It’s amazing when one has the courage to bare their soul on stage in a one-woman show; when you take your story and tell it through song, dance and comedy — you can say it’s been done before. But when an artist tells their story successfully channeling the greats that entertained and inspired from a bygone era of TV and Broadway in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, and you’re a Puerto Rican from Spanish Harlem, we’ve got something here. And I’m not the only one who sees it that way.
At what is now a New York City institution, the annual ONE FESTIVAL featuring 12 finalists in a competitive submission program of one-person shows, mostly Latinos, this lady walks away with the highly coveted Audience Award with the show she wrote and performed, Marlene Goes to Hollywood. It’s one thing when your mom, papá and Tías love you, but when your get a resounding number of accolades from the audience – you’re onto something. And the prize at this May event – is a one-week theatrical production in November of your solo show in New York City. Meet Marlene Villafane, the 2016 winner who just got off the stage with her fall theatrical production.
TíoLouie: From the moment you stepped on stage to receive your Audience Award for which you were chosen as #1 for your one-person production, you were absolutely overwhelmed with emotion and cried right through your speech. What was underneath all that emotion?
Marlene Villafane: Exhilaration. I felt that it was surreal. It felt like, this is going to be really good for me. Things are now coming into play the way I am allowing them to be. I am actually now putting myself out there and doing what I always wanted to do. Here I am and this is what I can do. It is a joy that people can understand where I’m coming from and I am playing these characters out fully. They’re very much part of the story that I have written. I always felt that I could do it. They help tell the story. I can go out there as an actress and take it to the next level. Something that I can do and enjoy, and I was not allowing it before. I am letting it shine and something that I can push forward.
TíoLouie: Here you are a nice, modern, Puerto Rican girl from NYC, and the majority of the character actors you emulate and play are your role models from film, TV, theater – mostly from the ‘50’s and the ‘60’s. How did you end up taking that path and why did it strike a special chord with you?
Marlene: Well, you know how there is the godfather of soul? Back then, the comedic actors of that era paved the way for comedy today. I used to watch the Honeymooners, The Odd Couple and Jackie Gleason. Even today when I get together with my family, we watch them and laugh our hearts away. You can learn a lot from these comedies that are timeless, like Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye, The Jeffersons. I would like to see more great writing today that are great and numerous as they were before. I am a great lover of sitcoms.
TíoLouie: What is your true passion when it comes to singing?
Marlene: I really love musical theater. Love Audra McDonald. Love Madeline Kahn – she was a lyric soprano who acted. She was a singing comedienne.
TíoLouie: Ethnicity and race have had to affect you for better or worse in your professional career, how has it shaped you and share some examples?
Marlene: It’s made me much sharper and a lot more persistent. I am very proud to be a Latina. When I was little, I got teased a lot for having very curly hair. I would be told that I had big hair or I was too tan to be Puerto Rican. I would feel bad and then later on realized that they didn’t know better. I turned it around and realized that I had a good look that could play a number of characters. I then met people who looked like me – who went through what I went through. I am proud to be who I am and push further. It’s allowed me to play a lot of different roles on stage. It’s not an impediment. Unless you look at it that way, it does not have to be. I see it as a garden path, as opposed to a road that goes nowhere.
TíoLouie: Tell me about doing SHOW BOAT in Australia while dealing with a foreign culture on stage and offstage?
Marlene: First of all, I fell in love with Australia. It was a great experience. It was 1998 and I went on to do the Australian tour of Show Boat understudying the part of Julie for Livent, Inc. Estelle Mays-Cotton played Julie in this production and Estelle understudied Lonette McKee in Toronto where they first developed the revival. Lonette played Julie on Broadway with Livent for some time, while in Australia I understudied Estelle. I actually went on for one week to play Julie while Harold Prince directed this production. There were several tours going on in 1997-98 while the Broadway show was happening.
TíoLouie: What are you doing now?
Marlene: I’m taking it easy and doing this one-woman show. I am adding more about my upbringing, family and school. I am going to add another character to give a little more me – personal things.
@TIO LOUIE/Louis E. Perego Moreno Louis E. Perego Moreno/@TioLouie Founder & Executive Producer of PRIME LATINO MEDIA, the largest East Coast network of Latino multimedia-makers, actors and musicians in bilingual Latino and mainstream media, digital and entertainment. An interactive Content/Social Impact Producer and Educator who for the past 35 years has owned Skyline Features, a bilingual multimedia and educational production company developing documentaries, television programming and advertising commercials featuring Latinos, Blacks, Women, Urban Youth and LGBT.
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