Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.
This year continues to expand on that legacy and I am so excited to introduce Fringe Femme Natasha Mercado. Natasha has manifested “Tree,” an immersive comedy experience that seeks to remind us and have us question what we all need most during these times: What does it mean to be alive? Part clown show, part game show and part philosophical discussion, “Tree” explores the duality of what it means to be human.
Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?
Natasha Mercado: It was and is this idea of what it means to take up space as an artist. And I felt a lot of growing pains over that. Doing a solo show feels completely different than any of the projects I’ve done because it’s such a declaration of what I hold close to home. I started to observe my mindset while performing in other people’s projects as, “Well, I’m doing the best I can and that’s what’s important”. But when I first started performing pieces from “Tree”, for whatever reason, it felt like much higher stakes in my body and I didn’t give myself the same amount of space to potentially fail in any given moment. And my theory on that is it’s because I’m a human with an ego that’s been socially trained to take up a certain amount of space at any given time. And so it goes! The way I’ve felt like I’ve been winning, or more so managing, this battle is by allowing myself to absorb the overwhelming amount of support I’ve received from my friends and family throughout the process.
Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear what do you hope one remembers or takes away after seeing your show?
Natasha: I am super happy if someone comes up to me afterwards and says, “This show was about people having the capacity to do really beautiful and also terrible things, right?” And in a perfect world, I hope they feel a little more compassion for themselves, instead of judgment, when they inevitably see an example of that sometime soon. In either direction, you know? Appreciating the beauty or holding space for the terribleness. That’s just part of the human experience.
Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show?
Natasha: Oh man. As exciting as the beginning of the devising process was, I really felt like a little boat in uncharted waters. Deanna [Fleysher, who directed while devising the show] was extremely helpful in that way and always helped me navigate back to the practicality of getting it down on paper. Every rehearsal we had felt like a win. Kind of like a backpacking trip or something. Where I imagine just getting a little further down the trail is awesome, but the best part is seeing everything along the way. And I definitely feel a lot of joy thinking about how all the pieces came together through hard work. I’m proud of that.
Constance: What has been the most delicious discovery as you created your original work.
Natasha: This show is a living, breathing parable for me about how investing time on a project is always worth it. I am so grateful for giving myself the space to create something that I became very proud of. Because trusting the creative process is not always easy. And I think “Tree” in particular exorcised a lot of “perfectionism” for me. It doesn’t have to be perfect or make sense right away and that’s a good thing.
Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience? COVID expanded in many ways how the work can be seen and done, what personally changed if anything for you in how you approached creating your show?
Natasha: I try to tell people every night after a show that it is such a honor to perform this piece. I feel such an overwhelming amount of love and appreciation for getting to be in-person again. Because the process of creating “Tree” was very insulated. Usually, a lot of clowns in the community devise shows completely in front of an audience. But due to the nature of quarantine, I worked with Deanna over Zoom, alone in my room, in a Tree costume. And I can’t imagine what my neighbors must have thought during my rehearsals.
Constance: What influenced this new work? How long have you been sitting with this work? Why Fringe? Why now?
Natasha: I originally bought a “big kids tree costume” for some one-off bit I did in 2019 – which, while wearing it, made me feel fabulous and completely dorky all at the same time. And then the Bobcat fire happened in 2020, which inspired me to make a short film about a tree who was passing as human but wanted to help the trees that were burning. And the other trees were like, “Fuck off.” And then in 2021, I did The Artist’s Way! Which was extremely inspiring and spoke to all of my soft parts yearning for the creative process. So those three things were in my orbit and thankfully smashed together when I reached out to Deanna later in 2021 about this weird tree thing that keeps me up at night.
But I truly attribute the beginning of this work to have started after I saw Natalie Palamides’ show “Nate” in 2018. That’s when I knew that making a solo show could be so damn absurd and inspiring and fun. That kind of work is important. And finally getting to self-produce “Tree” and bring it to the Hollywood Fringe feels like a celebration with other weirdo, sensitive artists who are also unearthing the art they made in the dark. For me, it feels like it’s all right on time.