Josefina Lopez wrote her first play, Real Women Have Curves, when she was all of 19 years old — at a playwriting workshop that took her from her hometown in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, all the way to New York.
"I had been documented for 13 years," Lopez recalls, "and when I got my legal residency, I decided I wanted to write a play to commemorate my life out of the shadows. I worked at a sewing machine factory after high school." The story line of Real Women follows a parallel path, with its heroine, Ana, working at a sewing factory in East L.A. to earn money for college.
In the summer heat, Ana and her fellow workers have plenty to talk -- and gripe -- about as the script stitches together such issues as immigration law, exploitive working conditions, gender politics, and of course, self-image. The comedy was good enough to be produced two years later -- and draw a fateful phone call from Warner Brothers that drew her into the Hollywood vortex.
As it turned out, Lopez didn't rocket upward to A-list status. It took 11 years -- and handoffs between several production companies -- before the movie version, co-written by Lopez and producer George LaVoo, was picked up by HBO. In recognition of her efforts, Lopez garnered a share of the Humanitas Prize in 2002 for her screenplay, and the film snagged a couple more nods at Sundance, including an Audience Award.
Twenty years into her screenwriting career, Real Women remains the only Lopez script that has ever been filmed. Numerous other screenplays and teleplays -- and several pilots -- never got off the ground.
"It's depressing that it's 2010, and it's pretty impossible to get Latino shows on the air," Lopez observes. "There have been a few, but what's crazy is that now we're the 'majority minority' and still we don't have the kind of representation that the African-American community does. Which is great for them -- and of course, we don't have Asian representation either. It's just terrible that the America we see on television isn't the America we live in now."
Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, slated to open its production of Real Women Have Curves on July 15, can empathize. They had hoped to present the Charlotte premiere back in 2006, but CAST couldn't keep their cast together, and they couldn't muster strong community support.
Adyana De La Torre, now transplanted to New York, remembers the Real Women difficulties back when she was still a Charlotte resident trying to assist with marketing and outreach. During a family visit, she recently peeped in on CAST's production of Welcome to the Monkey House, where artistic director Michael Simmons snagged her to direct Curves with son Robert Lee Simmons commandeering design.
She's upbeat about the prospects of Hispanic theater in Charlotte.
"I was reading some statistics," De La Torre explains. "North Carolina is pretty much the largest growing Hispanic population. And I was like, 'Wow!' That definitely says a lot. If you look at some of these reality shows, or Dancing With the Stars, I mean any of those things that are now representing Latin music or Latin artists or dance, I think it's becoming more concerted. People want to know more and get involved, and I know that Charlotte has a lot of Hispanic festivals going on."
Still, De La Torre and the Simmonses are hedging their bets -- and expanding the usual bounds of their experiential staging. On June 10, CAST will piggyback onto the Con a de Arte festival at the Mint Museum, presenting readings of Real Women amid the evening celebration of Latin American artists, artwork, music, dance and poetry.
Then on June 19, CAST will host a Zumba Dance Party at their own HQ on 1118 Clement Ave. You don't know what Zumba is?
"It is the hottest Latin dance fitness craze," De La Torre reveals, "and my mom got certified last year. So she's been teaching in Mooresville and Statesville, and I've taken a bunch of classes up here as well. It's a great way to work out and have fun, and it's done to Latin dance music and international music. A couple of the instructors will come in and lead a dance party. It's easy-to-follow choreographed dance moves, but to Latin music."
"Anyone can do it," she shoots back. "Dad does it. He's so cute. You just fall in, and it's continuous, there's no stop. And we're going to have healthy treats and snacks and raffles and give away stuff, too, like [coupons from] local Hispanic restaurants or hair salons -- anything that's going to support the local Hispanic businesses."
As a crowning touch, Lopez herself will fly in from L.A., where she has founded her own theater company, for the opening of Real Women and field talkback questions after the shows on July 15-17.
"I'm actually excited," Lopez admits, "because I never think it can be done in other places or where Latinos aren't in the majority. So it's exciting, those places where we're not the majority, and people are interested or curious to learn more."
MORE PERFORMING ARTS
May 26: Die Roten Punkte -- This sibling send-up of punkrock and rock mega-stardom has been all across Canada, and is destined for Spoleto Festival USA. But we get to see it first in a six-day engagement at Booth Playhouse.
June 10: The Dixie Swim Club -- Looking for a whiter shade of chick chatter? Donna Scott Productions brings this sugar-and-honey confection to Theatre Charlotte.
June 26: Tito Puente Jr. -- Charlotte Symphony does their Latin thing, breaking the mold and presenting their first ticketed event at Symphony Park. Son of the King of Latin Music, who penned "Oye Como Va" and "Ran Kan Kan," Puente brings his mojo and mambo onstage at 8:15 p.m., but the festival -- and the fierce territorial squabbles -- begin at 5 p.m.
July 8: ThomThom -- The other shoe finally falls as playwright/director/actor Matt Cosper brings us past Act 1 in his absurdist musical sequel to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird at Duke Energy Theatre. Cosper replaces Robert Simmons as Cort, the surreal hobo whose bloodlines trace back to the Dickens' Bill Sykes and the protagonists of Waiting for Godot.
Aug. 4: Othello -- Collaborative Arts caps their fifth Charlotte Shakespeare Festival at McGlohon Theatre with the Bard's blackest villain, Iago, and his blackest hero, The Moor of Venice. Unlike the recent Opera Carolina production of Verdi's Otello, Collaborative will employ an African-American in the title role.
June 2: Five Course Love — Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte
June 3: The Comedy of Errors — Charlotte Shakespeare Festival
June 4: My Fair Lady — CPCC Summer Theatre
June 16: Harry Connick, Jr. & Orchestra — NC Blumenthal PAC
June 26: Macbeth — Shakespeare Carolina
July 16: The Drowsy Chaperone — CPCC Summer Theatre
Aug. 26: Mary Poppins — Broadway Lights Series