A conversation with the director of the Spanish-language production
La Segua by Alberto Cañas Escalante
As Milagro’s Producing Creative Director, you are certainly no stranger here. What drew you to working at a Latino centered theatre?
This is a loaded question. I had been working in the Seattle area for many years, though my focus had been mostly in LGBTQ, women’s rights, and social justice theatre, and as many I also held a day-time job doing graphic design and marketing. Eventually, two things happened: I realized that my voice as a Latinx artist needed to be heard, and I decided I wanted to work full-time in theatre. Shortly after joining the Latinx Theatre Commons I heard about Milagro and this position and decided to apply. What drew me here, on top of it being a Latin-centered arts organization, was the wide diversity of work that is presented on the stage here. Milagro had been doing the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work long before it had a name.
Tell us a little bit about the background of this story and its importance both in Costa Rican culture and your own journey as an artist.
I have been infatuated with this play for decades, long before I moved to the USA. As a child, I remember hearing the stories of la Segua on the long drives to the small town my mother is from, my uncle scaring us kids to death as we hit a patch of fog on the road. At some point I heard about the play and the obsession began. The thing is, I had never seen it, only heard about it.
La Segua by Alberto Cañas Escalante is based on a true story of two women in Cartago in 1700s Costa Rica who were convicted of witchcraft for driving mad the husband of a local woman. From there, Cañas weaved the tale of la Segua into the retelling of this story. Set in 1750, La Segua takes a hard look at Costa Rican values, including ambition, hypocrisy, and follows themes of machismo, vanity, and narcissism. It was presented as the closing show for a college theatre festival commemorating Central America’s 150th Anniversary of Independence and meant to showcase our country. However, due to its size, it wasn’t performed again until 2015.
Around 2009, when I started to produce theatre in Seattle, one of the goals was to bring La Segua in English to the stage. I have long wanted to take the musicals and plays that have influenced me back to Costa Rica, and I wanted to bring the plays that influenced me as a youth to the U.S. I got permission from Don Alberto, and was quite set and did the first translation. One of the reasons I started my company in 2011 was to get this production on its feet. Alas, after several false starts the project went dormant.
In 2015 I submitted the play as part of my application for the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. Not only did I get into the Lab, La Segua was selected as one of the eight plays we were going to work on for a week, working high caliber actors in New York (I even had a slight fan boy moment when I leaned who one of the actors was) in addition to collaborating with directors from across the world. My experience during the Lab with my fellow directors, actors, and mentors, reignited my desire to get the play produced.
How did La Segua come to be one of the MainStage shows for Season 35 here at Milagro?
Early on in my tenure at Milagro, I was in a meeting with José selling him on my translation of La Segua. He asked, point blank, why do it in English when we could do it in Spanish. It had never occurred to me that I would have that opportunity. To bring this play that means so much to me in its original language is very exciting. And so it was set as the Spanish-language show for Season 35, and since I already did the translation, the supertitles are taken care of.
How do you plan to create the world with over 20 named characters with only 8 actors?
This is one of the most challenging aspects, yet exciting and easily maneuvered. I am a fan of simplicity, of creating a world where the audience has to engage their imagination. The original production, and script, included many characters who appear once and are never seen again. Inspired by the work we did at the Lab, we are going to have eight actors on stage who will portray all the roles. I am already talking to the designers to find the easiest and most clear way to do this.
What excites you most about this project?
Telling a Costa Rican story! This is incredibly exciting to me, after 30 years in this country to finally be able to tell a story from the country where I grew up. I am also going back to my roots — in Costa Rica I was more involved in dance than in theatre, and I’m adding several choreographed segments to the play.
La Segua | Spanish-language production
February 7 – March 2, 2019
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