco Truck Theater Project is to bring this moving stage and engage the community in being protagonists for their own stories, and make the work truly accessible to audiences that may never step inside a traditional theater venue. It is aimed at reclaiming the voices of people working in the shadows, and the Augusto Boal-inspired strategies will engage immigrant workers and Dreamers to perform themselves on the truck stage. As performers, we aim to pull up to various places in the public domain, and begin the show as sort of open air dinner theater, setting up chairs and offering free vegetarian “Immigration Reform Now” burritos and “social justice” tacos. We will perform a variety of heroic stories of immigrants that are based on the interviews developed through the research.

In keeping with the sci-fi prism, I will perform as a 21st century “Obi-Juan Kenobi” alien shaman that fights for the justice of the worker and proclaims a better future, where we move away from the “dark side” of anti-immigrant legislation such as Arizona’s SB 1070. From there, the goal is to eventually invite the immigrant audience to take the stage and tell their stories, and transform the public event into community testimonials. We will also look to archive as many stories as possible through a filmed process and audience recordings, and the roaming vehicle will serve as a documentary truck as well, archiving the voices of those living in the shadows.

The big goal is to break down the barriers between audience and performers as much as possible, and truly engage communities and to empower them through the importance of telling their own stories. Hopefully, it will serve as a cathartic process to combat the fear mongering that feeds this current anti-immigrant hysteria gripping the so-called land of the free. We want to go where no Taco Truck Theater has gone before.

See José Torres-Tama perform ALIENS on Nov. 22 at Pangea World Theater Studio.

Interview with Marisa Carr

By Paige Patet
November 4, 2013
Marisa Carr

Marisa entered Pangea’s offices with an air of frazzled relaxation. “I just finished writing the final scene last night,” she revealed, her smile showing relief, excitement, and uncertainty. “Reconciliation” is the first full-length script written by artist Marisa Carr, who is a writer, composer, multi-disciplinary performer and musician. Through “Reconciliation” Marisa imagines a future society still fiercely battling the reparations of what was done to Indigenous in the United States years ago as well as in this new imagined future she creates. In talking with her further, I was better able to hear her storytelling voice and see the complexity of the issues she addresses within her work.

This is your first play. What was it like approaching that?
It was intimidating and I didn’t know how to get started. I write more as a poet. I joke that I write poetry because whenever I write with plot and characters I get about halfway through and then I don’t know what happens. Suddenly I just have a meteor come and kill them all. Story over. It took me a long time to figure out who the characters are and what their stories are. Also, this piece is very political. I wanted to make sure that I was intellectually grounded in the issues. I did a lot of reading to ground myself in the issues and make sure I knew what I was talking about.

What inspired you to tell this story?
I had a concept, but no story. I had a clear scenario but didn’t know how things got to that point. So I started there. Then, as the characters were being formed, I found that I started to see scenes form themselves. I could see moments or conversations that the characters would have so I wrote those. As I wrote the scenes, the story began to write itself.

You do a lot of art forms. How do you see those forms you practice influencing your work? Did you want them to influence your work or did you want to make this separate from anything you’ve done before?
All of the forms of art that I practice are present in me as an artist. Doing those other forms of art taught me as an artist what my process is, knowing myself and what I need to create work. This was a departure for me because I’ve never written a play. However, my other forms of art led me to be able to write a play. I wouldn’t have been able to write a full play without my other art. I know, too, that writing this play will influence my work in the future as well. For example, as an actor and performer I gained awareness for the script and the playwright’s words. This also helped me in writing. No form is in isolation.

You say that your piece is very politically charged. What types of issues come out in your piece?
At the beginning I was inspired by the idea of reconciliation. Especially since recently in Minnesota conversations of reconciliation have been coming up because of the US Dakota war of 1862 and its 150th year anniversary. I’m not Dakota, I’m Ojibwe, but I live on Dakota land. I wasn’t involved in the conversation, but I was listening and watching how the conversations played out. I was led to ask the important questions: Reconciliation implies that at some point two parties were once friends. What does it mean to reconcile? What does it mean to reconcile when there’s not transparency? What does it mean to reconcile when there’s no real listening?

I also found my examination of reconciliation paralleled the journey in my own life to understand forgiveness. When is forgiveness appropriate? When is it not? How do you know when you’ve forgiven someone? I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I pose them.

So are these the sorts of conversations you hope to leave your audience with?
I hope that they have these conversations, with other audience members, other people, or themselves. I also want to ask where politics and humanity overlap. In radical political circles it’s very easy to dehumanize the enemy and put politics above people. This is not a productive perspective. People are complex and make decisions for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes people do bad things for good reasons or they do good things for bad reasons. People are complex and this is lost in political discourse.

What are your hopes for the reading this Friday?
I’m nervous. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but I know that there’s more development to be done. I hope to get some feedback for what happens next. (And that no one laughs at me.)

Marisa’s play, “Reconciliation” will be presented in a staged reading on Friday, November 8, 2013 at 7:30 PM at the Pangea World Theater Studio.

Interview with Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya

By Paige Patet

Aravind Enrique AdyanthayaWriter, performer, and theater director Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya creates a fantastic blend of Puerto Rican and Indian cultures in his newest piece MONO/BANDARA. Drawing on his lived experiences in both cultures, Enrique creates overlapping realities that challenge his audiences to examine how cultures blend in their own lives and how they live in relation with culture. In talking with him, I was able to learn more about Enrique’s process in approaching this piece, as well as understand the thought behind his work.

What led you to tell this story?
“I became interested when I heard of the Latino-Asian Fusion series,” Enrique reveals. “However, I took this as a way to explore myself more, too. Because I am both Puerto Rican and East India, I wanted to find something common to both of them to work with.”

“So I began,” he shares, “by reading myths, legends, stories and came across the monkey as a symbol in both the Caribbean and Indian cultures. So I decided to use the symbol of the monkey as a point of connection and overlap within this piece. I use three different scenes that are united by themes, actors, reflections… And that’s how I found the idea for this story.”

How long have you been working on this piece?
“The idea for this piece began about one year ago,” Enrique says. “However, it didn’t gain ground until I went to India. I hadn’t been to India in 20 years. I was able to go and reconnect with family, which was nice, and I began to get ideas. It wasn’t until the last month that I really began writing on this piece.”

What more would you like to do with this piece?
“Right now, I would love to continue working on the languages in the piece,” Enrique says with excitement. “There’s some Spanish dialogue in the piece, but I want to integrate some of the Indian languages. Create a linguistic hybridization…
“I also want to flesh out some of the stories, add more context, more reality. Right now there are multiple realities mixing with one another. I want to create scenes that are believable, but also explore how those dimensions mesh, how to expect the unexpected.”

What would you like your audience to walk away with?
The word that sticks out in Enrique’s response is community. “I want my audience to examine how they are relating with other communities and how to better connect with other communities. I want to create dialogue between them and have them think about their relationships.”

Enrique’s newest piece, MONO/BANDARA, will be read Saturday, October 5 at Pangea World Theater Studio.

Pangea World Theater’s Executive and Literary Director Meena Natarajan Receives 2013 Nonprofit Leadership Award

Executive and Literary Director Meena Natarajan of Pangea World Theater was announced as one of three 2013 Nonprofit Leadership Award recipients at the Nonprofit Leadership Conference in Minneapolis on June 25, 2013. Natarajan received the Visionary Leader Award for her effective organizational leadership strategies and collaborations between Pangea World Theater and the community.

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) is committed to building the strength and integrity of the nonprofit sector statewide. As part of this commitment, in 2010 MCN initiated the Nonprofit Leadership Awards to recognize the passion and energy of individual leaders at various stages in their nonprofit careers. The Harvard Club of Minnesota Foundation and the Center for Integrative Leadership (CIL) at the University of Minnesota joined MCN in recognizing nonprofit leaders with three awards.

The prize for the Visionary Leader Award is a $4,000 educational grant from the Harvard Club of Minnesota Foundation to be used for an executive-level professional development program of the recipient’s choice at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.

Meena Natarajan has guided Pangea World Theater’s growth and vision since founding the theater in 1995 with Dipankar Mukherjee. Natarajan is the former president (2000-2003) of Women Playwrights International, an organization that promotes the work of women playwrights all over the world. She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Performance Network and also serves in the advisory committee of SAATH, a South Asian American Theater collective, in Boston, Massachusetts.

“I am so grateful and humbled by this award,” said Natarajan. “Moments like these are landmarks for us to reflect and assess the impact of Pangea World Theater in the community. This recognition is a moment of exhale and a recommitment to go deeper in the work that we are crafting and curating with various communities. The imperative need of intersection between private and public sectors and education and art does facilitate that possibility. This truth is being acknowledged and appreciated. This award for being a Visionary in the field and to be recognized by organizations and peers makes it so special. I do envision an entirely different reality by the year 2020. I live in that possibility of equity in all aspects of and for our communities. We do have to work towards it. And I know it will happen!”

Natarajan is committed to creating an international ensemble of actors, writers and designers in Pangea and bringing exciting classical and contemporary literature from all over the world to the Twin Cities. She was instrumental in leading and founding a theater company in India that provides the foundation and experience in leading a theater company in the Twin Cities.

As a playwright, Natarajan’s scripts have been professionally produced in India and the United States. She has created, written and performed in main stage and street theater pieces in India, raising issues such as social injustice, corruption and dowry deaths.

Hmong Bollywood

City Pages

“It’s been quite a year for Hmong playwright Katie Ka Vang. A year ago, she was diagnosed with stage four anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma. Thankfully, her cancer is now in remission. This weekend, she will be performing a work she was commissioned to write for Pangea World Theater in 2008, and staged as a work-in-progress in 2010.”

Please click here to read the full article!



Minneapolis playwright’s ‘Hmong Bollywood’ is celebration of movies that helped her escape

by Marino Eccher
Pioneer Press

“When Katie Ka Vang was young and her family was still adjusting to life in America, her sisters used to frequent an Indian grocery store next to the Laundromat where their parents would drop them off. There, they’d rent Bollywood movies and take them home.

The films became a staple in the Hmong family. In the broad, over-the-top but relatable musical epics, Vang found role models that helped plant the spark for a career in the performing arts.”

Please click here to read the full article!

Katie goes to Bollywood

by Joe Kellen
Minnesota Daily

“When words fail local playwright Katie Ka Vang, she dances. Her preferred accompaniment is almost always the film staple of her childhood: Bollywood music. Growing up in a Hmong household that adored the colorful film genre, Vang visibly carries its energy in her body.”

Please click here to read the full article!

Katie Ka Vang beats cancer, returns to stage in ‘Hmong Bollywood’

by Marianne Combs
MPR News

“A little more than a year ago, the prognosis for Katie Ka Vang was not good.

Vang was diagnosed with stage four anaplastic T-cell large lymphoma, and had tumors in 60 – 70% of her body. She couldn’t even walk.

Now she’s not only walking, she’s back to performing on stage with her one woman show Hmong Bollywood.”

Please click here to read the full article!

Onstage Spotlights: MORPHOLOGIES

by Rohan Preston
Star Tribune


[Runs through 11/19]: The festival kicks off Friday [11/9/12] with Alaskan transgender performing artist Scott Turner Schofield‘s “Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps.” Schofield lets the audience choose the stories that will be told. (7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Ritz Theater, 345 13th Av. NE., Mpls.) The festival also includes poet and essayist Ryka Aoki de la Cruz‘s self-created “In Search of Geishaghost.” (7:30 p.m. Sun., Pangea World Theater Studio, 711 W. Lake St., Mpls.), plus three shows at Intermedia Arts: Tamil/Sri Lankan-American activist and provocateur D’Lo‘s “D’FUNQT”; “Shaking Our Shells: Stories From On the Wings of Wadaduga,” a history-based show about “Cherokee … GLBTQ memories” written and performed by Qwo-Li Driskill; and “Outside the Circle,” a play about seduction written and performed by Andrea Assaf and Samuel Valdez. (“D’FUNQT” is at 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., “Outside the Circle,” 7:30 p.m. next Fri.-Sat., “Shaking Our Shells,” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 & 19, Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. Tickets: $15 per show or $75 for the whole festival. www.brownpapertickets.com.)

Click here to view the entire spotlight!

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Pangea World Theater illuminates the human condition, celebrates cultural differences,
and promotes human rights by creating and presenting international, multi-disciplinary theater.