A season of uncommon women and others take Quantum Theatre audiences from a Chilean peña, to Shakespeare’s hometown, to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The journey during Quantum’s 29th season begins with the world premiere of Looking for Violeta at the bowling greens of Frick Park.
Two Pittsburgh premieres complete the season as Shakespeare’s Will considers the dynamics of the playwright’s family through his wife Anne, while Chimera explores the space between a journalist’s camera and one of the 20th century’s most terrifying political images.
Audiences and actors gather under Quantum’s self-described peña–the first-ever tent for a Quantum production–to explore the life, music, and art of Chilean folk singer and activist Violeta Parra (1939-1967). Quantum’s production promotion explains that peñas are traditional gathering places where food, drink, and folk music could provide cover for political agitation. Parra’s own peña provided hospitality for her beloveds along with indigenoous poor of her country.
Looking for Violeta began with Quantum Artistic Director Karla Boos’ fascination with the 20th century artist’s story. Boos has long explored Latin American (and Spanish) theatre, music, and dance through Quantum’s production, since the company’s premiere project Pedro Páramo in 1990. In January 2017, Boos says, “I finally got the Santiago a Mil International Theatre Festival with international artists and Chilean theatre galore.”
Longtime friend and colleague, Carolina Loyola-Garcia, a Chilean artist and longtime Quantum collaborator (The Red Shoes, María de Buenos Aires, Ainadamar) hosted Boos. As Boos listened to Violeta’s music with her friend, the spirit of the rebellious artist drew Boos towards development of this new play. Now, Loyola-Garcia, who is also a filmmaker and media artist, embodies the title character.
In the show program, Loyola-Garcia shares, “Many aspects of my life have come full circle in a strange way….My past and my present have merged in a way that only the magic of Karla Boos could have imagined and conjured.”
Eighteen months in the works, Looking for Violeta is fueled by the passions and cultural heritage of its team members. Chilean playwright María José Galleguillos worked with Boos and the Quantum team long-distance via Skype to create the script, her first theatre piece in Engiish.
Internationally and in Chile, Violeta Parra was an iconic artist and activist in the 1960s, a time where unrest fueled resistance against numerous totalitarian regimes. The nueva canción (new song) movement partnered the traditional music of the Iberian Peninsula with social activism.
Parra’s empathy for the causes of the oppressed in the mid-20th century was expressed through her art, with a voice and music born from the traditions of Chile’s indigenous Andean cultures, including the traditional dance and poetry of South America.
Boos explains that Parra’s entrée into visible circles in Europe and beyond Chile provided a bigger platform for her messages. The artist’s growing stature empowered her to shed light on the realities of the oppressed peoples of Latin America.
“Violeta felt that the music of the peasants in the field was very unknown and uncelebrated,” says Boos. “She elevated that music and succeeded in making 100% Chilean music that became the country’s popular music.”
For example, Parra’s “Gracias a la vita” (“Thanks to Life”) was covered by Joan Baez and many others.
During a “time of innocence that was less complicated,” says Boos, “Violeta cooked for everybody under her tent.”
Inside Quantum’s peña, the designers, actors, and musicians of Looking for Violeta capture the essence of an amazing woman.
As Violeta’s brother Nicanor, bass- baritone Eugene Perry takes the audience with him as he seeks his sister’s essence through a flashback. Nicanor, who lived well into this century, passing at age 103 in January 2018, was a poet considered of the stature of Pablo Neruda (who was also a friend).
Boos reminds us that Violeta was “‘fragile as a second,” only 49 years old when she took her own life in 1967. “Chileans felt Violeta was ripped away from them.”
“Her three children were sent into exile,” Boos says. Daughter Isabela was a successful singer who first recorded at age 13 with her mother. Son Ángel likewise fueled the nueva canción movement with his popular compositions and performances.
A stunning visual artist who was expert at embroidery, Parra crafted pieces in wool and fabric materials–intricate woven hangings called arpilleras–that were featured in a 1964 Louvre exhibit. Considered a traditional and distinctly feminine art form, arpilleras emerged under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Not only a source of income for the oppressed indigenious people, the pieces conveyed subversive messages against the authoritarian government.
“In the time of Pinochet,” says Boos, “arpilleras were used to communicate between imprisoned with their families.”
Scenic Designer Tucker Topel, Assistant Designer Sarah McPartland, and Fabric Art Consultant Brigitte Le Brigand have collaborated to represent Parra’s visual art work in materials including wood and burlap within the tent. Todd Brown (lights) and Steve Shapiro (sound), along with Marissa Miskanin (costumes) again bring their design know-how to another unique Quantum setting.
A short visit during a music recording session suggests that the lively Chilean sound and engaging vocals will stay with audience members long after the show. Ethnomusicologist Emily Pinkerton, well known as part of the folk duo The Early Mays, has focused for decades on Violeta Parra. Now her score weaves traditional and original melodies and featuring the iconic Guitarrón chileno, the large 25-string Chilean bass guitar.
In addition to Loyola-Garcia, Perry, Pinkerton, the performing ensemble of singer-actors also includes Kelsey Robinson, Jerreme Rodriguez, Raquel Winnica Young. Pinkerton leads a stellar band featuring guitarist Jon Bañuelos, bassist José Layo Puentes, percussionist Ryan Socrates, and Erik Lawrence, providing saxophone, flute, and Quena. The production’s music director is Daniel Nesta Curtis, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s of the Contemporary Ensemble.
Quantum’s tent with 150 seat capacity is next to the Lawn Bowling Greens in Frick Park (7300 Reynolds St.). Audience members are encouraged to picnic before performances during the August 2-25 run. Patrons can also arrive early or stay late to partake of Quantum’s menu of discussions and audience events.
Do note that Looking for Violeta curtain times vary due to other outdoor events in the park. Free street parking is available.
The Quantum season will next feature Shakespeare’s Will, featuring Pittsburgh-based Shelia McKenna as the playwright’s wife Anne Hathaway, Nov. 8-Dec. 1. Directed by Melanie Dreyer, Vern Theissen’s solo play is a poetic and moving script exploring Anne’s journey of love and loss.
The season finale is Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, drawing connections from 20th century China to current US-China relations through the lens of one photographer’s experience. Quantum designer Susan Tsu is scenographer, charged with creating yet another captivating world for a riveting audience experience, June 5-28, 2020.
Of Chimerica, Boos says, “We are going to go to town in production and its relevance.”
The season snapshot for each of the three productions appears online.
For tickets and season subscriptions, calling 412-362-1713 or visit www.quantumtheatre.com.
Photography Credit: Heather Mull (Processed by BOOM Creative)
Yvonne Hudson, a Pittsburgh-based writer, publicist, actor, and singer, joined PITR as a writer and adviser in February 2016. She began performing and writing during high school in Indiana, PA. The Point Park journalism grad credits her Globe editor for first assigning her to review a play. Yvonne is grateful to Dr. Attilio Favorini for master’s studies at Pitt Theatre Arts, work at Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, and believing in her Shakespearean journey. When not working with nonprofits, this lifelong chorister sings with Calvary UM Church’s annual Messiah choir. Having played Juliet’s Nurse for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, Yvonne is now seen in her solo shows, Mrs Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson: The Poet Lights the Lamp. Goals: See all of Shakespeare’s plays in production and memorize more Sonnets. Fave quotes: “Good deed in a naughty world,” “Attention must be paid,” and “A handbag?” Twitter @msshakespeare Facebook: PoetsCornerPittsburgh LinkedIn