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Director Spotlight: The Story of El Gato

Backstage Pass | JULY 2018

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We are thrilled to debut the world premiere bilingual production The Cat in the Hat/El Gato Ensombrerado this fall at Bay Area Children’s Theatre. We recently interviewed the show’s director, Karina Gutiérrez—a renowned Bay Area performer, Stanford doctoral student, and co-founder of Bay Area Latino Theatre Artists Network—about her artistic approach to the unique challenges and opportunities of creating bilingual theatre.

What does it mean to you to be directing Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s first mainstage bilingual production?

It’s a huge honor. As a woman of color, I realize there are very few opportunities for theatre to represent and speak directly to the Latinx community. Being selected to direct BACT’s first bilingual mainstage show is very humbling. It gives me the opportunity to ensure theatre is accessible to and reflects communities that make up the fabric of the Bay Area.

On a personal level, I am honored that my parents, who immigrated from Mexico, are so excited to come see the show. It fills me with pride that they will be able to understand and feel connected to it. I hope many other families are able to connect with the show on a similar level. And I’m excited to inspire young audience members by showing them that they have a place in the arts community.

Do you make different artistic choices when directing a bilingual show than you do for a show with one language?

Absolutely, one has to. I view language as a cornerstone of culture. Any time that you’re introducing two cultures in conversation with one another, you have to be very mindful about how the text, movement, and character portray community. While I want to respect and honor the original text that Dr. Seuss is so well known for, I also want to ensure that the Spanish translations respectfully portray Latino communities as well as allude to a shared history between English-, Spanish-, Spanglish-speaking, and other communities.

What is your vision for the show's design (sets, costumes, etc.)? Will it look like the book?

I wanted to stay within the world of Dr. Seuss, so you’ll see some very familiar elements such as the primary colors and two-dimensional style of the set, but I also wanted to introduce elements that evoke Latino culture. For example, the set includes shrubberies familiar from the book, but in the window there is also a cactus that situates the story in the Southwest where there is a high concentration of Spanish-speaking communities. The world of the play feels very familiar, but the movement and the props will introduce new elements, especially color, that don’t formally exist in the world of Seuss.

You’ll also notice that there are some nuances in the costumes. For example, Sally’s dress looks very much the same as in the book but on closer inspection has cross-stitching that is traditional in Mexican húpil embroidery. Similarly, the Cat in the Hat has a red bow around his neck that closely resembles the tie traditionally worn by mariachis.

For audience members who speak only Spanish or only English, how do you help them understand the story?

I expect our audiences will consist of a mixture of monolingual and bilingual children and adults. As a director, my goal is to provide physicalized anchors that help audience members follow the story. One of my primary artistic influences is Cantinflas, a beloved Mexican comic and actor known for his picaresque style. Drawing on this specific aesthetic and using repeated movement allow us to anchor the language stylistically. I’m confident that all audiences will take away something new from the show. Bilingual audience members will have the additional experience of understanding the code switching present throughout the show.

What are you most excited for audiences to experience?

I’m extremely proud to be a part of this project. Not only is this a bilingual show, it also features an entire cast of actors who are bilingual and identify as Latinx, which is very rare in the Bay Area. Bay Area Children’s Theatre is really leading the way and it’s exciting to be part of that movement.

Growing up in California, I gained an appreciation and knowledge of the shared history between the United States and Mexico as well as other Spanish-speaking cultures. It’s very rewarding for me to be able to share that sense of shared history through this production. By producing Dr. Seuss in a new way, I want every audience member to leave having learned something, whether it’s a new word, or something about a different culture, or a new appreciation for shared culture. I’m really excited to make Dr. Seuss more universal by providing opportunities for more communities to see themselves on stage.

 

Get tickets for The Cat in the Hat/El Gato Ensombrerado »

 
 

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