AAPEX Interview: Lorca Peress — AAPEX Interview , Lorca Peress , MultiStages — AAPEX

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

AAPEX Interview: Lorca Peress

Below is my interview with Lorca Peress, artistic director of MultiStages in NYC. Lorca has been great about getting the word out about AAPEX events in NYC.
Jaz Dorsey

1. What role did theater and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?

I grew up in a family of professional artists – my father is a well-known music conductor, my mother is an award-winning poet, and my maternal grandparents were and are recognized writers and performers – as others go into the family business, we too were expected to follow suit. As a child, I performed in operas and operettas that my father conducted, including Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Fluude and The Little Chimney Sweep, and I sang the shepherd solo in Tosca. I played piano and was an excellent visual artist. My family traveled because of my father’s career, but we considered New York City our home. We wound up in South Texas where my father was music director of two symphony orchestras. The political, social, and religious issues I found there were life-changing. I learned at a young age that oppression exists, and we fought it daily. I also became politically active and bilingual. Despite the backward thinking of many, the cultural world in Texas was struggling to survive. My weekly study consisted of art on Saturdays, piano once a week, and ballet and jazz twice. We traveled back and forth to New York, and I had my first acting lessons at twelve at the Lee Strasberg Institute’s Young Artists Program. That same year I appeared in a very inspirational dance/drama production with Rudy Perez at Barnard College; and at fifteen I spent the summer in Israel studying art, theatre and dance. We lived in Europe for several summers where my father conducted and taught in an opera program. I was able to take a fabulous acting class in Austria when I was fourteen led by Bettina Jonic Calder who was teaching Peter Brooke technique to the opera singers. This class changed my life. The work inspired me so much that I made the decision to be an actor. I continued my artistic studies, but theatre truly grabbed me. My father expected me to be a classical pianist (I studied hours a day), but I convinced him that I had a different field in mind. I went to Bennington College and studied across the artistic boards but branched out into modern dance, creative writing, and abstract painting. My singing voice developed and my artistic vision and theatre aesthetics blossomed and transformed to embrace the non-traditional. I studied Political Science and was an activist for human rights (feminist, gay, civil), and proud to call myself a devout non-conformist. I spent summer and winter seasons at various regional theatres as an Equity Candidate Member, and attended National Theatre Institute at the O’Neill Theatre Center in the spring of my junior year. After Bennington, I moved to New York City to pursue my acting career. My parents gave me a thousand dollars, a big hug, and said “good luck.”

2. Tell us about your own evolution as an artist. What obstacles did you face, if any?

First I had to stay alive. I did what every young actor does, looked for a way to make fast cash and avoid a full-time job. The dog walking thing wasn’t for me, so I worked as a waitress, as an assistant to a Fine Arts manager, painted make-up on mannequin heads, proofread at a publishing house, was hired as a singing Playboy Bunny for the Empire Club that engaged both Bunnies and Rabbits (I wrote about this in my one-woman show, and took the job because the male Rabbits had to walk around half-naked too!). I modeled swimwear, lingerie, and fur coats (despite being a vegetarian), temped for some crazy attorneys, and worked as a promotional model where I got mobbed passing out free cigarettes in the Diamond District in an evening gown and had to escape up Sixth Avenue. I survived many years of Toy Fair for Mattel, Hasbro, and Fisher Price acting with puppets, played an Elvira look alike, several Disney characters including Ursula from The Little Mermaid with an enormous velvet octopus costume and purple makeup, and a few of Barbi’s friends. I did trade shows, live and video industrials, and acted and sang in some great productions. I did everything I could to live, study, and pursue my career.

I didn’t look like everyone else. My mother is Puerto Rican (born in NYC), and my father is Iraqi and Polish Jewish. I am a blend of all three backgrounds with an unusual look that is hard to place. I was told right out of school in the 1980s that I was “too ethnic” for television. I was blonde, but my eyes kind of went up and I had thick dark eyebrows, which wasn’t the look back then. Even if I died and tweezed my eyebrows, I still didn’t pass. If you didn’t resemble Cybil Shepard or have a strictly Anglo-Saxon appearance, you weren’t working on television; and that’s where the money was. Yes, there were African-Americans working in TV, but they played maids, janitors, cops and teachers; the few Asian-American actors who had careers played doctors or lab techs; the Italian actors were (and still) played bad guys; and the Latinos were all blue collar and had accents. Day player professional roles were primarily offered to white males, and it was near impossible to get a contract role. So I stuck primarily to theatre. I once had three call-backs for a reputable regional theatre for Meg in Crimes of the Heart and after the last audition I received a letter telling me that even though they loved me, I didn’t fit in with their “family” vision. I learned that it wasn’t really that I was “too ethnic” but actually not ethnic enough. There were very few cross-cultural faces around, and the term multicultural didn’t exist. I did play “gringas” in Spanish theatre and some very interesting women in traditional theatre: prostitutes, vixens, comedic characters, neurotics, alcoholics, and strong castrating gals; oh, and I sang a mezzo role of a prostitute in an opera. Did I mention that I played lots of prostitutes? Probably because there are so many Puerto Rican Jewish Iraqi Polish blonde prostitutes out there. A lot has changed since then, and the faces on television are much more interesting, and less stereotypical and limiting. Hats off to the Non-Traditional Casting implemented by the Unions. Labels are getting less common, but it's still a struggle across the country.

After acting and surviving for about twelve years, I decided to change things up a bit. I wrote Women Under Glass, a one-woman show which won an Inky Award from La MaMa, and I toured in festivals. Many of my survival experiences were woven into the show (when I saw Blown Sideways Through Life, I was shocked that she only had 74 jobs?!! I had about 500!). I had a Playboy bunny character who was a member of Mensa but couldn’t get a job as a nuclear physicist, so she becomes a bunny to pay off her college loans; a nighttime temporary secretary who falls in love with the voice on the dictation machine; a woman who traveled in a bubble because she was afraid to breathe the air; and several other living-on-the-edge characters. While writing and workshopping the show with legendary director Gene Frankel, he thought I had an innate knack for directing and encouraged me. I began directing which I hadn't done since college, and in 1997 I founded MultiStages, a multicultural and multidisciplinary theatre company. Pushing through obstacles, fighting stereotypes, and making inroads led me to something wonderful and profound.

3. What are you doing now?

I am hoping to change the world, a most-complicated feat. Using my artistic and culturally diverse background, I created MultiStages, whose mission is to encourage new collaborations between emerging/established playwrights and artists (from within and outside the theatre arena), and to develop new artistic ideas through the creation of multicultural, multidisciplinary works that celebrate a fusion of art forms rarely found in today’s theatre. By supporting these cross-collaborations, new works are created that enrich, explore, and reinvent the world. Our writers, designers, talent, and staffing are diverse. Our audiences are mixed as well, and it is very inspiring to see people of all races, colors, creeds and sexual preferences supporting these new works onstage and off. This is the America I ride with on the subway, and I look forward to the rest of the country taking that ride, too. We have produced plays with puppets, masks, multimedia, modern dance, poetry, and original music. Multi-artistic disciplines become part of telling the story, and we embrace working with artists who do not traditionally work in theatre. Composers, choreographers, and visual designers are often making their debut in our theatre productions. We worked with a symphonic composer from Taipei who created an amazing score for The Palace of Loneliness. She fell in love with the play by Dorothy Tan, a writer from Hong Kong, and came to the theatre every night. We have worked with modern dance choreographers and dancers who infuse their movements into our work. Our video creations have been designed by filmmakers, and I have created and built masks and puppets using my visual arts and sculpture background. We’ve adapted narrative poems to the stage as well. Fortunately, the fusion of arts in theatre today is not as novel as it was when we began in 1997, but we feel that we were at the forefront of this work. The kind of theatre we do is the truest collaborative form, and I applaud others companies who are breaking new ground and shaking up the landscape as well. I am happy to be creating these new works, and supporting so many artists with similar visions and experimentation. MultiStages holds New Works Contests bi-annually, and develops plays through the Script Development Series. We are currently holding our fifth New Works Contest and I’ve been inspired by the submissions I have read so far; what a talented world we live in. We will announce the winner in June. We have a few pieces in the Script Development Series, and are currently raising money for Temple of the Souls, a Puerto Rican theatre piece with opera written by my 93 year-old grandmother. Temple tells the tragic love story of a young Taino man and a Conquistador’s daughter; it is a Romeo and Juliet tale that is political, educational, and will include video, 15th Century tribal Taino and Spanish dance, original music, and large scale puppetry. The script is written in verse. We did a Script Development Series reading in October, and twenty members of the Taino tribe (including three kacike chiefs) were in the audience. It was an amazing day. I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished and look forward to many more collaborations and creative expressions to come.

Separate from MultiStages, I teach at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and for NYU Tisch in the Strasberg Studio. I am also the Strasberg curator for the hotINK Festival, where I have produced plays from Iran, Libya, Spain, the Caribbean, Canada, Europe, and the USA. Working with artists from all over the world is inspiring, and we share a common bond and universal love for the art. I also direct outside of MultiStages for other theatre companies and have strong relationships with many playwrights. I was invited into the League of Professional Theatre last year, and it is wonderful to be surrounded by such talented women. I expect to continue my career until I can no longer work, and I believe that all artists have a gift that we need to share. I am happy to pass on the knowledge that has been passed on to me. I may be in the middle of my life, but I still have much to accomplish and give. What am I doing now? Everything I can!

Lorca Peress
MultiStages Artistic Director
344 West 87th Street
New York, NY 10024
To visit the MultiStages website, please click the post's title.

1 comment:

  1. An amazing woman and a great teacher. All aspiring actors should be made to read this, if only to understand the reality of 'that' world. Groovy.