The playwright behind Learn to be Latina: Enrique Urueta

By our literary volunteer Santos Herrera

Enrique Urueta
Learn to Be Latina is big, is bold, is hilarious, and it doesn’t apologize. The play follows a young, talented woman named Hanan as she embarks on a strenuous journey of re-identification in order to become the next big name in pop music. The playwright behind this magnificent play is Enrique Urueta, whose play will be the grand finale of Milagro’s 30th Anniversary season in May 2014.

Colombian-American Urueta, a native of the East Coast, was born and raised in Halifax County, Virginia. He attended the College of William and Mary, where he began to learn more about theater.  In a recent interview he described how he just “fell into it.” “As I went through college”, Urueta said, “I became more academically interested in theater, not as an artist, but as a historian.”

 Urueta recalled attending a theater conference in Toronto and realizing that he had never imagined that Canada might have its own theatre legacy.  He soon made several trips there and back to gather as much material as he could about Canadian theater history. During one of his visits, he encountered a play by Canadian playwright Brad Fraser entitled, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, a comedy-drama about several sexually frustrated "thirty-somethings" who try to learn the meaning of love during a time in which a serial killer is terrorizing their city.

Before reading this play, Urueta recalled that he “had never read a play that shifted me emotionally.” The emotional shift he experienced reading Unidentified Human Remains..., also caused his focus to shift from studying theater from a purely academic perspective to a more artistic one.

After completing his undergraduate studies, Urueta made his way to the West Coast: San Francisco. It was there, in the Bay Area, that Urueta began his writing career.  “I took some writing classes in college,” Urueta said. “But, I didn’t take it seriously until I moved to San Francisco.”

In February of 2005, Urueta wrote a short one-act play and entered it into a festival. He had previously worked in a literary office, so he knew that writing a comedic play would increase the chances of his work standing out. The plan worked and it was very well received, so much so that his one-act was produced.

In June of the same year, the Queer and Cultural Center in San Francisco did a reading of another of Urueta’s plays, The Danger of Bleeding Brown, about a gay white man has his boundaries pushed by his relationship with a young gay Latino, whose own internalized racism manifests in edgy sex play that tests the limits of their relationship. From this experience they commissioned him to write a full length play.

Urueta took the one-act play he had previously submitted to the festival and transformed it into the first scene of Learn to Be Latina. He conducted research about Latin celebrities who had roots that extended beyond that of Mexico and Latin America, and found that two of pop culture’s biggest Latina celebrities, Salma Hayek and Shakira, both have grandparents of Lebanese origin.

He found guidance in one of the protagonist’s opening speeches. “I wrote Hanan’s monologue and saw the direction I wanted to go in,” Urueta said. “I like to find a character and find a tone and write something that I want to see without thinking about producers, actors, or anything. I write the play I want to see.”

Learn to Be Latina made its stage debut in 2010 at the IMPACT Theater in Berkley, California. In 2011, it received the 1st Great Gay Play award from Pride Films and Plays in Chicago. One of the judges said, “I would pay a large sum of money to see this on stage.” Portland area audiences will have their opportunity when Milagro presents its Pacific Northwest premiere this May, 2014.  Urueta himself will be in Portland for the opening weekend, to see his play and participate in a discussion following the first Sunday matinee, sponsored by Oregon Humanities.  He’ll also travel to Seattle to offer writing workshops with eSe Teatro.

Get  tickets for Learn to be Latina today and meet the playwright on Sunday, May 4th on the conversation series Learn to be Latina: Identity Bootcamp!

SUNDAY MAY 4th ~ Just Who Do You Think You Are? 
In Learn to Be Latina, Hanan is re-invented. She changes her name, learns a little Spanish and whole new cultural framework from which to talk about herself, raising questions about the mutability of identity.  Visiting playwright Enrique Urueta will lead the conversation with guest scholars about his inspiration for this work, how artists reflect identity in their works, and how true life provides examples of transformed identities. In art as in life, how is identity accepted, ascribed or re-created?  How does it impact how we are treated or treat others? 

An Invitation from our friends at BOOM Arts!

Guillermo Calderón, Chile’s foremost contemporary playwright and an acclaimed chronicler and critic of contemporary Chilean politics and society, is coming to Portland for the first time. Reed College, in association with local theatre producer Boom Arts, will host the playwright on campus for two days, introducing him and his theatre and film work to Portland audiences and to Reed students, who will have special opportunities to interact with him through in-class visits and informal conversations on campus.

Guillermo Calderón’s plays have been translated and produced by major US and international theatres and have toured under his own direction to venues and festivals around the world. His plays have covered ample political ground in Chile, addressing issues from Michelle Bachelet’s presidency to widespread student demonstrations to the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship. Calderón speaks about his work in clear terms: “Theatre is a battlefield,” he told The New York Times in March 2013, when his play Neva received its US premiere at New York’s Public Theater.

Free Public Events in Reed College’s new Performing Arts Building:
Theatre Performance: Tuesday, April 22, 5pm          
A staged reading of Calderón’s play Villa, in an English translation by William Gregory. In the play, three young women debate the future of the site of a former villa turned into a torture barracks by the military dictatorship.  Originally performed inside the infamous Villa
Grimaldi, this “spare, intense” play grapples with the legacy of atrocity using “stark lyricism and dreamlike imagery” (LA Times). Villa will be introduced by Dr. Kate Bredeson (Asst. Professor of Theatre, Reed College) and performed by Portland actresses Cristi Miles, Dana Millican (Portlandia), & Rebecca Lingafelter. Followed by a Q & A with Guillermo Calderón with Dr. Pancho Savery (Professor of English and Humanities, Reed College) and Dr. Mariela Szwarcberg (Asst. Professor of Political Science, Reed College).
In the
Performance Lab.

Film Screening: Wednesday, April 23, 7pm
A screening of the feature film Violeta Went to Heaven, in Spanish with English subtitles; screenplay co-written by Guillermo Calderón. The film tells the life story of Chilean folk music legend Violeta Parra (1917-1967). The screening will be followed by a Q & A with Guillermo Calderón and Dr. Morgan Luker (Asst. Professor of Music, Reed College).
In the Music Rehearsal Room.

No reservations are necessary for these events; please check or for updates and more information.

Calderón’s visit is co-sponsored by Reed’s Division of Literature and Languages and the Departments of English, Music, Political Science, Spanish, and Theatre. It is supported by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty and the Office for Institutional Diversity and produced by Boom Arts by special invitation from Reed College.

Meet the cast of the most hilarious lesson!

In this photo: Michelle, Nicole, Matthew, Kelly, Orion and Olga
The opening night for Learn to be Latina is only two weeks away! The director, cast and crew are working every day really hard to bring you the out-off-this-word performance of this season. 

Today at Miracle Insider we invited you to meet the hot, hot, HOT! cast members of Learn to be Latina coming up to Milagro theatre on May 1. Tickets on sale now 

Nicole Virginia Accuardi (Hanan) is overjoyed to have the opportunity to work with this insanely talented cast on such a tremendous show. This is her sixth time working at Milagro, following three shows and two staged readings. She is a company member of Badass theatre, and was in their inaugural production of Invasion! which will be remounting this summer! She has also performed at Post5, Lakewood, Compass Rep, Clackamas REP, CGTO, Pittsburgh Playhouse, and PCPA Theatrefest. She would like thank all her theatre family in Portland for being so wonderful and supportive. 

Orion Bradshaw (Bill/Fight Captain) After spending 3 seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Orion moved to Portland to co-found Post5 Theatre ( His recent performances include Julius Caesar with Post5, Twelfth Night of the Living Dead with Bag&Baggage, and Charlotte's Web with Oregon Children's Theater. He is also a theatre educator, and teaches with PlayWrite Inc, Northwest Children's Theater and Portland Center Stage, among others. ¡Diviértete!

Kelly Godell (Jill) This is Kelly's first time performing with Milagro. She has a BA in theater from the University of Oregon and has been acting in Portland since 2006. Kelly has most recently appeared in Noises Off with Third Rail Repertory. Other Portland credits include Profile Theatre, Leverage, Northwest Classical, Lakewood Theatre and a slew of commercial work.

Matthew Kerrigan is thrilled to return to Milagro stage with the cast of Learn to be Latina.  He has called Portland his home since 2010. Since arriving, performances include:One Flea Spare (Shaking the Tree) Wilde Tales (Shaking the Tree) Taming of the Shrew (Portland Shakespeare Project), Much Ado About Notiing (Northwest Classical Theatre Company) The Boys In The Band (defunkt) Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol (Artist Repertory Theatre). Prior to his arrival in Portland, Matthew studied at Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre and Illinois State University.

Olga Sanchez (Mary/Calcetina/ Elena) Artistic Director, Milagro, most recently she appeared in Oedipus el Rey at Milagro Theatre, and on the TV show, Grimm. This spring she directed Ardiente Paciencia and Mujeres for Milagro.  She is a founding member of Los Porteños writers group; her short play El Tesoro opens May 10th with Milagro Touring for Metro. Olga is a Steering Committee member of the Latino Theatre Commons of HowlRound at Emerson College, a member of the Latino Network’s Unid@s for Oregon Leadership Program, and a member of the Mesa Consultiva for the Latino Play Project at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She holds a BA in Theatre from Hunter College, CUNY, and a Masters in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College NW, with specialization in Bicultural Development. 

Michelle Escobar (Blanca) This is Michelle's second show with Milagro after Guapa last spring. In 2012 she graduated from Amherst College with a BA in theater and hopes to continue her studies in the fall. She is also enthusiastically and perpetually practicing Karate-do. Thank you, Tony and the cast, for such a wonderful experience!

Lauren Mitchell (FAC Girl/ Dance Captain) is delighted be making her debut at Milagro!  Recently she has been seen onstage locally in Homomentum: The Musical (Pants Off PDX), Ribbons of War (Minus Dan Productions, and part of the Fertile Ground Festival), The Princess and the Pea (JANE: A Theatre Company), and The Black Lizard (Imago).  She received her BA in Theatre Arts from Portland State University.

Sarah DeGrave (FAD Girl) is delighted to be making her Milagro debut with LTBL! Previous work includes shows with Well Arts Institute, Stumptown Stages, Broadway Rose, BroadArts Theatre, JANE: a theatre company, and Seattle Musical Theatre.  She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Central Washington University and, when not onstage, enjoys working on music and photography. Find out more about her current projects at Many thanks to her wonderfully supportive parents, family, and friends for always encouraging her to be her most fabulous self, onstage and off. 

Louise Chambers (FAD Girl) is thrilled to be making her Milagro debut.  Most recently she appeared in the 4x4=Musicals as part of Fertile Ground and returned to the cast of White Christmas with Lakewood after being part of the original 2011 production.  Past credits include In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play (triangle productions!), The Velveteen Rabbit (Bag & Baggage/Tears of Joy), The Andrews Brothers and Bingo! (Broadway Rose).

Cari Spinnler (FAD Girl) is thrilled to be making her Milagro debut with Learn To Be Latina! A recent graduate of Rugters University, Cari received her BFA in acting. But her first passion was dance, starting her training at four years old. Cari was last seen in Independent Women (Action Adventure). Other credits include: As You Like It (Shakespeare's Globe), Richard III Workshop (Shakespeare's Globe), La Dispute (Rutgers) and Binnorie (Rutgers). 

The Legacy of Milagro on display

We might have mentioned once or twice that this season marks Milagro's 30th anniversary, and from now through September, our history history will be on display at the Oregon Multicultural Archives !

Archivist Natalia Fernández and intern Katrina O'Brien from OMA (part of the Oregon State University's Special Collections and Archives Research Center) have spent the last 10 months poring over, organizing and cataloging the company's history into a collection that will be housed and available to the public in the SCARC. Just this past weekend, Founding Directors José Gonzalez and Dañel Malán (as well as board member John Rodarte) were in Corvallis for the unveiling of an exhibit of items and photographs that tell the story of Milagro. They include props and costumes from shows, production shots, publicity posters and more.

Although Milagro was first approached in the fall of 2012 about participating in an exhibit of Latinos in Oregon, this collection is the result of a process that began in earnest on February 28, 2013, when Milagro hosted a presentation by the American Theatre Archive Project for the local theatre community. Little over a year later, with plenty of documentation along the way, Milagro continues to lead by example, showing other arts organizations the importance of preserving records, ephemera, and production materials.

"I was very impressed with the representation of the touring and educational programs.  I especially liked the display of the masks and costumes from [Milagro Tour's 2004 production], which were connected to a video clip from the play," Malán said of the exhibit.

You can visit the exhibit in the 5th Floor Atrium of the SCARC (121 The Valley Library, OSU, Corvallis, OR) M-F 8:30-5:00 and read online about Ms. Fernández and Ms. O'Brien's experience assembling the collection.

Photo of the Day: Milagro Theatre goes corporate

Set designer Mark Haack transforms Milagro Theatre into the corporate boardroom of F.A.D. Records, Inc., building the world of "Learn to Be Latina", Enrique Urueta's hilarious lesson on the vagaries of identity and pop culture.

Show runs through May 31. Get your tickets today, or volunteer to usher!

Meet the Choreographer: Interview with Chip Sherman, Pt. 2

The work continues as the Milagro team prepares for our next show, the outrageous and irreverent "post-911 race farce/lesbian romantic comedy (with dance breaks)" that is "Learn to Be Latina". Last week we got to see the F.A.D. Girls shake their stuff, and choreographer Chip Sherman shared with us a little of his experience in Portland and at Milagro. Today, in the second part of his interview, the young mover and shaker takes us through the musical (and dance-ical) journey that awaits our wanna-be pop star. Read below to see how "rhythm is gonna get you", and get your tickets for the show, opening May 2 (preview 5/1).

VG: You are trained in a lot of different styles, from ballet to butoh and a lot in between. Can you tell us a little bit about what we'll see in "LTBL"?
CS: What I love, love, LOVE about this show is that the music is so diverse: you've got 'N Sync, then Missy Elliot on to Shakira and Jill Scott, so it goes through a lot of genres. You’ve got pop going into hip-hop going into Latin going into, basically, gospel mixed with a jazz infusion. 

The dance is going to follow the lines of the songs: with 'N 'Sync you’ve got the B-Boy moves of the late 90’s, early Millennium. Then with Missy, more street, hip-hop. And then going into [Shakira’s] “La Tortura” and J-Lo’s “Let’s Get Loud”, there’s more of a Latin-infused hip-hop. For me the whole show is in a pop/hip hop style, but with Latin influence. The show is about making this girl into a Latin pop star, so it’s got to have that pop/hip hop base, but with that Latin flavor and fire on top. We'll be seeing hip hop mixed with Jazz, mixed with some merengue and cumbia, and there’s even some stomp that I put in there, from my background in tap and African dance. We do a beautiful little tango/Flamenco/stomp dance duel between [the characters played by] Nicole Accuardi and Olga Sanchez.

VG: The play itself is very farcical. How do you keep the dance from being simply another comedic element in a play like this? 

CS: The dance starts out big. Huge. 'N Sync is pop, and it’s the first number you see, and I’ve choreographed that to be larger than life. And then it goes into "Let’s Get Loud", which gets even bigger, and brings in the Latin aspect. So it’s about showing off, and an escape from realism and moving into the farcical aspect, showing how much fun you can have with the dance. As you go on with the show, the dance starts from a place of over-exposure and then it goes into this place where it becomes seamless with real life with Aimee Mann’s "Wise up”. It slows down and goes into a more lyrical base of movement. It becomes more pedestrian before getting into "Malagueña", which brings us to the tango/Flamenco. Flamenco is all about machismo and the triumphant matador, and here we’re working with Kristen Munn, a fight choreographer around town, and we’re going to do a little “Vulcan mind meld” to mix in the stomp dance style with her fighting style. 

 VG: So even though it is a farce about the world of pop, there is authenticity underneath?

CS: That’s the arc of the dance in the show: it starts out very stereotypical, plastic, very presentational, and it ends up very real. It’s driven by [the protagonist] Hanan’s heart instead of her mind… It goes from your mind to your heart. That’s life. You start out thinking “it’s cool, fine”, that you don’t have to do anything, and everything will fall into place; as you start maturing, you realize you have to put up a fight, especially people of color, we have to put up a fight and actually find our place in life and claim it.

 Get your tickets today and don't miss the movement and mirth of the most hilarious lesson coming to Milagro Theatre this May. "Learn to Be Latina" opens May 2 (preview May1) and runs Thursdays through Sundays until May 31.

Meet the choreographer: Interview with Chip Sherman, Pt 1

A few days ago we had a chance to catch a glimpse of the work going into the dance numbers in "Learn to Be Latina", opening at Milagro on May 2 (preview May 1). Now we bring you the first part of an interview with Chip Sherman, the man behind the moves.

Since his move to Portland, the young performer choreographer has been busy with different companies around town, but he took a few minutes to chat with our own Vicente Guzman-Orozco about his new hometown and the experience of working at Milagro on this irreverent, high energy "post-911 race farce/lesbian romantic comedy (with dance breaks)." Read on to learn more about Chip, and get your tickets today!

VG: It was fun to see you and the F.A.D. Girls in action. Can you talk a little about your background and experience, for those of us not fortunate enough to have caught you on stage yet?
CS: I’ve been in Portland two years as of February 5, I came from Eugene, where I lived since high school. I had been in various dance teams and troupes, so I got training in Hip-Hop, African, Tap, Modern and Jazz dance, and outside of that, I got involved with salsa and Latin Ballroom at a local pizza joint, where after a dance lesson earlier in the evening, there was free dance. 

I was “found” by Meshi Chavez when I auditioned for him late in 2011 here in Portland, for a show that toured in the Southwest. When we returned I decided to stay here to work. And then I met Cassandra Schwanke when she was starting her company Human Being Curious, hanging out and doing some karaoke. After some liquid courage I asked what she was working on. When she said “The Tempest”, I asked, “do you have your Caliban?” She said no, and I replied, “Now you do!” 

That was the beginning of the rest… She was my cheerleader and mentor, introducing me to Ty Boyce, co-founder of Post 5 Theater, and I got to become a company member, having worked with me and seeing how dedicated I had been to the production (which I also choreographed). Then “Arabian Nights” came around and I also had the opportunity to choreograph that. I got cast in other stuff around town, and I have been working ever since!

VG: This is your first time collaborating with Milagro. How has the experience been for you?
CS: It’s so much fun! Olga saw me at the general auditions and approached me after seeing I had a dance background and had worked on “Arabian Nights”. I was starting to get into this choreographer mode, in addition to acting, and that’s when she put the hook in. And then she said, "you’d be working with Tony Sonera", and I had heard about him and Badass Theatre Company, and all the press was coming out from “Invasion” then –  [I thought,] "this is a guy I want to work with, he’s doing some good ####! And this show… if you take Invasion, amp it up, put some Latinas in it and the word “####”, and you’re going to have “Learn to Be Latina”… oh, and you also will need a sock puppet, I guess. 

I got hooked because I saw how passionate everyone is at Milagro, starting with Olga. She brings this heart and love for the work that everyone here produces. And you can tell that everyone  on the staff here wants to be here! They’re fulfilling their duties because they have a passion for those duties, which I really respect.

As a person of color who’s never really had a place, through life growing up in Eugene and around the country, I had never found people of color to learn from or play off from, or just be around. That’s why I think Milagro is such an important company in our town, because it produces straight-out bi-racial plays, or just racial plays. Which I think is really cool. You have other companies that are trying that, but it’s rare the company that tackles artists of color’s or people of color’s issues. And so it is cool that there is just not “a” black, but also a Latino voice that we can hear.

Next up we'll hear more about the dance that awaits us in "Learn to Be Latina" to the sounds of 'N Sync to Shakira and much more in between! Get your tickets today!