Migguel Anggelo, the vigorous Venezuelan singer/songwriter/actor/activist is back with a new and completely unique show. The popular cabaret artist returns to the stage this week, turning his attention to last year’s indescribably tragic, Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub.
His one-man show, Welcome to La Misa Baby, is an ode to a mainstay in gay culture: the disco. It will be performed as part of the Clemente center’s Fearless series. According to the press release, the series “was born as a direct response to Orlando and the continuing attacks against the LGBTQ community. As hate crimes continue to plague our country, and marginalized groups struggle to find sanctuary, The Clemente has invited six LGBTQ artists/art organizations to create works connected by the theme of understanding and unity.”
Anggelo tapped downtown director/performer/writer David Drake (The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me) to co-write and direct the show. Recently, Anggelo and Drake took time from their hectic rehearsal schedule to have an email conversation with Manhattan Digest.
MD: This show appears to be different from your past shows, which were more cabaret based. What is different about this show?
MA: This piece is different since it is a play! Of course, there is a little music in it as it does take place in a dance club, but this is a character study and a story. It’s been really exciting to explore this side of my performance art. I’m excited–and a little scared!–about how everyone will react.
MD: Did you create this show or were you asked to create it by the Founders of the Fearless Series?
MA: We were very honored to be asked to submit an idea for this series. You know, our work at Joe’s Pub has evolved over the last few years, and characters have started to find their way into our recent shows–even though those shows are in the context of a cabaret setting. When I started performing there, it was the “Migguel Anggelo Show,” but now, those characters sneak in and make appearances where you least expect them.
David and I have talked a lot about building on that and really fleshing characters out more. The opportunity to create a piece inspired by gay club-goers spoke to us and we jumped at the opportunity to write this piece and for me to play all of the various characters.
MD: Is there an actual Club La Misa or is this a metaphor for the Disco scene?
DD: La Misa is Spanish for “The Mass,”– as in a Catholic mass. By equating gay dance clubs as sacred, spiritual places for so many LGBTQ people, naming the club “La Misa” was our way of anchoring that metaphor — and connecting it to the queer, Latino, immigrant experience.
For me, the setting for La Misa was inspired by New York’s long-running (though now defunct) gay, Latin club Escuelita. Migguel and I were also inspired to respond to the place and event that created this Fearless Series at The Clemente in the first place: The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
MD: What is it about Disco that LGBT people find so appealing?
DD: It’s sexy. It’s freeing. It’s fun. Plus, there’s actually a lot of historical context to it. Before the Stonewall Riots snapped our entire culture into the next chapter — of coming out, political gathering, recognition, and so on — there were laws all across this country where people weren’t allowed to dance with the same sex — their bodies could not be touching. If cops caught you doing it, you could be arrested. And many were. There were also laws about gender-appropriate clothing.
Likewise, if you were caught in your opposite-sex drag, you could be arrested. And again, many were. These generations lived in dire fear of exerting themselves in any kind of public self-expression. These two realities were significant factors that erupted the riots at Stonewall. As this new chapter of queer freedom unfurled in the early 70s, the right and choice to dance openly with each other became a huge rite of passage. Seriously, it can’t be overstated. The dance clubs embraced this need for openly gay self-expression, becoming like a huge living metaphor for “Coming Out.” So, as disco music exploded — which was largely constructed by gay men of that closeted-to-free generation — these dance spaces were, in fact, a radical reaction to the past. Indeed, these dance nights were that generation’s gigantic coming out parties. From there it grew and grew for younger generations to aspire to, grow into, and claim for themselves. Which they did, and still do. It’s a truly joyful historical continuum that continues to this day.
MD: Is this show auto-biographical?
DD: Yes and no. Migguel and I have been keen to be truthful to human experiences. Period. All but one of these seven characters came from our observations of people in the queer, Latino community, and then we just let those ideas grow in our imaginations. In my work as a playwright here, I’m very much being a witness. My job is to make the characters surprising, yet identifiable to audiences. Therefore, in order to make them believable, I must make them truthful in everything they say. To do that, to locate the building blocks of truth inside a character, I often dig into my own experiences to find the truth of an emotion, an experience, a relationship. Of course, in directing the play, I’ve been surprised in rehearsal by some of the things I’ve actually, unknowingly written into this script — thinking, “Oh my God. I put THAT in the play?!”
MA: The piece is not necessarily auto-biographical but I am also drawing upon many people that I know or have known in my lifetime, putting bits and pieces of each of them into the characters. For instance, there is a point where I play an older gentleman who is based on a man I knew growing up in Venezuela. It was not our plan to put him in a play. Rather, he is the person I call upon when I close my eyes and imagine this character. I mean, we’re all characters, right? We’re all just waiting to see ourselves in a play!
Migguel Anggelo Presents: Welcome to La Misa, Baby
The Clemente Cultural Center
107 Suffolk Street
New York, NY 10002
(btw Rivington & Delancey)
Thursday, October 26th, 7:30pm
Friday, October 27th, 7:30pm
Sunday, October 29th, 3:00pm
Tickets: $15, with a reduced rate of $12 when buying 10 or more. Purchase in advance at www.clemente-fearless-series.eventbrite.com or at the box office on the day of the performance.
For additional information visit www.theclementecenter.org or call: (212) 260-4080