About Lakin Valdez, the Director:
Today, the imparted familial philosophies regarding “artistic excellence” continue to inform Valdez’s approach to theater. For the past twenty years, Valdez has worked professionally as a performer, writer, and director. As Valdez developed as an artist, he gained insight into the many forms that comprise what he calls the “definitive aesthetic” of his current theater project, “Chicano Theatre.” In his independent work, Valdez seeks to promote these forms, both as a writer/director and a performer.
Valdez maintains that theater is a powerful tool used to change and not just recreate reality. With this idea in mind, Valdez developed a “Men-yah” consciousness, which he defines as a pre-Columbian concept signifying “to believe is to create.’” As Valdez describes it, “in order to believe in ourselves, we must create ourselves on all fronts: in life, on stage and as a people.”
El Teatro Campesino was founded in 1965 on the Delano picket lines of Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union. The company was at first created to serve the purpose of organizing farm workers in the fields. Soon, the company’s mission expanded to include the production of full-length plays, narrative films, and television shows specifically addressing the Chicano/Latino experience in the United States. By the late 1970’s, ETC became America’s prominent Chicano theater company, ushering in an era of Chicano/Latino theater that in turn defined the beginning of a national movement.
Valdez pulls from Native American as well as Central and South American traditions, but mostly from the performative rituals and ceremonies to inform the shamanism at play in Corrido Calavera. Rather than investigate the origins of the practice, Valdez is particularly interested in the work of Don Juan Matus, the Yaqui Indian shaman who inspired the works of Carlos Castaneda, specifically “A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” and “A Separate Reality.” Both are anthropological works, exploring the author’s apprenticeship with Don Juan. The latter book focuses mainly on Castaneda’s experiences with the shaman under the influence of psychotropic plants, including peyote, and Don Juan’s attempts to get the author to See, a practice that Castaneda describes as perceiving the direct flow of energy through the universe. Both works also identify death as the greatest teacher for the apprentice of a shaman, and as a power that can be experienced while a person is still alive. This technique is called “dream bridging,” and is a pivotal theme in Corrido Calavera. In consciously confronting death, one may be able to change their perception of reality. Or rather, to change their perception, they must confront the fear of death through guided spiritual travel.
Playwright Lakin Valdez highlights Miracle’s Dia de los Muertos festival
Playwright Lakin Valdez and a team of collaborators are currently bringing together Miracle’s latest dramatic production honoring el Día de los Muertos, with a new play called “Corrido Calavera.”
Portland audiences have had the opportunity to see Valdez in several staged readings at El Centro Milagro, including during the recent La Luna Nueva Festival, when Valdez presented “Mummified Deer,” a play written by his father, famed Teatro Campesino founder Luis Valdez, one of the forefathers of the Chicano theater movement.
Valdez was raised in the midst of a highly creative, politically-involved and trail-blazing theater family, immersed in the tradition of “carpas,” an itinerant mode of theatre influenced by circus arts, folk songs, traditional “corridos,” stories, and short skits.
“There is a living tradition of this itinerant theater mode, which began its popularity somewhere in the 30s, in California,” says Valdez, whose father was born in the 40s, when the art form was evolving into a definittive form of art for Chicanos-Americans.
Miracle’s “Corrido Calavera” is steeped in this tradition, as well as that of the Day of the Dead.
“This is an ofrenda [a votive offering] for Day of the Dead and is part of the Miracle Theatre’s annual cycle,” Valdez says, “a tradition that is unique because they create a play from nada, a play that not only celebrates the ancestors and departed relatives and friends, but a celebration of life in itself.”
He continues, “The name ‘Corrido Calavera’ was chosen for the specific purpose of telling the story of a troubled couple, Amanda and Manuel, who happen to pass away together in an accident, and have to face the realities of existing together in eternity in the afterlife.”
The play is divided into two acts and highlights Amanda and Manuel’s predicaments over a span of over two hours. The play incorporates a third character, a shaman, or “Nagual,” named Direskeleto Itzin who acts as a guide for the couple in finding balance with each other and their own selves.
“The idea is that the shaman is the guide for the couple, to help them find a pathway to reach the eternal light. The world of the dead of comprised of lost spirits — or souls. Many are not able to find the way to the light, because of their consciousness, their attachment to their body, and materialism,” Valdez says.
“Something I love about the Nagual,” he adds, “is the whole idea of developing a clean energy body that surrounds us, in the shape of a sphere. Each of us has one, and this is the only thing that remains after passing away. For generations, people have said that if life is a dream; then to die is to be all awake. This type of rebirth into the light enfolds in the play.”
The first preview of “Corrido Calavera” is slated for Oct. 11, with an opening night the on Oct 18. The run also includes educational performances for schools before closing at El Centro Milagro on Nov. 10. In addition to the premiere of “Corrido Calavera, Miracle Theatre will honor the Day of the Day with and an open display of altars by community artists and members remembering the departed at the theater’s lobby. For more information, contact The Miracle Theatre at www.milagro.org or 503-236-7253.
ABOUT THE DAY OF THE DEAD HOLIDAY
This is an ancient festivity that has been much transformed through the years, but which was intended in pre-Hispanic Mexico to celebrate children and the dead. Hence, the best way to describe this Mexican holiday is to say that it is a time when Mexican families remember their dead, and the continuity of life.
Two important things to know about the Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de los muertos) are: It is a holiday with a complex history, and therefore its observance varies quite a bit by region and by degree of urbanization. It is not a morbid occasion, but rather a festive time.
The original celebration can be traced to many Mesoamerican native traditions, such as the festivities held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli, ritually presided by the “Lady of the Dead" (Mictecacihuatl), and dedicated to children and the dead. In the Aztec calendar, this ritual fell roughly at the end of the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August, but in the post-conquest era it was moved by Spanish priests so that it coincided with the Christian holiday of All Saints Day (in Spanish: "Día de Todos Santos.") This was a vain effort to transform the observance from a profane to a Christian celebration. The result is that Mexicans now celebrate the day of the dead during the first two days of November, rather than at the beginning of summer. But remember the dead they still do, and the modern festivity is characterized by the traditional Mexican blend of ancient aboriginal and introduced Christian features.
Generalizing broadly, the holiday's activities consist of families (1) welcoming their dead back into their homes, and (2) visiting the graves of their close kin. At the cemetery, family members engage in sprucing up the gravesite, decorating it with flowers, setting out and enjoying a picnic, and interacting socially with other family and community members who gather there. In both cases, celebrants believe that the souls of the dead return and are all around them. Families remember the departed by telling stories about them. The meals prepared for these picnics are sumptuous, usually featuring meat dishes in spicy sauces, chocolate beverages, cookies, sugary confections in a variety of animal or skull shapes, and a special egg-batter bread ("pan de muerto," or bread of the dead). Gravesites and family altars are profusely decorated with flowers (primarily large, bright flowers such as marigolds and chrysanthemums), and adorned with religious amulets and with offerings of food, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. Because of this warm social environment, the colorful setting, and the abundance of food, drink and good company, this commemoration of the dead has pleasant overtones for the observers, in spite of the open fatalism exhibited by all participants, whose festive interaction with both the living and the dead in an important social ritual is a way of recognizing the cycle of life and death that is human existence.
In homes, observant families create an altar and decorate it with items that they believe are beautiful and attractive to the souls of their departed ones. Such items include offerings of flowers and food, but also things that will remind the living of the departed (such as their photographs, a diploma, or an article of clothing), and the things that the dead prized and enjoyed while they lived. This is done to entice the dead and assure that their souls actually return to take part in the remembrance.
In very traditional settings, typically found only in native communities, the path from the street to the altar is actually strewn with petals to guide the returning soul to its altar and the bosom of the family. The traditional observance calls for departed children to be remembered during the first day of the festivity (the Day of the Little Angels, El día de los Angelitos), and for adults to be remembered on the second day. Traditionally, this is accompanied by a feast during the early morning hours of November the 2nd, the Day of the Dead proper, though modern urban Mexican families usually observe the Day of the Dead with only a special family supper featuring the bread of the dead. In southern Mexico, for example in the city of Puebla, it is good luck to be the one who bites into the plastic toy skeleton hidden by the baker in each rounded loaf. Friends and family members give one another gifts consisting of sugar skeletons or other items with a death motif, and the gift is more prized if the skull or skeleton is embossed with one's own name.
Another variation found in the state of Oaxaca is for the bread to be molded into the shape of a body or burial wrap, and for a face to be embedded on one end of the loaf. During the days leading up to and following the festivity, some bakeries in heavily aboriginal communities cease producing the wide range of breads that they typically sell so that they can focus on satisfying the demand for bread of the dead.
The Day of the Dead can range from being a very important cultural event, with defined social and economic responsibilities for participants (exhibiting the socially equalizing behavior that social anthropologists would call redistributive feasting, e.g. on the island of Janitzio in Michoacan state), to being a religious observance featuring actual worship of the dead (e.g., as in Cuilapan, Oaxaca, an ancient capital of the Zapotec people, who venerated their ancestors and whose descendants do so to this day, an example of many traditional practices that Spanish priests pretend not to notice), to simply being a uniquely Mexican holiday characterized by special foods and confections (the case in all large Mexican cities.) In general, the more urban the setting within Mexico the less religious and cultural importance is retained by observants, while the more rural and Indian the locality the greater the religious and economic import of the holiday. Because of this, this observance is usually of greater social importance in southern Mexico than in the northern part of the country.
October 17 to November 10, 2013
Day of the Dead Altar Exhibit
Miracle Theatre Group is pleased to display an exhibit of ofrendas (altars) created by local Latino artists in celebration of Día de los muertos (Day of the Dead). The exhibit, curated by Pepe Moscoso of FusionArte and sponsored by the Consulate of Mexico in Portland, is free and open to the public.
Miracle Theatre Group 425 SE 6th Avenue Portland, Oregon 97214 503-236-7253
Miracle Theatre Group