Behind the Scenes with Olga Sanchez

Behind the Scenes with Olga Sanchez

Behind the Scenes with Olga Sanchez
Olga Sanchez

As the Miracle Theatre Group gears up for our annual Posada Milagro celebration of Christmas, we thought we would take this opportunity to talk to our Olga Sanchez about theatre, culture, her role as one of Miracle’s two Artistic Directors, and this year’s pastorela! Although some of you might know that Miss Sanchez has been working at the Miracle since she moved to the Portland area from Seattle eight years ago, many of you might not know that playing a cat in her school play in second grade was what got her hooked on theatre. Originally from New York, born in Queens raised in Staten Island, Miss Olga, whose parents are both originally from Bogotá, Colombia, has traveled the world and found theatre to be where she feels most at home. As she modestly puts it in her own words “Some people make shoes, I make theatre.” Here is Miss Olga’s exclusive interview for the Miracle Insider.

Susy: When did you discover the theatre and how has your heritage and language influenced the work you do in theatre?

Olga with Artistic Associate
Daniel Jáquez 

Olga: I’ve loved theatre ever since I was in the 2nd grade when I was in my first play, The Country Store Cat, and I got to play the Cat.  My parents are both from Bogotá, Colombia, but they met in New York while my mom was on vacation.  They were introduced by their mutual friend, Olga Rivera, who asked my mom to deliver a book to her friend in NY.  Olga became my godmother.

Spanish was my first language, because my mother’s mother lived with us and she spoke little English, but I really only learned household Spanish.  At Hunter College, studying theatre, I was asked to perform a scene from Lorca’s La Casa de Bernarda Alba in both English and Spanish, and my visceral response to performing in Spanish was so strong I think it woke up something in me, a kind of dormant identity.  However, it took years for me to find a way to explore this further.  I spent time in Colorado, on Martha’s Vineyard, traveling through Europe and Israel, and anywhere that I’ve spent significant time opportunities to create theatre always appeared.

Olga is a spelunker!?

When did you move to the Pacific Northwest?
After graduating from school, my friends and I launched a theatre company downtown, the People’s Playhouse, where we produced new plays and classics. After a few years I decided to take a sabbatical from theatre and went to Seattle to visit my brother.  I thought I’d only be there for a few months, but it’s been 20 years now that I’ve been living in the Northwest.  To my surprise this has been the place where I’ve been able to best explore my cultural identity through the art I love best.  I consider myself very blessed to be able to pursue both investigations at Miracle.

What do you do at Miracle?  

Being an Artistic Director is a somewhat circular job that moves forward.  I select plays for the season, aiming to create balance among the works we produce: new, classic, original, bilingual, in Spanish or English.  I meet theatre artists throughout the year and when the time comes I hire artists based on their aesthetic inclinations and skills, building teams that create productions together.

With the cast of ¡Viva la Revolución!
our 2011 celebration of
Día de los Muertos

As the productions develop, I keep in touch with the process, visiting roduction meetings and rehearsals to see how I can be of help, serving as an outside eye and offering feedback to the directors. And when the shows are running, I learn from our audiences’ and artists’ responses to make decisions for the next season, about the work we choose to do, and how we choose to do it.  I direct two of the shows each year, though in some seasons, like this one, I get to act again!

At Miracle, I’ve also had the opportunity to develop new educational and community programs throughout the year, such as our upcoming Posada Milagro, I write grants, edit the study guides, participate in strategic planning for the company’s future, and other stuff …

Olga Sanchez at the 2011
Premios Expresion Latina

What do you think led you to this type of work? 
I’ve always loved theatre, and after some soul-searching early on I decided that I needed to work in theatre that was of benefit to the community.  Luckily I soon figured out that pretty much all theatre is of benefit to society!  When I moved to the Northwest, my relationship to theatre changed.  I had thought it was my identity, but I realized that it was simply my craft, the way in which I participate in “the village”.  Some people make shoes, I make theatre. If I can’t make theatre, I suppose I can do something else, but I really like theatre-making!  Interestingly, this coincided with being identified as a Latina, which created a focus for my work.

I found myself becoming something of an arts activist within the Seattle Latino community, finding ways to engage non-artists in creative activities and helping to create more opportunities for artists to share their work.  This work eventually introduced me to José and Dañel, Miracle’s founders.  They invited me to join them eight years ago and two big rivers of my life, the theatre and my Latinidad, began to flow together.

What do you enjoy most about your work?  
Tough one!  On a day-to-day basis, it’s the people I get to work with. It’s true, we have a fun office, but everyone is also very smart, talented and committed to excellence with open hearts.  I also love being in the rehearsal room, in the creative process.  I get to work with remarkable, inspiring artists.  At Miracle I learn new things about art, life, business, community, on a daily basis.

The “Pastorela Guadalupana” from
our 2010 Posada Milagro

You are getting ready for Posada Milagro, can you tell us a little about this year’s “pastorela”?  

“La Pastorela Angelica” is about the Archangel who delivers the news to the shepherds that the baby Jesus is born!  But this year, as everyone is preparing for a new Noche Buena, our Archangel has decided that she’s just not that into it.  She’s too tired from staying up late playing video games, which were introduced to her by the Diablito!

In the pastorela tradition, good people (or in this case, the angel) are led astray by the Diablito, who would like nothing better than to derail Christmas joy.  In our tale, not only the archangel, but the shepherds and the star are also introduced to devilish distractions.  It’s up to the children in our audience to rescue Navidad!  Luckily, the children will be armed with maracas they’ll have made at the arts and crafts tables in the Zócalo …

Each year, our Posada Milagro is
capped off with the breaking of
the piñata

What do like most about Posada Milagro? What do you find most challenging about Posada Milagro? 
I love that it’s a community event created by the generosity of dozens of volunteers.  I love the team of high school and college students who join us to teach the arts and crafts to the younger children.  I love the music and dance shared by our artists who are committed to tradition and excellence, knowing that this is one of the few places in town to experience the warmth of a Posada.  Probably most challenging is coordinating our organizers schedule during the holiday season!

Anything you might want to add about this year’s Posada Milagro? 
I must thank our sponsors who make the Posada Milagro possible:  El Centinela newspaper, OnPoint Community Credit Union and the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition.

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For more information about Posada Milagro, which is free and mostly in Spanish, visit our website.