The Lorraine Vélez Interview:
“There She Goes” Written and Performed by Velez
By Tio Louie, Prime Latino Media
The ONE FESTIVAL is one of my favorite annual independent theatrical events in New York City to which I am addicted and follow every year with great anticipation as to the next big find. It is the preeminent series of one-person performances in which, out of hordes of submissions 12 are selected to perform over a number of a limited number of days. If well done, I LOVE one-person shows. And this festival is never, ever a disappointment – and 2016 was just as satisfying as you sat there for days on end. Screw Netflix binge watching – this is 21ST century, live theatrical binge watching unrivaled. Lorraine Vélez concurred completely. Lorraine is an accomplished international actor, singer and dancer who has graced stages from London’s West End to New York’s Broadway. Yet with an accomplished background she reaffirmed that as a Latina performer she was inspired to create her one-woman show There She Goes, to premiere in the ONE FESTIVAL because of the preponderance of Latino performers showcased. I knew immediately we were speaking the same language. Plus, it’s one thing when I like something, but when an acclaimed Broadway artist scribes an autobiographical piece that placed top three by the Audience Awards at this Festival; I know I’m not crazy and that we’re onto something.
Disclaimer: I am a filmmaker. I am not a Broadway theater fanatic nor into musical theater. I had never seen Rent on Broadway. But when this lady rolled her show out and exposed the journey of her life from the first Latina in a predominantly white neighborhood in Far Rockaway, Queens to owning Broadway as Mimi in the musical Rent, I was transported into her story and smitten. As Luis Caballero, a seasoned theatrical and film director who directed this play said, “It was her script. It’s about her life. It’s very hard to do somebody’s life in 45 minutes. At the end of the show this was Lorraine’s fifth draft in being true to herself and her story. She decided what she wanted to talk about. I respected everything she kept and cut out. My job was to witness and guide her in making the best to tell her story.” And boy did she slam a home run with his performance! Meet Lorraine Vélez in a one-on-one interview on her one-woman show.
TíoLouie: How has culture and identity, belonging and not belonging, been such a recurring theme in your theatrical production and why is it so important to you?
Lorraine: Firstly, I will answer the second part. This is something we all suffer from. Whether it’s cultural, sexual, religious identity – it’s about self-identification and we struggle or accept it – it’s our journey. As someone whose parents came from Puerto Rico and came to Rockaway Beach, I have lived it. As a human being, I have to explore, Why I am here. Geography plays into it also. Growing up in Rockaway Beach we initially did not fit in. But we eventually did. Life gives you circumstances to play a bigger role in life. Why don’t I belong? Why did you move into this all-white community?
TíoLouie: What was the defining moment in your childhood that shaped you as an artist?
Lorraine: It came from my mother. My mother was a singer. She had an extraordinary voice. It wasn’t just singing. She lived in color. It was about enjoying and living life fully. When she decorated the house, when she cooked – she lived fully. My father was an incredible cook. My mother had seven daughters and a son. I remember my mom singing all the time. And then when my father heard me sing for the first time, it shocked him. But then he encouraged me to do it. My uncle paid for dance lessons in Manhattan with my twin, Lauren (Luna). In the room next door to the classes I took there was a guy who gave vocal music lessons. I sang Johnny Mathis’, Chances and my sister, Marti found the tape in which I recorded the song and she ran downstairs and played it for my mom and they were mesmerized realizing that I could sing.
TíoLouie: The quintessential twin question, how did you develop your own separate identity from your twin, Luna (Lauren Vélez), the acclaimed actress?
Lorraine: She did not come out much in this one-woman performance in order to protect her privacy. This was my journey. My sister is part of my journey, but not all of it. I exist as an individual. When I started to fully develop, as an individual was when I went to England for a number of years. She often came to visit me. My first phone bill in England was £700 pounds. We would speak six times a day. However, it was being separated from my family that was the first time to come terms with what I wanted for myself. This was my first foray in being myself. It was also the first time to look at the world not from both of our eyes, but what I was experiencing. That was the first time.
TíoLouie: You are a singer, dancer, actor and now a playwright. What speaks most to you at this stage in your life in concentrating in one art form or the other and which one defines you most?
Lorraine: I have been writing since as far back as I can remember. I am first and foremost an actor. Just like love does not exist in a linear matter, you should not feel pressured by the entire world that wants a label on you. As an artist I reject to be put into one specific category. As an artist I encompass them all. Right now I am focusing on my writing. I want to refine this play more and I am writing another. I pick “D,” all of the above. When I was coming up you had to excel in all three – it was called the triple threat. After my scholarship with Alvin Ailey I got one at the Acting Studio (by James Price) and then started voice for two years with a variety of teachers. I put myself through a six-year training. I was with the likes of Michael Bennett with Dreamgirls – we had to do it all with the highest possible standards.
TíoLouie: Do you believe that we are seeing a generation of artists who are a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none or if it would be good to see people specialize and excel in one area?
Lorraine: The world is changing so quickly that people are looking for people who can do it all and getting the job done than craft. You sacrifice something with getting it done like that. Across the board, you’re getting it done. But it’s hard to excel at one. It’s not to say that it’s not impossible to have someone who excels at all. But it’s more the exception than the norm.
TíoLouie: Your outfit was a perfect and magical complement to the show, was that by design or accident?
Lorraine: That was completely by my sister, Luna. I originally came in with a black top and my sister said, You look like a stagehand. She has a good eye for movement and fluidity. I was her dresser and assistant when she did the theatrical production of La Lupe. For her role in interpreting the Cuban icon, she wanted a golden dress in which she would be tearing and ripping it down the middle. People contested this, but Luna insisted. I needed that same intensity portrayed similar to the scene taking place in Radio City Music Hall to be La Lupe’s moment. Even the night before, she was sewing it and our mother said, Let it go. And she said, No. I told mom, We either help her or let it go. When she was in the theater and took the coat off during the performance and showed the dress that she then ripped off, the audience was hypnotized. I was like, This was vision and pure theater.
TíoLouie: How has Buddhism shaped your craft and life?
Lorraine: I will start off with how Buddhism – Tibetan Buddhism shaped over 500 years has shaped my life. It’s all about training your mind. It’s about working with your mind. Cutting through experience and circumstances that can free you from what is holding you back. Buddhism cuts through those layers and reinforces that you are, a pure being. What is needed and not? What is this show about? It’s, let me be clear, about what I am doing, being disciplined and that made me use my mind in a very focused way to tend to things. With Buddhism it’s all about compassion and love. That’s what the arts are all about.
TíoLouie: When you have been shaped by diversity in the arts, by opportunities gained or denied, how do you feel about “Hamilton” getting 11 Tonys with the most diverse cast on Broadway?
Lorraine: Thrilled, thrilled – as it should be. We live in a diverse world. I celebrate Broadway. I celebrate Lin-Manuel Miranda for his accomplishments. I celebrate Luis Caballero for his accomplishments. These are artists who explode on a large scale or a longer, smaller stage. I took my son to see In The Heights and he loved it because he could see himself. He saw the diversity on stage through the actors and music. We wore the CD out.
TíoLouie: Where do you want to take this one-woman production?
Lorraine: Anywhere it would be useful. I would love for it to run in NY. I hope this message is useful. I would love to go to London with it, too. I feel it is so specific to the Nuyorican culture that I am curious to see how it translates out there.
TíoLouie: It was a striking production in the subtlety of diverse subject matters that were touched on in your production as you constantly referred to “the demons you were battling throughout your life.” Describe the fortitude that it took to bring that out in this production?
Lorraine: It is a horrible reality that we have to live with that happens more often than not – abuse. As an artist we hope that people will connect and be moved – especially anyone who has suffered abuse, male or female. As the mother of a boy who is sensitive and is faced with his cultural issues, his father is white English and his mother is a black Latina. You are the product of those cultures, but not defined. You are the future. You are just you. You have to come terms with what happened. I ran from it for years. I now look. I am no longer hiding, running and defined by it, but that imprint will never go away. Do I wish I never witnessed that violence and been violated? I feel for anyone who has suffered that kind of abuse – of a parent who is abused and witnessing or being subject to sexual abuse and it gave me the capacity to understand that particular suffering. We have to break that chain. It sent me on a journey on how to overcome it. It sent me on a quest to determine what was beyond that. That then got me to, Who am I? I did not want to be defined solely by that negative experience. There was abuse in my father’s family. I wanted to stop it. I did not want my son to suffer it and get a clean slate.
TíoLouie: What are your $0.10-worth of advice for an actor who is asked to take on a role that might challenge them emotionally on how best to deliver in their craft?
Lorraine: I would tell them what an acting teacher told me when I first began, Tell the truth. It’s almost the same for singing. The voice is like a heart – a muscle. You have to use it.
@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/Impact Producer and Educator who for the past 34 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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