Teatro Dallas has been presenting its 14th annual International Theater Festival this month. Theater artists have come here from Mexico, Spain and Belgium. Teatro Dallas wraps up the festival this weekend at the Latino Cultural Center with a solo performance artist from an exotic, faraway land.
Actually, Teo Castellanos’ one-man performance is about just one street in Miami – Northeast Second Avenue, which is the title of Castellano’s stage show.
CASTELLANOS: “Since it goes all the way from downtown to North Miami Beach, it’s a great, you know, thoroughfare. But it also has changed demographically over the past couple of decades.”
So Second Avenue cuts through Haitian neighborhoods, Cuban, Jamaican, Puerto Rican and African-American neighborhoods. Second Avenue is also where a private transit system runs. It’s a small Caribbean bus known as a jitney. The show follows the jitney, its driver and passengers as they interact with a wandering white tourist who’s lost.
Castellanos himself is Puerto Rican-born but Miami-raised. NE Second Avenue is partly drawn from his own life. But he also researched Latino history and sub-cultures — even dance moves. Castellanos never really trained as a dancer, he says. But the lean, muscular performer picked up steps from gay bars and Latin nightclubs. More than most performance artists, he delineates his different stage characters through the ways they move.
He also conducted interviews that went straight into his show.
CASTELLANOS: “This is an example of an interview. I walked into an African boutique. I think I went to buy a kufi [an African cap]. And I saw a bucket of flags – you know, there’s the Jamaican, the Haitian, the Ethopian – [interview fades out as Castellanos’ stage performance comes up] – black power flag, Cuban, Puerto Rican flag, Nazi flag, KKK flag – right next to the cowrie shells and the African mask!
Now what’s wrong with that picture?
[Music kicks in.]
Obviously, NE Second Avenue is about more than just a street in Florida. Otherwise, who would care about it outside of Miami? But after developing the show in Florida in 2001, Castellanos took it all the way to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. It won the Fringe First Award. In the eight years since, the writer-actor-director has developed group shows with D-Projects, his hip-hop dance-theater collective. He also offers workshops to prisoners in detention centers and to students. While in Dallas, he did both — at Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet, for instance, he taught teacher Elly Lindsay‘s playwrighting class (below)
But he’s continued to tour NE Second Avenue throughout Europe and the United States – to places that may never have encountered a Rastafarian.
CASTELLANOS: “Well, I’ll quote Victor Hugo: ‘Speak of your village, and you speak universally.’ We all have immigrants in our neighborhoods and in our nations. You know, we all face the same issues. Really, what the piece is more about is our commonalities, at our deepest roots and our spiritual highest. I always say that because [laughs] that’s the truth.”
In the past 20 years, performance artists like Eric Bogosian, John Leguizamo, Anna Deavere Smith and North Texas’ own Fred Curchack have perfected the solo show, stage performances in which a single actor plays all the roles. With their quicksilver changes of character, such pieces can be a chance for an actor to show off his chameleon talents. They also can be explorations of the different sides of a single psyche. But in NE Second Avenue, Castellanos wants to embody an entire city: gay, straight, male, female, Latino, black, Christian, Muslim, Jew.
Miami becomes our hybrid, mulatto American culture – even our human condition.
CASTELLANOS: “That cross-pollination exists throughout the U.S. Whether it be inter-racial marriage, whether it be Cuban Jews — they don’t only exist in Miami and in Cuba – Rastafarians and Jamaicans. You know, we Miamians are all over the world! [laughs]”
[Conga drum kicks in.]