An Interview with Abigail Vega, Director for Divorceés, Evangelists & Vegetarians
By Jacob McKee
JM: What can you tell us about Abigail Vega?
AV: Well, I think the hardest question I ever have to answer is “where are you from,” because I kind of don’t claim anything and claim everything simultaneously. So, I’m an actor, director, producer, kind-of writer; I consider myself a theatre maker—teatrista. I’m kind of an odd bird in that I really do love all of those things equally and think they all help each other. A lot of people see producing or arts administration as another part of your brain, and acting and the “art” as kind of a separate thing, but to me they’re very, very connected, because I feel like they’ve all taught me how to be better at the other disciplines. Which is why I kind of like any sort of position where I’ve gotten to do more than one thing. Even if it’s been an internship or very low-paying, it’s always been good, because it always makes you better at those other things. And I feel like that’s been so true for me since I’m still relatively young to be as free as I am. Most people are like, “you’re so free,” and yeah, I am; and that’s because I feel like I’ve gotten lots of opportunities to learn.
JM: What brought you to Aurora Theatre?
AV: I met Anthony [Rodriguez, Artistic Director of the Aurora Theatre] in the fall of 2013. We met in Boston, at the 2013 National Latino Theatre Conference. As far as we know, it was the largest gathering of Latino theatre artists in over twenty-five years. I completely snuck in. I was not invited, initially; I was the youngest person there, and one of the things they said at the convening was that everyone needed to walk away with a mentor and a mentee. And I’m standing in this room with these huge giants of not only Latino theatre in this country but also American theatre as a whole. So, for someone like me, I have seventy-five potential mentors and no mentees. Who am I going to teach anything? One of the first nights we were there, there was a big group of us hanging out and Anthony and I just started talking. What I really jived about him was that he was an actor and an artistic director, which is not a common pairing much anymore. I found a lot in common with him because that was how I primarily identified at the time, as an actor and a deviser. So we met, and he said “well, you’re my mentor.” And I was like, “yeah, I’ll teach you everything I know”—which is nothing. And that’s kind of where our relationship began. So when this opportunity came up, he asked me. It was one of those serendipitous things—when he first asked me, I said no, and he said, “Well, I’ll send you the dates. And if they don’t work, they don’t work.” And it was like kismet. It was perfect. If the dates had started a week earlier or gone a week later, I would not have been able to do the project. And I thought, okay, this is a sign. This is where I need to be. And everything since I’ve been here has been proving that sign to be correct.
JM: How do you think your experiences as a woman of color have influenced your work on [Divorciadas, Evangélicas, y Vegeterianas?
AV: I think a cultural issue that’s in our society is that we tend to “crazify” women of color. And it’s kind of a broad range of it, but it’s a very different experience as a black woman, as a Latino woman, as an Asian woman, as a Native American woman… those are all very specific experiences. And they’re all very specific versions of stereotyped crazy. When you think about an angry black woman, or a terrible Asian woman driver, those are very much stereotypes that we all can access because we’ve seen them so much. It doesn’t make us bad people; we just have such easy access to them. And I’ve thought about that for a while. Sometimes when you encounter work about people of color—and more specifically women of color—there’s a lot of self-policing that goes on. Especially when it’s written by an artist of color, because they’re so tired of seeing those stereotypes, which are so real, so they write characters as good people. We don’t like plays about good people. These women are all crazy. They are simultaneously Latina and crazy, and it’s not a statement on their stereotype; they are simply seeking something desperately that they don’t have. They’re humans. They’re actual female characters who don’t talk about men all the time. They’re just crazy with each other, and they find some solace and some sanity with each other.
JM: Is there something about DEV in particular that inspires you?
AV: I was initially afraid to go with the cheese that [Gustavo Ott] wrote in. He intentionally wrote in some very cheesy moments, and it wasn’t until I got in the rehearsal room that I realized that’s really how far we need to go in order to make this point. And it elevates it from just working with these three actors and making sure these scenes are tight and funny. And that’s a challenge to me. That’s inspiring. And how do we tell a story—we’re already telling it with language—how do we shift, and then tell it through movement? With humor? With Beatles music? How do we do that in a way that makes us understand this story further? And it inspires the whole group to keep going because we know this play is not happening in reality. We know that if we present this play as if it’s happening in reality then we’ve only gone so far into what it’s actually about. We have to show these people as ridiculous because then we’ll see them as real.
JM: How do you think audiences will relate to the characters of DEV? What do you think they will glean from the struggles of the women in this play?
AV: None of these characters are 100% perfect human beings. And my hope is that there will be several stages of understanding in the audience. The first one? “Oh, this is funny.” The second one is these women are crazy—I hope they actually get to that point. I hope they say that. And then they’ll say, “oh, this reminds me of myself.” Which is usually where we stop. We stop at this level where we must commune, we must feel like we are them. But the next level beyond that—especially for men, maybe, or for women who don’t identify as feminists—is to understand that these women are crazy, and they’re like me, and they’re real. And that women can be complicated beings and not be all these names that we get called, that we’re just humans. Because ultimately, feminism is not “down with men,” it’s just that people are humans. Just acknowledging that everyone deserves equal attention, equal focus, equal care, equal allowances. We have to let everyone have equal allowances. That’s the hope—that we see these people we relate to and we feel like since we deserve certain things, that they deserve those things, too.