By Juan Villa
5 years ago today I announced that my first play was an official selection for the FIRST Chicago Fringe Festival. I had received an email saying someone dropped out and the first to reply is automatically in the show. I was deathly afraid to say I will do it since I didn't have a script, I just had journal pages. I decided to say I will do it. Surprisingly they said I was the first to reply and I WAS IN!
But I was screwed since I had no director, no designers, no NOTHING. I contacted Joe Minoso and he was all in to direct the show cuz "I have nothing better to do." I contacted Susie Pelayo, who I had met in 2002 for my first Sal Sation Latino Improv/Sketch Comedy Group, to be my stage manager for rehearsals. She jumped at it.
What a crazy couple of weeks leading up to the first performance. We rehearsed for almost 2 two weeks in the Rivendell Theatre Ensemble space, thank you Tara Mallen, in the crazy summer Chicago humidity. I LOVED IT!
I read my first draft of the play sitting on a desk on the roof of Laura Shatkus's building off the Bryn Mawr stop and it last 90 minutes! Crazy how life is so different now.
The original title was Empanada for a Tenement Dream. Yup. It was. I also ended the show with an uplifting poetic story of my search for the perfect empanada the way my mom made it. I also met a newbie from Florida named Sindy Castro.
I had moved back to New York City in 2007 to be with my family. It was difficult leaving Chicago, but it was important for me to be with my family. I ended up studying with Maggie Flanigan for the Meisner Technique- Maggie Flanigan Studio. I met amazing amazing fellow students who frustrated me like crazy, but were incredibly supportive and inspiring. I also was able to meet mentors like Charlie Sandlan, Alberto Bonilla, April Yvette Thompson, Pandora Scooter, Nate Flower, and Danielle Liccardo-Massood. The studio has grown beautifully. I wouldn't be the artist I am now without that experience. It led to me exploring who I am in a full range of emotions. A byproduct ended up me being a writer.
Who knew that 5 years later Empanada For A Dream would become what it would become, but it wouldn't have happened without Alex Levy.
Who knew that 5 years later I would have a second play getting ready to open up in Don Chipotle by Juan Francisco Villa which wouldn't have happened without Jo Cattell.
Who knew that I would be back in Chicago raising a 5 year old man with a Brit.
I have lost friendships. I have gained friendships.
People have passed away. People have been born.
Every day is a new opportunity to make it what you want.
It all started in a moment of fear.
"We need fear to survive. We experience it so we can become stronger."
April Yvette Thompson