Shawn C. Harris, the writer and producer of Encanta, shares her thoughts on why it matters that Encanta is a romantic fantasy about a pirate and a sorceress falling in love.
On opening night this Wednesday, Encanta played to a full house! The show was sold out, and there was standing room only! Everyone there had a lot of fun. If you didn't get a chance to go, here are some pics from the dress rehearsal the day before the show.
Rico (Carlos Angulo) and Juan (Mark Guardamino) prepare for a nice, relaxing day at the beach. Too bad it won't last more than 3 minutes.
Look what you did! Penzima (Teresa Yslas) sweet-talks Katrina (Jenisse Pierluissi) at her occult boutique.
Oooooh! Penzima (Teresa Yslas) puts the moves on the powerful sorceress Katrina (Jenisse Pierluissi).
Ugh! Couldn't this wait until morning? Maria (Samantha Samant) tries to motivate a hungover Penzima (Teresa Yslas) to help her friends.
The Mob Leader (Leana Guzman) warns us about the dangers of witchcraft and devil worship.
Penzima to the rescue! Penzima (Teresa Yslas) faces off against the Mob Leader (Leana Guzman) to save her friends Juan (Mark Guardamino) and Rico (Carlos Angulo).
"Whatcha got there, Kitty Kat?" Penzima (Teresa Yslas) tries to talk Katrina (Jenisse Pierluissi) out of a dangerous situation.
Remember J., who made these crochet mermaid dolls based on Penzima and Katrina? She's made 6 more dolls--each one based on a character from Encanta.
They went to dinner after Wednesday's show and took this picture. Can you guess which doll is which character?
And here they are sharing "quality time" on the bed.
Left to right: Maria, Rico, Juan, Katrina, Penzima, and the Mob Leader.
We had to keep Maria to the side because she would "mysteriously" fall off the shelf or out of the bag when she was placed next to Katrina.
Even in doll form, Katrina can't stand Maria.
What made you want to be part of Encanta?
When I read the description of the play I thought, “Well, it’s a little weird but what the hell.” Originally I was walking in for the role of Maria, which wasn’t something that really moved me but when I saw the sides for Penzima, I knew we were meant to be. The day before, I had a terrible commercial audition. I knew my lines, I gussied up, I did everything you’re supposed to do but the director said to me, “How tall are you?” - 5’9” – “Oh, too bad. Our guy is 5’7”" I couldn’t believe I lost my chance at the job because I was 5” too tall. Frankly, I was looking forward to taking out my anger and frustration with the Penzima audition and it was FUN! When I met Asia, I thought, “yay! A tall woman!” And I really loved how easy going she and Shawn were. They made even the audition room feel like a safe, creative environment, which is good fortune for any actor. The deal was sealed at the table read when I met everyone else <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
What is it like to work with characters who are all LGBT and Latinx?
This isn’t my first time playing a lesbian but it is my first time playing a pirate, a hero, and a Latina. Believe it or not, and though I’m a mutt, I identify with and am very proud of my Latin heritage. I rarely get a chance to show it off because I don’t speak Spanish very well and I am very guera; therefore, I am often excluded from Latinx social situations. Latinxs are a whole spectrum of looks. I don’t have to explain my skin color to be an active or accepted part of this conversation and it feels good.
My theatre friends and I are always complaining about how there aren’t many delicious roles for people of color. When there is opportunity for actors of color and when there is opportunity for Hollywood, etc. to branch out from its traditional casting scheme it will go towards its safe choices or even worse – “blackface”. I’m not just talking about Black roles when I say “blackface." I’m just unsure if there is a term for physically forming actors of one ethnicity to look like another. It happens all the time: Native American, Hawaiian, Asian, etc. And not in a, "You look like you could be…” kind of manner. This phenomenon I see mostly on television or in movies. It’s taking away work from many very talented actors.
Stories featuring LGBT characters are coming up in popularity with regard to film, television, and theatre, which is really exciting particularly with the recent passing of SCOTUS federally granting gay marriage rights. What is notable is that everyone in the cast (director and writer included) either identifies with or is an ally of the LGBT community. The characters in this piece do not identify with traditional gender roles, either. We all are of equal humanity; we are equally strong and fallible. Being apart of this piece, where everyone is Latinx and LGBT is, in a social sense, rebellious in some way. And if there’s one thing about me that people should or do know is that I am all about rebellion.
Do you have any insights about the story or character?
As actors in this piece, we get to play people with characteristics that we wouldn’t normally be cast for. Like I said before, this is my first time playing a pirate and a hero. Looking for inspiration, having read the script, and getting to know Shawn – I noticed several references to The Princess Bride (which is a movie I love!) just sitting there waiting to be picked up. I knew from that instance that on some level I had to live up to the energy of Inigo Montoya and Wesley. I tried to stay away from popular pirates like Jack Sparrow but on some level you can’t help but be influenced on some level by them. But each of the characters isn’t so individual; in fact, I think we all kind of defined each other in a way. You learn so much about yourself when you learn to think like your character and react in some way to everyone around you. It’s all a collaboration.
Anything to say about the team?
My favorite thing about us is that we quickly grew into the dysfunctional loving family that is Encanta – in fact, this is what theatre is all about. I live for being stuck in a rehearsal room hours out of every day with these people. I love that our job is playing games and making relationships and telling stories. I love that Carlos brings cake to rehearsal everyday. I love that we rehearse barefoot. Finally, I love that we play really theatrey theatre games in between cake and work. Shout out to Famoosa!
Share a little bit about yourself.
I'm Asia Gagnon and I am the Director for Encanta - or as I like to refer to it - The Great Mystical Latina Lesbian Love Story of Our Generation.
I received my BFA in Directing at Carnegie Mellon in 2013 and have been living in New York City for about two years now. In my junior year of college two very important things happened to shape my work. One, I moved in with a classmate who had recently returned from working with Bread And Puppet. He turned our entire apartment into a clay-covered studio that mass produced paper mache masks and turned our entire circle of friends into a strange little company called In The Basement Theatre.
Second, I spent a semester "abroad" in New York City interning for Mabou Mines in the East Villiage. It was Mabou that taught me all that I know and love of "poor" and experimental theatre. I can't even begin to describe all that I gained in my time with Mabou. I could go on forever. You would be reading this for the next two weeks.
What made you want to be a part of Encanta?
I've always been drawn to unconventional work. I've never wanted to work on kitchen sink theatre - you know - those plays about a family or household and their complicated personal lives/relationships. I find that kind of stuff really tedious.
So when I read on playbill that Crossroads needed a Director for a play about a Latina lesbian pirate, it really appealed to me. How could that not be interesting? There was also a note about creating rich environments with a very small budget, so I was attracted to the project as an opportunity to use some "poor" theatre magic.
This has turned out to be one of the greatest challenges working on Encanta, and I use the word "great" because it's both significant and amazing. I really think limitation is like miracle-grow for creativity. I love that I get to work on a sex scene that contains an earthquake and a fire--all in the span of two minutes. It's that kind of seemingly impossible puzzle that tends to yield really fun results.
What was it like to work with characters who are all LGBT and Latinx?
Well if you take one look at me you'll probably notice I'm not Latina. That said, I have so much respect for Shawn (the writer) for creating material that gives Latina actors an opportunity to play characters that are actually Latina. I'm not a big fan of color-blind casting, and I know how that sounds, so allow me to explain.
I think when we shove minorities into roles that aren't written for them we are saying we are content with the way things are. We are saying we would like to stick with the predominately white stories we are used to and we leave no room for the new and the different. For example: I don't want to see a Korean actress playing a European role in the billionth production of As You Like It. I want to see a new play that is centered around Korean characters and employs actors and actresses that can connect to the roles and enrich the story.
And if you're thinking, "Well, logic follows then that you support the director also being culturally involved in the story, so why are YOU directing a Latina play when you aren't Latina?" The answer is: I don't know! I really liked the project, I applied, and was chosen by some great miracle to do it!
Do you have any insights about the story or characters?
None that I can take credit for. I have some wicked smart actors. I just ask them questions and they come up with the insight. Shawn also did a great job of making the story clear so I can't say I uncovered anything particularly profound.
Do you have anything to say about the cast, writer, etc.?
Carlos (Rico): My grandmother (who was visiting me when we held auditions and chose to sit out in the hall and greet the actors) will tell you he's the one she chose for the play. She will tell you she chose him because of his warm personality and great shoes. That’s just Carlos. He stands out because not only does he greet the world with a smile and a come-at-me attitude, but he also looks damn good doing it. Carlos also has a gift for coming up with something new that he can make funny every rehearsal. He can be in a corner and do something so small I don’t notice it the first ten times we run the scene and then when I happen to look at him, I burst out laughing.
Teresa (Penzima): Teresa auditioned in full costume with props and prefaced the reading with “ Penzima’s my girl”. I don’t think either Shawn or I originally imagined the character to be anything like Teresa, but after we saw her, that was it. Teresa made this role her own; she owns it. What is best about working with Teresa is she’s absolutely fearless. She will try anything no matter how big or loud or weird; you know, kind of like a pirate. She’s also the chillest person ever, which is saying a lot in theatre.
Jenisse (Katrina): Jenisse came and saved us. We had hired another actress for the role that dropped out so we had to schedule a separate audition for Katrina. I was particularly worried because we needed to find someone in one day. Jenisse started to read and it was like a deus ex machina moment. The day was saved; she was PERFECT. She brings so much sass and charisma to the role and is such a strong actor. Did I mention she has a degree in business? Yeah. I have no idea what weird corner of heaven Jenisse fell from.
Leana (Mob Leader): You take one look at Leana and you think “That girl has her shit together”. For starters she looks like she’s a mannequin come to life from some store selling professional (sexy) attire marketed for young women who want to run the world. She also has a certain flair to her that lets you know she does things her own way. My favorite thing about Leana is that as put-together as she is, she isn’t afraid to get a little crazy and try something wild. The role of the Mob Leader was actually only written to have lines in one small section, but we let Leana play with opening each scene and she took it to such a fantastic extreme.
Sam (Maria): Samantha is the youngest cast member and we kind of treat her like the little sister of the group. We give her a lot of grief over her age, but she’s never fazed. Sam walks into the rehearsal room everyday eager and ready to work. She never brings drama. In fact, I’ve never seen her in a bad mood. She is always completely present and excited to try new things. What’s particularly great about Sam is that she has no problem being told that something she tried doesn’t work. She won’t take offense or feel bad, she will just take the note move on and keep trying new stuff.
Mark (Juan): When I first met Mark he came across as super shy, but that’s not Mark at all. It’s funny; he’s similar to his character in that way. A passerby would think he was pretty quiet but if you get to know him, he’s anything but. He’s also brilliant when it comes to working with props. He came onstage one day with a backpack and the way he interacted with it was so perfect for the character; it added so much comedy and color. He also MacGyver-ed a fishing pole out of a broomstick, clear plastic wire, and a key. Mark just has this ability to pick up seemingly unimportant things and turn them into magic.
Shawn ( The Writer): Shawn is the mother of this whole project. It was really her idea and her vision and she has put in countless hours of hard work for the production. I can’t say enough about how amazing it is that she is contributing to diversity in theatre, and the play really speaks for itself. On a personal note she is also a very strong person, she doesn’t take shit from anyone. It’s always great to have someone like that on your team.
Yes, we do have video! Check out these clips of Encanta in rehearsal.
Juan (Mark Guardamino) and Rico (Carlos Angulo) were just about to drink some rum, hit a blunt, and enjoy a nice, relaxing day at the beach. But they reel in Penzima (Teresa Yslas) instead. Bummer.
The Mob Leader (Leana Guzman) is working tirelessly to save the souls of the townsfolk who insist upon going to the sinful masquerade party where there is a WITCH! (Jenisse Pierluissi). But do they listen? Nooooo.
Encanta premieres at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre's Premiere Play Development Program on August 26 at 6:30pm and Augut 28 at 6:30pm.
For more updates and behind-the-scenes looks at Encanta, follow Crossroads Theatre Project on Twitter and "Like" the Crossroads Theatre Project Facebook Page.
1. The first and most important thing: Thank you.
Thank you for supporting our production of this play. We're happy that you are excited about this limited engagement of the world premiere of Encanta. We wouldn't be doing this if nobody wanted to see it, so thank you for learning about Encanta and sharing it with the people you know.
When you come see Encanta, we want you to enjoy yourself and enjoy the play, so here are few pointers to help you get the most out of the performance
2. Encanta is deliberately theatrical.
We don't hide the fact that the play is a play. We're not trying to convince you to accept what's happening in front of you as real in the same way your life outside this theater is real.
When you leave here, you're not going to worry about pissing off a sorceress who can set you on fire with her mind.
Since you already know it's not real, why not embrace it and see what it allows?
Encanta fits firmly within the tradition of poor theatre, a term coined by Jerzy Grotowsi to describe theatre stripped to it essentials—actors sharing space with an audience. But theatre without elaborate sets and costumes goes back centuries.
3. Encanta requires you to use your imagination.
We're a small production. We don't have millions of dollars to spend on making top-notch special effects. We can't imitate big-budget blockbusters, so we had to do something else.
That something else was inviting you to actively use your imagination to picture what's happening around the characters. We don't bother with a bunch of bells and whistles to try to fool you into believing it's all real. Instead, we give you the suggestion of a location or event and let your mind play with the rest.
It's more fun that way, anyway.
4. Encanta is larger than life.
Even though Encanta takes place in a setting that's unique for fantasy and romance, the story and characters are the heart of the play.
The people presented in the play are larger than life. These are not everyday people in everyday situations. Each one of them is either extraordinary in some way or thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Their words and actions reflect this. The characters have grand passions, and they express themselves in extremes of language and behavior.
It's not, “I met someone nice.” It's, “Oh my God! I met the most phenomenal woman ever, and she's definitely my soul mate!”
It's not, “My neighbor has a weird lifestyle, and I'm a bit uneasy about that.” It's, “My neighbor is a witch casting spells, and we need to destroy her!”
Because all the characters are so intense, when the quiet moments come, you know they mean something.
5. Encanta is meant to be fun.
If there's a silly part, go ahead and laugh. If there's a cute part, go, “Awww.” If you're having a good time, we want to know. Don't feel like you have to be “proper.” It's called a play, not a “serious.”
What made you want to be part of Encanta?
I wanted to be a part of this production because I love new and experimental things. It gives a lot of room for playing with the characters' personalities. It's also crazy to think these are new characters no one has ever played before. So, its a very humbling and interesting experience
Could you share some insights about Maria or the play?
Well they're just people, so it's nothing too odd. They have lives. They eat, sleep, drink and do daily life activities. But its cool I guess.
I have one idea about my character Maria. She's smart and brave when she wants to be, but she doesn't like to show it. Because she may not want to stand out due to the fact that people who act or are different like Katrina get punished in a way. Being a person who wants to fit in, she doesn't want to show that side of herself.
Do you have anything to share about the cast?
I personally love this cast because there's no competition and such. They're all great people and sweet ones as well! I want to work with them again!
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/samantha.tara.samant.
Share a little bit about your background.
I graduated with a B.F.A in Musical Theatre from Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina (and originally a Carolina native, “Hey ya’ll!”) where I was cast in a variety of plays such as Side by Side by Sondheim the Musical, Legally Blonde: The Musical, The Crucible and The Life of Galileo which went on to compete in the 2013 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). Shortly after graduating I served as the Drama Instructor for Angelia’s Performing Arts Studio in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, where I directed a junior production of The Wizard of Oz with and managed to pick up side gigs doing extra work for TV shows such as Banshee, Homeland, and Under The Dome. Moving forward I decided to continue pursuing acting opportunities by moving to New York in 2014. Prior to Encanta you may have seen me at The Heights Players Theatre in Brooklyn for their production of How to Howl, which was picked up by the Unfringed Festival at The Secret Theatre, and will also have a showcase this August.
What made you want to be part of Encanta?
When I first read the play summary for Encanta I got so excited because I was immediately drawn to the idea of an all-Latino cast--a rarity! I also loved the fact that it was an original work, never-before-seen, so as an experimental piece I was ultimately seeking an opportunity where I could play with a brand new character that no one had ever heard of and bring it to life in this exotic world. The challenge there is just acting from both extremes to see what works; doing what feels natural and then taking it in an entirely crazy, extreme direction. I also have to commend the cast for being my best critics and helping me develop new ideas during the rehearsal process.
What's it like being part of a production where everyone is LGBT and of Latin descent?
This is the first play I’ve ever been a part of where it was actually a requirement to be Latina! We had fun bonding over Latin music and slang terms no one else would know but us because we are Spanish speakers. I think that was pretty cool and I also enjoyed the fact that although our story was so unique so we put our own Latino spin on it and approached it with a fiery, Caribbean, Latin feel! It was definitely a new and refreshing experience. I honestly couldn’t be more proud and encouraged to promote more minorities in plays and LGBT awareness, especially given the political controversy.
What are some interesting ideas or insights you have about the character or the play?
My character is so conservative, which I am absolutely not! She may seem very one-sided but what the audience doesn’t know is that I improvised most of my lines. With the exception of the ending, nothing for the Mob Leader was scripted. I’m also not just one person fighting against the odds here. The leader really represents a cult of people, the audience, YOU! So I bring you into this fantasy world to make you feel like you are not just seeing it, but actively part of it, as if this could really happen in our world.
Do you have a few words to share about the Encanta team?
I won’t nit-pick. I think the entire cast, including Asia, our director, and our amazing playwright, Shawn, made this such an awesome, easy-going, collaborative, and positive acting experience for me. I can’t thank them all enough for their insights, and acceptance.
Asia, you really are a gifted director. Thank you for your feedback and relatable life experiences to give me the imagery for my scenes.
Shawn, thank you for making me feel comfortable enough to play around with words for the Mob Leader and for this amazingly beautiful love story, even if I’m not the one with the happy ever after!
Lastly-to the crew…can we do another show together and have cake before rehearsal every day? LOL. Love u guys!
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/leana.guzman.35