“Cloaked” returns to the Benjack Theatre tonight, with the first of four performances in its two week run. The production premiered at this same theatre, and has since been nominated for Best Actor, Best Costumes, and Best International Dialogue at the International Dublin Gay Theater Festival.
I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to the show’s creator and director, Ricardo Melendez, and gain insight into the making of and motivation for this play.
AltDaily: When did the idea for “Cloaked” first strike you? What was the inspiration for writing it?
Ricardo Melendez: I wanted to write this show for a long time. As a young man in Puerto Rico, I saw a performance of “Contradanza” by Francisco Ors. The play had been banned in Spain (where the author lived) for 20 years because of the homosexual subject matter. In his play, the action centered around a male passing as a woman and his conflicts on ‘coming out’ in a world that would not accept him. More than 30 years later, while watching the news, I realized the recurrent theme of politicians hiding behind a façade and how this disguise prevents them from actually making a change, needed exploring. I thought it would be great to combine the ideas of a male hiding his gender, and a politician unable to defend his truth because of the façade he is committed to maintain. CLOAKED was born.
What was the creative process like? Was it a short timeline or did the play take time to develop and come together?
Once I started writing, I did not stop until it was written. Fortunately or not, I was in bed with a mild back injury, which allowed me two weeks to close myself from the world and write. A luxury we don’t often have. Obviously the cleaning out, weeding language, and further developing characters that are both human and archetypes took longer.
Where did the first performance take place? How many times has it been performed?
Workshop Theatre Group, now Actors’ Workshop of Virginia, prides itself in being able to develop projects like “Cloaked,” and offer its premiere here in Norfolk at the Benjack Studio at TRD. Other projects like Nijinsky’s “Last Dance,” “Call Me Boricua,” has been premiered here then have had a longer life outside the States. Nijinsky’s “Last Dance” has been produced for over 6 years now in the States and abroad. “Cloaked” specifically was premiered here and then traveled to the International Dublin Gay Theater Festival in Ireland. We are already in pre-production talks to take it to Richmond, and hopefully abroad during the summer months.
Have you made any changes to the play since its first run?
A few. That is the advantage of performing the play in various venues and locations. Audience feedback will always impact the piece. That is the nature of Theater; it must accommodate to the response of the audience it serves. Even for its premier parts were omitted from the original. When traveling with a festival production pieces are shortened or lengthened for time constraints. The most evident change this time is the ending. Without giving it away, I will admit that we changed the narrative a bit to redefine our hero, and cleared some hands from blood.
Will you be performing in this run?
Yes, but in a different role. I performed Sofia, the main character, during the American and European premieres. Now I am playing a lesser role, kind of a challenge both for my fellow actors and me. But Nikolai McKenzie, who was my student both at GSA Theatre and TRDance, is now back in town. I could not pass the opportunity to hear a different and younger voice in the role of Queen Sofia. He has the intuition and depth of character to do it and he is doing a brilliant job. For me as a playwright, it is reassuring and encouraging to witness my words transcend individuals and grow with the idiosyncrasies.
You have both dance and theatre training and experience – did you begin your training with dance or with theater? How do these two art forms influence each other in your work?
I started as a young actor in Puerto Rico. It was theater that led me to dance. Having been cast in a musical the choreographer offered me classes, and before I knew it I was in class 6 days a week. After 2 years this same mentor sent me to Jacob’s Pillow, a dancer’s summer intensive, and by the end of the six weeks I had an offer to train in New York as part of the Alvin Ailey Second Company. The rest is history. After many years and fulfilling my need to perform, I finished my masters in Theater. I became a union actor not long after and have been blessed with the opportunity to work in both fronts.
Each discipline, dance and acting, have their specific requirements, but they make for a stronger performer. I am a physical actor because I have a facility for movement. I am an expressive dancer because there is always a story running in my head.
Have you written any other plays?
Yes; “Call Me Boricua,” “My Dorian,” “Two Men and the Ocean,” and various adaptations of Shakespeare.
Though the setting for “Cloaked” is in the Renaissance era, the topics and situations are relevant for present day. What are you wanting the audience’s reaction to be? What do you want them to feel when the curtain comes down?
I want the audience to enjoy the story; we are storytellers. I want the audience to relish in the language; it is written in iambic. It much resembles a Shakespearean play. I wish for them to understand the drive of each one of these characters. I wish the audience to find familiar circumstances in the world we live, and ponder on which side of the line they stand. Just ENJOY the show. It will never be just the same. Performing arts have the glory and curse of being ephemeral.
For more on the show, click here.