Whoever is still saying that “Theatre is Dead” in 2024 needs to come have a serious talk with me – because theatre is and always has been alive and well, and the reason for such lives solely within the determination of theatre-makers like Beatrice Casagrán.
Producing Artistic Director of Ophelia’s Jump Productions (OJP), Beatrice Casagrán dives headfirst into 2024 with a whopping 7-show season that is “guaranteed to entertain with compelling stories and educate current and new generations of theatre lovers.” And I am certain 2024’s season will do just that – their theatrical programming range is outstanding, from musical, to historical, to traditional straight plays and reimagined classics. As a theatrical artist who is also living, working and producing in Los Angeles, I am deeply inspired by Beatrice’s commitment not only to the theatre, but to the people who make the theatre with Ophelia’s Jump possible.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to speak with Beatrice to talk about the upcoming production of Musical of Musicals, the wonders of adaptational storytelling, and the stellar lineup for OJP’s new season.
Carolina Xique: I’m sure top of mind for you is Musical of Musicals – it’s not only a massive undertaking because it’s a musical, but then it splits off into five different musicals. So I would love to hear about what that process has been like.
Beatrice Casagrán: Before COVID, would do a small musical every two or three years because we have such a small space. During COVID, we lost one of the two theatres in the area that focused on just musicals. So I felt that to serve the community, we really needed to answer what they were asking for. So Musical of Musicals is our first offering this year. It’s also kind of tough because [while] musicals are super popular with patrons, they’re expensive – even a four-person musical like this one. But they also bring in new people who think that they don’t like plays. <laugh> When they come in and see the caliber of work that we do, we tend to see those people come back; they realize, “This is great!”
So that’s the reason that we chose Musical of Musicals for the opening show of the year. We tend to put up stuff that is newer and raises questions and we leave the mid-century musical style to others who do it very well. But this show pokes fun at that and lets everybody have a good time, so I’m really enjoying it.
It’s also a musical in which the book was written by a female [Joanne Bogart], so it met one of our criteria: that we mostly do works by women.
Carolina: Without giving away too much, what can audiences expect to see in Musical of Musicals?
Beatrice: It centers five little musicals all around the quintessential, back-to-silent-film early theatre plot of, “the landlord wants the rent and the ingenue cannot pay the rent.” <laugh> The same plot follows the five different little musicals in the style of five different masters in the field, so it’s the Rogers and Hammerstein team, Jerry Herman, Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Kander and Ebb. We have a great time just really embracing all the kind of archetypes and tropes of each one of those. It’s very clever the way it’s written. And it’s just funny. I think it’s been described as a valentine to theatre.
Carolina: I wanted to talk about the rest of the season. I’m kind of a Shakespeare-head myself. I was taking a peek at La Tempestad which was particularly interesting to me because I’m half-Mexican, half-Cuban.
Beatrice: Represent, girl! Yeah. I’m so excited. Yay. This is a project that I have thought about for years. This year we were able to get a couple of grants, and I had enough downtime that I was able to connect with other artists and make these friendships with more Latino artists and musicians.
So I now have the wherewithal to do the collaboration that’s needed for that kind of project, and I am super excited. I’m working with a wonderful actor singer who is helping me with translations. And we are going to be doing all original adaptations and maybe some original music as well.
It just seems like The Tempest is perfect, right? There’s so much magical realism in across Latino cultures. But in Cuba… the Yoruba influence and Santeria is really going to be a good fit with The Tempest. We’ll be able to really delve into it and have a wonderful time sharing that part of our culture. I want to make sure that the team that we put together is fully diverse and has all the representation of the richness of what makes up our Cuban culture, and Caribbean Latino culture, and to pay respect and to pay attention to making sure that the story is told correctly.
Carolina: It’s not an easy culture or history to explore, so I just want to convey thanks for bringing our stories to light. And some of the season’s stories – like La Tempestad or CJ, An Aspanglish Play by Mercedes Floresislas – are reimaginings of stories many of us already know. For these reimaginings, what seems to be the thread that brings them all together for you?
Beatrice: I’m a fan of history. My undergraduate degree is in political studies. So much of what’s going on in the world today is these hideously false, hurtful, dangerous narratives. I think theatre has an incredibly important role in reaching people who are being sucked into this, and telling stories that people might not otherwise have access to or think that they want to see. So taking these different stories and showing them through a female-centric, Latino focus is important to me. They’re universal stories.
I’m kind of old school in that way. I have always been drawn to stories that are about humanity. And a lot of us are losing the idea that human beings are human beings; we’re not different in our basic yearnings and desires. CJ is a work that I’ve been trying to do for years. It is basically an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but it’s a human story, and I think it’s even more amazing to be able to tell it from this lens. I love Mexican culture, it has so enriched my life. The richness of the mythology is inspiring. We’re going to have a lot of instruments that are native to Mexican indigenous cultures to be able to make that connection.
Carolina: The ensemble of folks who are directing and writing these pieces is amazing. I would love to hear how you think their perspectives will influence these shows.
Beatrice: Sheila Malone, who is a company member and is directing [Lauren Gunderson’s] Revolutionists, is also a queer leader. She is one of the original members of Dykes on Bikes; she is an expert on lesbian bike culture and she’s a brilliant projection designer and lighting designer and has been a co-artistic director at her own theatre. She’s going to be super nuanced and and I love the energy that she brings to it. So it’s great for me to be able to produce and see another director bring their vision. I also love Lauren’s work!
Caitlin [Lopez, Beatrice’s daughter who is directing Knight of the Burning Pestle] and I founded the Shakespeare Festival in Claremont 10 years ago now. She is hugely into Shakespeare and and Elizabethan theatre, through a queer lens. She also has a very strong background in improvisation, so this version has a lot of audience participation. And we’re running it as a master class, the whole production. We are going to be casting about half the cast with local college students who will be paired with mentor professional artists in their areas of interest, and they will be getting other ancillary classes, seminars, workshops and other opportunities.
Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos [playwright of Second Death of a Mad Wife] is amazing. We’ve done two of her plays; this one is really interesting, too. I’m staging it in a way that I think is gonna be really fun because it’s gonna be somewhat immersive. Twelve Ophelias by Caridad Svich [directed by Elina de Santos] is amazing, too. I reached out to her and she’s like, “Oh yeah, do the show!” <laugh> She intervened with her licensing to make sure we got [rights], which was great.
Carolina: What excites you most about this season? And what has been the most challenging?
Beatrice: I feel like for the last four years we had to kind of hunker down and, in some ways, make decisions to do things that were not necessarily what I see as core mission. Because we just were struggling like everybody else. I actually, like a lot of other artists, had this existential crisis where I found myself asking, “Is art even important? Does anybody care anymore? People are dying. And what is it that art brings to this? Who cares?” But art is what kept me going. And we were able to program for free and I think we kept other people going. It’s part of mental health, it’s part of community wellbeing.
This is the first season in which I’m doing what I want as an artist, what I think is important as an artist and what is important as a social-justice-minded organization. I am putting women and gender-marginalized people at the center of things. I am fully invested in hiring young people from local community colleges who are emerging artists, most of whom are Latino and of varying genders, who don’t have opportunities and who are learning. It’s an insane season. It’s insane – it’s seven productions!
The challenges? During the push for AB5, I was one of the leaders in the theatre community in California who said, “We have to stop fighting AB5. We need people need to get paid. We need to ask the government and people in the state to understand that our work is worth something and to fund.” But that hasn’t really happened. It happened during COVID and now the funding is all drying up. And so we are running at a huge deficit for every single production.
I’m going under the only way that I know how right now, which is full steam ahead and working my butt off to try to get grants and to spread the word, to reach out to patrons and say, “We have to have the help if you want us to keep going!” So part of the reason we have a season like this is we have a small crew and part of my personal commitment is I want to keep these folks employed. I need to give them hours because they need to live. I’m making a huge effort to try and make sure that I consistently have a number of hours for folks so that they don’t have to make huge changes in their lives all the time to try and make ends meet.
Carolina: If you could pick a classic tale to retell from your own lens, whether it’s your own story or somebody else’s story, which would it be and why?
Beatrice: Well, that’s kind of what I’ve done with La Tempestad. I was born in Cuba, but my parents left when I was just a baby. “My Cubans,” as I call them, are dying off, right? My dad’s 86, my aunts, and my mom are already gone. And like you say, it’s the history of this island; this little nation is so replete with stories that are important. So that’s really what’s in my mind right now.
I’ve retold Hamlet and used portfolio and other original writings to highlight Ophelia’s arc, which is how our theatre got our name. I made Laertes a lesbian character who was a suffragist and kind of looked at the female arcs in that play, and the different outcomes. A young woman who’s basically had her agency stripped [away] by the female in power and all the males in her life and finally takes agency in her last act, which is to kill herself. And then juxtaposed that with Laertes who was off traveling because they were not living the traditional female role. I’m constantly looking at projects like this and will continue to do so, I hope, through my career, ’cause that’s what really gets me going. <laugh>. Yeah, Shakespeare retellings through feminist lenses is really something I love to do.
“Musical of Musicals” runs through February 18th. For more information about “Musical of Musicals,” “La Tempestad,” and the many, many more wonderful productions that Ophelia’s Jump will be producing this year, you can find more information at opheliasjump.org. For information on how you can support or make a donation, please visit opheliasjump.org/ways-to-support.