We had a chance to sit down with Jose Garcia, Director, and Patricia Herrera, Assistant Director, and ask them a few questions about the production of blu at the University of Richmond.
Q: What drew you to blu, and why did you think it was important to bring it to the University of Richmond, and the Richmond community as a whole?
JG: This is the first play that I’ve directed where there are a lot of moments that have a potential for violence, and I usually stray away from that type of work, but I fell in love with the language of blu. I feel like the language is heightened and dreamy, and the overall theme of the piece is the inheritance of violence and I felt like that theme extends across race and class.
PH: One of the most striking things about the play is how one remembers the past, and how then the memory is inherited, consciously or unconsciously, and how we remember the same thing in very different ways. I was interested in exploring that concept and seeing how that also connects with the history, the history of race in America, the history of violence and race in America. Most importantly, though, this play is about a family who is mourning their son who has just gone off to war, and I think that we’re so busy in our society to take the time to mourn, because we’re always going on to the next thing. This play depicts a family who is really reflecting on their past, their present, their future, and mourning together.
Q: What were some of the challenges of understanding and directing a play whose language is based in poetry?
JG: When young actors recite poetry, it’s almost like this holy thing, when really it’s poetry, but it’s also dialogue. The challenge for the actors is to take these poetic lines and make them into dialogue and try to make something organic. A lot of the sentences are not crowded sentences, there’s a lot of clipped sentences that are said, so the challenge becomes making an arch for the lines.
PH: Virginia Grise calls her dialogue “barrio lyricism,” and so it’s the idea that these characters are just having a conversation, but they’re making music with their words. The poetry is a song, and they’re just talking. In some ways, in our rehearsals, we’re trying to make music with the words.
JG: It gives the actor so much space to create music with these lyrics.
Q: Speaking of Virginia Grise, how has it been to be able to communicate with the playwright of the work you’re producing?
PH: It’s been completely exciting! She has been a resource in many ways and has given us insight into how she developed the characters in the play and the state she was in when she was writing the play. For instance, every time you heard a helicopter in the play, the author was actually writing poetry to the helicopters at that time. Having that perspective layers the play with so much meaning.
JG: Of course we’re excited about her seeing what we come up with, because for us it’s about whether “we are reading the map well,” because all plays for us are a map and if we look closely at the text it will lead us to where the playwright wants to lead us. Virginia e-mailed Patricia a lot of “don’ts,” or mishaps that have happened in other productions of the play, and it was things that we were already aware of, so we feel like we are going in the right direction with the piece.
Q: As people can see on the poster, there is a choreographer and a live DJ. What type of performance should audiences expect to see when they come to see blu? What are some hot words to describe the show?
JG: Freshhh.It’s a piece about violence, so our job is to present something that isn’t a stereotype, something that isn’t familiar, but yet will become familiar. We don’t want an audience to look at what’s going on and feel sorry for the characters. We want them to feel empowered to try to change the situation that the characters find themselves in. Audiences will feel something snappy, because, yes the piece is about violence, but it’s going to be entertaining.
PH: And hopeful. I think our whole angle with this play was that amidst the violence is always hope and potential, each character has potential and we want that to shine throughout the entire play. With that potential, we are also playing and exploring different sound and movement, words, and using them to bring out the hopefulness in the play.
Q: How much of the blocking in the show was premeditated, and how much came about organically by working with the actors and Alicia Diaz, the choreographer?
JG: A lot of the time I know what it is I want to do as a director, and I make sure to give space for Alicia and Patricia, since we’ve worked together for many years, and we just know that it’s going to come together. My background is that of working with a collective, so for me, three heads is better than one, so we just make a general consensus on what serves the piece most.
PH: For us, we understand our synergy, so the rehearsal process was about creating that synergy with the cast. We wanted everyone to feel free to take the risk, and do something different. We come in with an idea, but we completely adjust to what someone else brings to the table.
JG: Actors will say, in reference to the play, that this “not my experience,” but here we are, low and behold, it’s not your experience but you’re making it sound like it truly is and this cast has really risen to the challenge as actors.