Citizens of the stage

TEATRO! taps the transformative power of theater with the hope of strengthening the community and campus.

By Isa Flores-Jones ‘19

La “señora” de los nubes, no es una mujer real. Now in English: The lady of the clouds isn’t a real woman. The Lady of Arístides Vargas’ Nuestra señora de los nubes, or Our Lady of the Clouds, is a fictional motherland, the former home of exiles Bruna and Oscar. In telling their stories, Vargas’ highly political play alludes to the horrors of the Argentine dirty war of the 1980s. The primary theme of Nuestra señora, despite the political corruption simmering under the surface, is exile. Bruna and Oscar are strangers in a strange land.

Carla Troconis ‘19 plays Bruna in Arístides Vargas’ "Nuestra señora de los nubes"
This semester, TEATRO! – the Latin American cultural association on campus – has translated Vargas’ play from the original Spanish to provide a resource to the Harvard community and especially to those within the community who may feel like strangers in a strange land. The show runs Oct. 28-Nov. 5 in the Loeb Ex. Director Nicolas O’Connor ‘18 and TEATRO! president and stage-manager Danny Rodriguez ‘18 spoke to me about the personal impact of the show’s message. In our conversation, the directing duo emphasized the power of theater in building a strong Latinx arts community on campus. Nuestra señora is only the start, they said. At times, O’Connor and Rodriguez slipped into Spanish; here I provide both English and Spanish for the sake of context, which, said O’Connor, is the way it should be.

In 2012, TEATRO! presented Nuestra señora in the original Spanish. What inspired your decision to make the translation this time around?
O’Connor:
Vargas’ language is very poetic, and it’s also political theater. You’ve got to understand the content to get it. It’s a commentary on the Latin American dictatorships of the ‘70s and ‘80s, which is difficult if you don’t know the language. I saw the production in Spanish when I was in Ecuador on study abroad. And I know that if you’re watching and you don’t speak Spanish, you’re not going to get as much out of it. You lose the poetry of it. And because TEATRO! is trying to spread knowledge of Latin American culture, being able to understand the words is pretty important. I actually met with Vargas when I was in Quito. We talked about the show and what it meant to him, and I tried to keep that intact. That said, it was definitely a challenge, because his writing is so poetic.
Rodriguez: There are a ton of puns, a lot of wordplay.
O’Connor: Exactly. And I’ve really tried my best to keep all of it. A great example of it is in the beginning of the show when a character tries to make a joke. Vargas writes empajarado,” which in Spanish is a play on to pair it up[emparajar] and birds” [pajaros], but it doesn’t translate so well in English. So the best I could do was “parrot it up,” and that’s inexact. There are a lot of decisions to be made on the level of wordplay. That’s a challenge I wanted to take on personally.

How do you see accessibility fitting in with TEATRO!’s goals this semester?
Rodriguez:
TEATRO! wants to be a source of theater for the benefit of the Latinx community. I saw the value of that last semester when I worked with BlackCast on Raisin in the Sun and Black Magic – the power that those shows had. I saw the power that theater could have for the Latinx community, and I wanted it to have that effect for the entirety of the Latinx community, which includes people who don’t speak Spanish. I wanted everyone to benefit from these shows, because it’s not just a celebration of Latin American culture. It’s a resource. For people who can’t dedicate an entire semester to Latin America, but want to learn more, theater is a definite resource.

What’s the main lesson or message that Nuestra señora gives?
Rodriguez:
The one overarching theme is that of political exile. These two characters have been forced to leave their country to come to another – although never stated, it’s definitely the U.S. So it speaks a lot not only to the exile experience – leaving your country and knowing you can’t come back, and trying to reconcile the bad things about the place with the things you still want to love – which is very real. But it also speaks to the immigrant experience in general. The play makes a lot of references to the way in which immigrants are treated in the U.S., which we feel is very salient right now. It’s something that we feel our audiences will identify with. I know that everyone who has collaborated on this show so far – and we’re all, predominately, Latinx – that this is the first show we’ve worked on and are able to say: Wow. This is me. It’s personal. It’s stuff that we go through, stuff we’ve all had to go through. It’s what my dad had to go through, in coming to this country; what Carla [Carla Troconis ‘19, who plays the role of Bruna] and her family went through, immigrating to the U.S. Collectively, we know that this material, this play, speaks to stuff we’ve gone through. And we’re hoping that for Latinx students, it speaks to them, too.
O’Connor: The show speaks to identity and trying to find a place. And I’ve felt like that, here at Harvard, because I’m half Ecuadorian. So that feeling of transience is very personal to me. Bruna and Oscar don’t have access to their national identity. At the same time, they’re denied access to the culture of the play they’ve emigrated to.
Rodriguez: They’re citizens of nowhere.
O’Connor: Exactly.