Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Director Karla Boos Discusses Quantum Theatre's World Premiere Production of "Looking for Violeta"

Pittsburgh's Quantum Theatre is no stranger to world premieres. It's already staged more than 20 of them at various locations and venues in the greater Pittsburgh area, a unique practice by a company with no permanent performance space.

Beginning on August 2 and running through August 25, a new play, now getting its theatrical debut, explores the life of Chilean folklorist, visual artist, songwriter and activist, Violeta Parra. To present the work, Quantum chose an outdoor space near the Lawn Bowling Club Greens in Frick Park. Performed with ten actors and five musicians, the work unfolds in a copious tent surrounded on two sides by sets of risers much like you find at high school football games. They hold about 150 patrons which gives everyone in the audience an intimate connection to the proceedings.

Quantum's artistic director, Karla Boos, directs the production, described as an investigation into the life and art of Violeta Parra. Below she answers some questions about the work that opens Quantum's  29th season.

Q: Karla, in the show's program booklet, you mention that the idea for the play came about during a January 2017 visit to Santiago, Chile with friend and long time collaborator, Carolina Loyola-Garcia while attending a theater festival. As Loyola-Garcia's sister, Gloria, was driving you around town playing Parra's  music on the radio, she had a flash of inspiration and suggested a collaborative creation of a work devoted to Parra. Had you heard of the Chilean songstress before your visit to Chile and what was your immediate reaction to Gloria's suggestion? Did you hesitate and what were some of the considerations that you explored before committing to the work?

A: I had heard her famous song Gracias a la Vida, but didn’t know who Violeta was! Immediate reaction was YES – I’m always looking for a next thing to do with Carolina and I loved what I was hearing.

Q: As part of her life's work, Parra explored the folk songs and poetry of the Chilean peasantry and invited the disenfranchised poor  into her tent or pena for evenings of cultural enrichment. Your choice of a tent in which to stage your play makes greats sense, but why Frick Park as the venue? Were there other venues you considered? And what measures have been taken to deal with weather conditions such as rain and wind and possibly cool temperatures?

A: Quantum has a relationship with Citiparks stretching back 15 years. I relied on their input about places where a tent would work installed for a long time, also needing a power source. I don’t think it could be better situated, we love it in Frick, a very well-used spot! Violeta would have approved.

Q: What was the timeline of the play between conception to selecting the playwright, composer, music director to the actors, rehearsals, etc.?

A: About a 2-year process.

Q: The choice of Emily Pinkerton as composer makes sense. She an ethnomusicologist familiar with traditional Chilean music. (Her incorporation of the 25 string, Chilean bass guitar, the aptly named GuitarrĂ³n chileno, and the quena, an Andean flute, adds color, flavor and interest to the compositions). But how did you come about choosing Maria-Jose Galleguillos as playwright? And, I'm curious. Who did the arrangements - Pinkerton or music director, Daniel Nesta Curtis?

A: Emily Pinkerton made the arrangements, with Daniel contributing (and contributing mightily in rehearsal as we adjusted things). Both fantastic musicians! Carolina went to school with Maria Jose, she believed her friend from long ago to be right from the beginning and absolutely that was so.

Q: What were some of the challenges and obstacles you encountered as director? Because all ten actors remain on or around the stage during most of the 80-minute performance, did you give them any suggestions about how to handle down time when they were "off-stage." As a viewer, I liked to watch their facial expressions as they stood around as bystanders listening to the play along with the audience.

A: It was very challenging, mixing elements which were great in and of themselves but which don’t usually work in combination, but that’s a thing I like to do. I think the whole company easily got that they were storytellers, meant to transform to tell this story, and it wasn’t hard to be onstage most or all of the time as that aspect of the performance never stopped.

Carolina Loyola Garcia as Violeta Parra Credit: Heather Mull

Q: What were some of the technical challenges putting on  a play in a tent in a park in the middle of a residential area? 

A: After being considerate that it is a well-used space, between lawn bowling, dog walking, etc., really none. We’re not noisy, quite acoustic in our sound... people seemed to love to listen to us throughout the rehearsal process. We made many friends!

Q: What are the chances that "Violeta" may move on to other venues around the country and the world? Were there any critics from beyond the Pittsburgh area who reviewed the play? Were there any theater administrators from out of town who saw the play or are scheduled to see it during the run? Is Quantum doing anything to encourage other companies to stage the work elsewhere? And, finally, is there any chance the work might play in Chile?

A: We are interested in seeing if it might perform somewhere else. We have a writer coming from the Guardian actually tomorrow night! [August 14] Not sure if Chile would be the place that would most want it, I think Spanish speaking countries besides Chile might be the best bet, those who have some knowledge of Violeta but without the benefit of her being their own national heroine.

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