Discover NYC's most talented starving artists - before they're rich and famous. This week meet performance artist Raquel Almazan, and hear what she has to say about Butoh dance, pornography, and being a vegan.
by David Davila (playwright / songwriter)
Performance artist, playwright, and actress, Raquel Almazan, has been making people laugh, cry, and think for several years on the downtown theatre scene with shows like SHE WOLVES: WOMEN IN SEX, DEATH, AND REBIRTH, and DEATH OF THE DOLL which explore modern female sexuality and social power.
Originally from Spain, the Spanish/Costa Rican artist moved to the US at an early age and lived in every Hispanic part of the country from Texas to Florida before setting her roots in NYC. I first met Raquel at the weekly Salon at INTAR THEATRE where artists share new works for a group of non-judgemental peers. Almazan was presenting a comical look at the her mother's travels through a racist, Southern, USA and I was rolling on the floor with laughter. Now she's presenting a new one-woman show at Dixon place beginning tomorrow that explores a porn star's journey from celebrity to outer-space refugee using mixed-media and Butoh dance that has me intrigued to say the least.
I caught up with the avante-garde performance artist, and hilarious stand-up comic, over soy-lattes at our local Brooklyn Bagel in Astoria to talk about her involvement with Butoh dance, its correlations to pornography, and how she wants to be Orson Wells...
Here's what she had to say:
(David Davila) How did PORNING THE PLANET come about?
(Raquel Almazan) The play was inspired by the book “female chauvinist pig movement”, by Ariel Levi. For ten years I’ve worked with marginalized women in the sex industry in prisons. This lead my work to demand a political process. Holding interviews in strip clubs and pornographic environments. The platform for my current piece comes from five years of processing with women, research, and public art presentations. I am now armed for the ultimate challenge of embracing and unearthing pornography in all its forms.
The piece strives to connect ancient women’s mythology with modern media, pornographic images, and how women’s sexuality is used as a weapon against themselves. I’m working to fuse today’s whore as the power symbol in finding ways to honor the virginal whore that refuses to go mainstream porn but instead redefines what it is to be feminine.
Another major aspect of developing the piece has been my collaboration with performance art legend, Penny Arcade, who as project director has passed on the integrity of the themes that the piece deals with. She has served as a guide in creating this challenging work through the solo performance tradition.
(DD) You’re a Butoh dancer, and you use that style in PORNING THE PLANET. What exactly is Butoh?
(RA) Butoh is a form of dance and performance technique that was started in Japan after World War 2 by Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata. It focuses on grotesque body movements and taboo topics like the suffering of Japanese people when the atom bombs were dropped. There’s no set style but it’s traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow controlled body movement.
(DD) How did you get involved with that?
(RA) My choreographer Vangeline, of Vangeline Theatre, is my butoh dance master, I have been studying and training with her for six years. Prior to my training with her in NYC, I was introduced to Butoh in my undergrad program. Butoh has been a large part of my theatrical and spiritual practice for ten years now. I have had the honor of training with several Japanese Butoh masters over these years as Butoh is an art form that requires the act of repetition, and it usually takes twenty years before one is proficient in the form. It’s a practice that one strives for in different parts of your life in order to develop, the best parts of your Butoh dance may occur well into your forties and fifties.
(DD) How does Porn connect to this particular style of dance?
(RA) Butoh if often associated with the grotesque; when I read about a therapist who had men pose in sexual porn positions; I was shocked and intrigued at the emotional responses the men had. The act of placing the body into these vulnerable and extreme positions aligned with the intentions of the piece. Butoh often also finds the beauty in the grotesque and allows the body to express the inner turmoil or peace of the spirit without conventionally restricted movement.
(DD) That is definitely a unique look at porn. How did you get producers involved with this project?
(RA) My producers on this current piece were not financial investors, they aided in managing and coordinating the project. They helped set up my indiegogo campaign. My main producers are Nancy Kim and Monest Hurst Mendoza and Aaron Simms (associate producer) who handled the press outlet.
Having support on decisions about your project throughout the process is invaluable. I previously worked with Kim and Mendoza when I was selected by their theatre company Rising Circle Collective for the company’s writing circle. I enjoyed working with them and they become supporters of my work. Aaron Simms, who’s a producing candidate, and I met through the Columbia program where I am a MFA Playwriting Candidate.
(DD) Okay here we go. Now for the really Bohemian questions. How long have you been trying to “make it” in NYC?
(DD) What neighborhood do you live in?
(RA) Astoria, Queens.
(DD) Duh! I knew that, you live down the block from me. What’s your favorite appetizer to order at a Pub?
(RA) I’m a vegan, so anything raw and good for you. Usually it’s grilled mushrooms.
(DD) What’s your favorite adult beverage?
(DD) Yes! I approve. How do you like your coffee?
(RA) Organic, rich, with almond or oat milk. No sugar - sometimes with agave.
(DD) Agave is amazing, Aztecs called it the miracle plant. What’s your favorite type of ice cream?
(RA) Vegan peanut butter cashew from Lulu’s Apothecary.
(DD) Where's your favorite place to write?
(RA) On my couch where my African masks are hung up above my head for spiritual guidance- beautiful sunlight comes in on my spot.
(DD) What lesson would you like to go back and teach a 10 year old version of yourself?
(RA) Always stand up for yourself! Be mindful of who you share with. Don’t take no for an answer; and God is within us.
(DD) Good advice. What are your top 5 favorite hangouts in NYC?
(RA) Blossom, and Raine’s Law Room in Chelsea, Pure Food and Wine, and News Café in Union Square, and Atlas Café in the East Village.
(DD) Wow, I have never been to any of those places, which explains why I never run into you anywhere except at INTAR Theatre. What’s your favorite food to eat when you are poor?
(RA) Hummus and bananas.
(DD) Interesting. I never would have thought of that combination. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
(RA) I was a security detective for a retail store.
(DD) Ha! That sounds awesome. What do you think is the purpose of art in society?
(RA) The experience of art can be the ultimate modern ritual to communicate ideas and exchange; that art is what unifies us all.
Theatre and Media can be a very practical tool, serving heavy purposes. Brecht and Artaud have aided my methodology towards theatre and it's possibilities on opening minds and propelling action. How art can serve as a tool for social change, in awakening individuals about themselves and how the characters in stories relate to the world.
(DD) What reoccurring themes seem to surface in your work?
(RA) Prostitution, incarceration, and socio-political themes of Latin America.
(DD) And what do you wish to achieve by writing plays?
(RA) As an arts facilitator to children, teens, and institutionalized women, my art programs promote personal growth and develop life skills through art-making and self- expression. As the artistic director of La Lucha Arts Group, I am dedicated to producing new works, in contribution towards transformational arts participation between audiences and artists. I look forward to a future where my work will be a part of aiding organizations, movements, and individuals by exploring a more informed reality.
(DD) As you know, Voxism is a big trend in NYC’s art scene. (The idea of producing your own work – and using guerrilla campaigns to become popular) What kind of voxist ideals have you used?
(RA) I have often self self-produced but this is my 2nd time using a fundraising campaign. Kickstarter funded my feature film directorial debut for $20,000 budget. For my solo show I am using indiegogo.com.
(DD) If anyone reading this wants to contribute click here: PORNING THE PLANET.
(RA) Jean Genet, Maria Irene Fornes, and Samuel Beckett.
(DD) Yes! Shout out to Maria Fornes! Do you have a business plan to break into the business?
(RA) I was fourteen years old when I read a 500 page biography on Orson Wells and I “planned” on being the female version of Wells – while maintaining the gutsy fervor of Mae West. Well it certainly has lead me to a path in the pursuit of high art in my theatre practice while maintaining a balance in the commercial side of the industry; which I enjoy, working as an actor of film, television and print modeling.
I have properly suffered and sacrificed to be a working artist, and feel that it was my 15 year dedication that has “made it work”.
(DD) So you're able to make a living off of your art?
(RA) Yes; between teaching, and performing, consulting and writing. Now I am currently a grad student at Columbia.
(DD) That's amazing! Any advice for the teenage artists around the world who dream of moving to NYC?
(RA) Save five thousand dollars and do lots of research. Interview for jobs ahead of time and secure a mentor. Gain experience in a smaller city first for at least 3 to 5 years then you’ll be ready to tackle NYC.
(DD) What’s next for you?
(RA) My short play LA MILI TACO TRUCK will be produced by Theatre Masters in Colorado in January and in NYC in April. I’m currently writing about the history of coffee in Guatemala – Lake Atitlan through four generations from 1881 to 2012. I’m also writing a play about the MS-13 Gang in El Salvador and the parallels it holds with the El Salvadorian Civil War. I’ve got another play about pornography, 17 DAYS, based on the lives of Sasha Grey and Georgina Spelvin; and a play titled DICTATOR: I AM MY FATHER FRANCO, that deals with incarceration and the effects of Franco’s dictatorship.
(DD) Anything else you want to tell us about PORNING THE PLANET or other projects?
(RA) Yes, this multi-media piece explores the explicit sexual messaging and images encountered in everyday life, specifically Pornography. In mood and tone, it is a surreal comedy that joins Butoh dance with narrative performance and audience as pornographer. The metamorphosis of the central character, Sensora, based on adult film star Brittany Andrews, challenges our notion of how pornography has altered our method of communicating and connecting with each other and ourselves. Sensora’s journey follows her from glam porn star to snuff assassinated President; to finally as a refugee in outer space. All multi-media in the show reflect images we download from her mind. Her provocative memories, her violent fantasies and her daily rituals are witnessed and downloaded for mass absorption into the collective consciousness.
(DD) Sounds mind-blowing! I can't wait to see it! One more thing, can you share your favorite Instagram photo with us?
DAVID DAVILA is half of the song-writing duo Havrilla & Davila, author of the Tex-Mex plays ADAN Y JULIO, MEN OF GOD, CREDO, REQUERDOS OF MY LIFE, and AZTEC PIRATES AND THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF LIFE ON MARS. He is a self proclaimed Voxist, a Diva enthusiast, and founder of Lone Star Theatre Co. Catch scenes from his new musical CORNER GIRL at Primary Stages on December 11th. Wanna talk about it? www.daviddavila.net
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