Rebecca Martinez

Rising Leaders & theater’s future

Portland-connected artists Rebecca Martinez and Zi Alikhan talk about life, theater, and becoming national Rising Leaders of Color

Theatre Communications Group recently announced its latest cohort of Rising Leaders of Color (RLC), two with connections to Portland:

  • Zi Alikhan is the inaugural Artistic Directing Fellow at Artists Repertory Theatre, where he serves as the first director of DNA: Oxygen, an affinity space and creative hub dedicated to the development and production of new work generated by, led by, and featuring artists of color. He will also be working on the coproduction of “The Great Leap” by Artists Rep and Portland Center Stage.
  • Though she now lives in New York, Rebecca Martinez is an ensemble member of Sojourn Theatre, which is based in Portland and performs nationally and internationally. During her time in Portland, she won two Drammy Awards and also worked with Milagro Theatre. Currently she is the BOLD associate artistic director of Off-Broadway’s WP Theater.

The RLC Program selects early-career Black, Indigenous, and People of Color theater practitioners across many disciplines and works to develop their individual leadership skills, provide training and career development opportunities, and create a cohort of artists who can support each other over the next year. I was selected for the 2017 cohort and it seemed fitting that they be interviewed by a previous grantee. I sat down with the two over Zoom to have them in conversation.

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TJ: Had you two met before the Rising Leaders of Color?

R: We actually met for the first time at a theater festival in Bulgaria a few years ago with the Drama League.

Z: It felt like 100 million events in nine days. Rebecca was the emotional core of that trip. Without you many people would have completely withered away. I’m glad to have met you under those circumstances.

TJ: Tell me a little about yourselves.

Zi Alikhan. Photo courtesy Artists Repertory Theatre.

Z: I grew up in Northern California. My parents are immigrants from India; they told me I could study anything except theater. So I weaseled my way into the most “theatrical” academic pursuit and spent two years studying sociology. I wanted to be an ethnographer. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I was cast in a season of summer stock. It was the first time I was ever paid to be an actor, and I realized I couldn’t do anything else. I transferred to NYU and finished a degree in musical theater. But I wasn’t satisfied with being a commercial musical theater actor and I fell into directing. Like a lot of people do, I started a scrappy theater company and that led me into the fellowship circuit.

TJ: What is the ‘fellowship circuit’?

Z: That’s a nomenclature I’ve made up. Theater company fellowships create community but they’re also kinda bullshit. Most theaters I’ve had fellowships with never hired me. I was part of a large fellowship at a theater with four writers and four directors; we all work widely now, and none of us have ever been hired by that company. It makes me wonder what the point was.

R: I don’t like to stack up on fellowships for the sake of it, but it feels like it’s the only way to get people’s attention. I didn’t go to Ivy League or East Coast school so I didn’t have any connections when I moved to New York. There’s a bit of a love fest for Ivy Leaguers but I think that’s starting to shift.

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A wolf left howling at the door

A new Rolling World Premiere at Milagro blends fairy tale and Aztec myth in a visually seductive but overly simplistic tale

Marisela Treviño Orta’s new play Wolf at the Door at Milagro Theatre is a blend of fairy tale and Aztec myth. Its heroine, Isadora, is in an abusive relationship with Séptimo. Séptimo has kidnapped Yolot, a pregnant Wolf-Spirit-Person, and wants to steal her baby. Wolves howl in the distance throughout the show, communicating with Yolot. Isadora (Marian Mendez), Yolot (Maya Malán-González), and the Wolves all plot to take down Séptimo (Matthew Sepeda). Human, Spirit, and Animal come together to triumph over an abuser. As an idea, that’s pretty awesome. On stage, it dosn’t land so well.

Wolf at the Door – it’s part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere program, with companies in New Jersey, Dallas, and Chicago also producing it – opens with Isadora’s baby dying in childbirth. Then Rocío (Patricia Alvitez), a maternal sage figure, digs a hole in the ground to bury the corpse. That’s an intense image at the top of any play. And the intensity only goes up from there.

Patricia Alvitez as Rocío. Photo: Russell J Young

The ancient stories that Treviño Orta used as sources, and which are outlined in the study guide Milagro provides its audience, are compelling. One reason fairy tales and myths have good shelf lives is their simplicity: They succinctly impart the profound. For example, fairy-tale characters are often clearly delineated as either good or bad. That lack of more complex definition works well in storytelling/oral traditions, but here it makes the action onstage fall flat.

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