La Lllorona is a Latino folk tale about a ghost that wanders around looking for the children she drowned in a river when she was alive.
It’s a tale featured that will be prominently in the Phoenix Theatre’s family-friendly premiere production of Leyenda. The script, written by Bryan Fonseca and Tom Horan, is based on interviews with members of Indy’s Hispanic community and everyone they interviewed knew this particular story. (Leyenda is Spanish for “legend.”)
“Everybody knew it to the extent that to the extent that some people said, ‘Oh you don’t want to tell that story because everybody knows it,’” says Fonseca, Artistic Director of the Phoenix, who is directing Leyenda.
But include it they did.
“It’s been so enjoyable and rewarding as an artist, making this story come to life onstage,” says Fonseca.
But not every folk tale they featured in this tapestry — woven together with dance and music and other ways of storytelling — is so dire.
“On the other end of the spectrum is a very lighthearted story and it’s a cautionary story as all folk tales are,” says Fonseca. “It’s called 'Dueño de la Casa' [Master of the House]. This one’s really about young girls at a dance and a newcomer to the dance being warned not to stay past midnight and definitely not to dance with this one particular individual. At midnight this young girl is dancing with this young man. And the clock starts striking midnight. And he looks down and he has chicken feet.”
The production will feature bilingual actors. Performances will be in English (save for the music) except for the final two performances which will be performed entirely in Spanish.
Directing a play in two languages comes with its own peculiar challenges, but it just so happens that director Bryan Fonseca is a Spanish speaker himself (the problem is that he doesn’t speak it every day, he says). But the Phoenix has done plays in Spanish before, notably last year’s Bless Me Ultima.
Bridgette Richards, a veteran of a number of Spanish-language productions, acted as translator.
“It’s a privilege to come in and try to turn Tom’s words into Spanish when they’re so beautifully written in English” says Richards.
She had the help of her bilingual cast in the translation: the choosing of particular words or phrases caused a debate among them.
Richards is also one of the main performers.
“I play the role the story teller role ‘Quentista,’” says Richards. “Her role is to set up all these wonderful stories that we hear as audience members. Her story is interwoven throughout the different tales. She gets to know this man who becomes her husband. She woos him through telling all of these different folk tales. I’m playing and I’m playing some great colorful characters inside the stories themselves.”
But there is a larger role for this play than merely to entertain.
“I received a grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis,” says Fonseca. “It’s the first ever Transformational Impact Grant. And the purpose of that grant was to see if the arts could be used to help transform a community.”
In order to fulfill that mission, Phoenix Theatre will be taking Leyenda to the near westside of Indianapolis — an area of the city with a large Hispanic presence. They will be gearing up a cut-down selection of Leyenda tales — a third of the length of the theatre version.
“Language is the first barrier that we break down by doing performances in Spanish,” says Fonseca. “The [second] of the barriers that we’re going to break down is taking the play…out of the theatre and going into the community. So if transportation was a barrier, if cost was a barrier, we’re going to eliminate those barriers as well… We’re going to do street theatre with this show. That will be later in June.”
The Phoenix will be getting assistance this summer from Nopal Cultural, an Indianapolis-based community organization dedicated to promoting Latino culture, which will be organizing a number of activities to coincide with the performances. Nopal is run by Daniel Del Real, Eduardo Luna, and Nicole Martinez-LeGrand.
“Danny will be doing the visual arts workshops,” says Fonseca. “Eduardo’s working on a music festival, lining up musical acts. And Nicole has a background in community organization and civic engagement. And there’s a component of that with the particular grant that I’m working on to make sure that we are instilling a sense of community engagement. So Nicole’s skills are helping us a lot with that program.”
It could be that Fonseca sees himself as something of a cook in his role, or his variety of roles, at the Phoenix.
“There will be a culinary component if you think about it,” says Fonseca. “Every culture has a rice based dish. It serves the same purpose. It’s not the main course, it’s definitely not the dessert. It’s just a filler to the meal. That’s where we’re similar. The uniqueness is how we spice it.”
By Tom Horan and Bryan Fonseca
April 14 – May 1, 2016
Ticket prices start at $20: see phoenixtheatre.org for dates, times, and full price list