‘Zoot Suit’ and Spirits to Boot
Student director brings scenes to life
For AnaSofia Villanueva, researching a scene from José Rivera’s play “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” inspired interesting connections. The play’s rhythmic language and reoccurring Puerto Rican elements, for example, encouraged her to study the movement of the moon — and compare it to a lively rumba. Such connections are crucial to her work as a stage director.
Villanueva is a 30-year-old theater arts major in the University of Idaho College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. A senior from Portland, Oregon, she recently directed a scene from Rivera’s play as part of the Society of Stage Directors Directing Initiative. The event is a regional competition put on by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF), a national theater program. Villanueva’s stage production won in her region, making her a national finalist in the competition. As a result, she earned a trip to Washington, D.C., for the KCACTF National Festival in mid-April 2016. She says she’s incredibly pleased to continue her work on producing Rivera’s play.
“‘References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot’ is by far my dream production,” Villanueva says. “It’s got beauty and dance and spirits, but it also has this wonderful juxtaposition of life’s stark realism, stark brutality. It’s such an incredible message.”
The play incorporates a Latino style of storytelling to tell the tale of a soldier’s wife in 1990s California. Its diverse set of characters, all played by UI Theatre Arts students, includes a cat and a coyote who court one another, and the moon itself.
In order to prepare for the scene, Villanueva used the script to create a timeline. With it, she follows the lives of the characters while collecting context clues that establish the historical, political, economic and religious dimensions of the play.
“This is a process that often starts six months before rehearsal because it’s incredibly research-based,” she says. “Some of the best learning I’ve done, especially in terms of history, starts with a single play.”
Villanueva’s research covered a range of intriguing topics. One path found her studying the economy of Puerto Rico from the 1970s through the 1990s, while another lead her back to one of her biggest sources of inspiration: the 1981 film “Zoot Suit.”
“The spirit in the film, El Pachuco, was masculine but graceful,” she says. “That was part of the inspiration for the essence and movement of the moon.”
Villanueva’s dedication to research has presented her with many opportunities. The KCACTF National Festival in particular offers master classes, connections and high-quality productions. At the end of the day, however, Villanueva says that what she loves about theater and directing is being able to utilize a revolutionary art form while collaborating with others to present beautiful, powerful messages.
“No matter what, I need to be doing shows that I am passionate about,” she says. “The things that you have joy in are the things that really make a difference.”
Writer: Justin McCabe, a junior from Post Falls, is majoring in English literature and minoring in history. In the future he hopes to get involved with editing and publishing and ultimately aspires to become an author.
Photographer: Heather Woolery-Larsen is a senior majoring in studio art and creative writing and is originally from Nampa. She enjoys photography, teaching Afterschool Art at UI’s Prichard Gallery, traveling and organizing art shows. Her website is www.heatherwoolery.com.