The Vanessa Verduga Interview:
Lawyer, Actor & Playwright in Off-Broadway play,
“Implications of Cohabitation”
In the past four years I have taken different multimedia-makers and projects to market and there was one meeting in Manhattan when I pulled out diverse pitches and just mentioned, “Her web series has gotten one million hits.” Immediately they said, “We want to see that.”
By now, Vanessa Verduga’s Justice Woman has gotten two million hits. But she doesn’t stop there. On top of that success, she is now tackling Broadway with a theatrical production about a Latino tale (yes, we’re talking Latinos taking over Broadway ranging from Hamilton, On Your Feet! and Andrea Navedo’s Other People’s Money) in an Off-Broadway show about an Ecuadorian family called, Implications of Cohabitation. The story deals with a Latino “daddy’s” missteps when it comes to faithfulness, honesty and full disclosure to family. Then it has you begging the question, “To which family, #1 or #2?” And ultimately the table reverses when his comeuppance is rendered through his offspring, with all its 21st century mores, allures and trappings. ¡Ay que familia!
She’s the playwright of her first long-form theatrical production, as well as lead actor; on top of writing, producing and starring in the web series, Justice Woman; she is also finishing an album where she sings to a fusion of Latino styles. She takes Wonder Woman onto a whole, new stage. We learn what makes her tick, how she earns a living off the stage, how she has capitalized on New Media opportunities and her inspiration that has shaped her life and projects. Here is our interview with a stellar, proud Ecuadorian.
Vanessa: Everything combined. That’s the whole thing. My projects are personal and an ensemble. I am also aware that they are commercial. I am a marketing guru when it comes to social media and branding projects and myself. I love art. But I also understand the best way to reach the masses is making it more commercial. I have a creative and business side. I have run businesses and don’t disconnect when creating for my public. I survive on challenges. It was by design how I created Justice Woman and for the lead character to be Latina, especially for her to cross over internationally. My work is always aimed at being commercial without sacrificing my voice. What I have going for me is that I have a way with comedy, which is a way of getting your message out there in a palatable way. I don’t like hard-core drama.
TíoLouie: Having never written a full-length play before or possessing formal education in that sphere, why did you undertake the angle of writing the play rather than employing a playwright?
Vanessa: As a trained actress I love working on characters that are complex and have a whole array of emotions and an arc. I have not seen that. I did those types of plays in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and we would do great plays. I loved the characters, the challenges and the psychology. It was like what we underwent in law school and working as a lawyer. When I graduated as a Latina there was nothing within those lines. There were requests to just read two lines. I found that lazy. I don’t like lazy playwrights and realized I needed to write this stuff myself. I did a Master Class at the Labyrinth Theater Company with Steven Levy Gourgois and José Rivera in playwriting. That was when I first started playwriting.
TíoLouie: For someone who likes to be in control from producing your own acting platforms, how was it relinquishing control to a Director?
Vanessa: It’s been great. It is so important for the playwright and director to share the vision. No ego came into play with her. We supported one another. There were times that I would say to her, Well I wrote it this way. But she would say, But I see it this way. Even sometimes the actors would come and offer a contribution and I would get it. I have been able to set ego aside. I love ensemble pieces and I have eight actors here and I love theater because it is, so collaborative.
TíoLouie: Now that you are working with a Latina Director whose native language is Spanish, how has it been different than working with other directors whether it’s gender or cultural connection that played a role?
Vanessa: Funny or not, because my Producer, Pablo Echegaray and I were navigating these waters for the first time, we did a Director’s search and we could not find many Latinos. We put it out there and the few that were around were already busy. Sometimes General Managers are not in touch with Latino actors, directors and playwrights – it’s Midwest galore in the theater depending on who is in managerial control. That’s why I went to Orpheus Casting because I wanted something authentic and not minstrel. My lead character is an Ecuadorian-trained architect. Another director could have trivialized his immigrant experience as someone with a lack of education and cast him as lower income level. With Leni it was just fabulous. She had done different things at INTAR. Actor, Ed Trucco led us to Leni. She got the script and has all the cultural references and was so culturally-sensitive in avoiding stereotypes at all costs. There were even parts in my play that I realized that I was playing into stereotypes. For example, do I really want my lead character drinking throughout the entire play? When she pointed it out I was grateful for her contributions.
TíoLouie: A lawyer by training, now Actor-Playwright, how has that helped you in developing business strategies and negotiating all types of matters?
Vanessa: My training as a lawyer has helped me in all that. The creative aspect has helped me more in negotiating.
TíoLouie: We know that the only way images will change about us, as Latinos in mainstream media is when we tell our stories. Why do you continue to tell Latino stories?
Vanessa: Because they have not been told. We are continuously marginalized as demonstrated by Trump. We have to show that we’re just like you and merit as much respect as you are worthy. Some people complain that in telling these stories we are separating ourselves from others. There are people in the Southwest who are not aware that this was once part of Mexico. The only way we can show ourselves is to tell our stories – it’s another way to educate them about us.
Vanessa: I love singing and musical theater is my first love and I wanted to continue doing that. However, within that field there is a lot of rejection in NY because it is a very cliquey world. So I had to build my self-esteem as a trained singer questioning what was happening when I went to auditions and feeling that I did not fit in until Lin-Manuel Miranda came out with In the Heights. When a friend of mine, a musician, heard me sing in LA she encouraged me to go for it. But then I realized why pay to record other people’s music and I started writing my own lyrics. I am originally from the Bronx, influenced by urban Latino music combed from modern reggaeton, which I normally found objectified women. I got it from my mom who loves to hear that music on the local MEGA station in NY and continued listening to it in my car in LA. I was listening to the MEGA station in LA and was hearing collaborative efforts between Marc Anthony and Gente De Sona, Enrique Iglesias with Nicky Jam. I am finishing the album to release in the fall that is Latin fusion with electro-Latino, urban-Latino, and bachata club. I will start performing it and taking it out. My ultimate objective is to do Justice Woman the musical that will hopefully go to Broadway. One project feeds into another that feeds into another and goes full circle.
Vanessa: I’m going to wrap it up. No more web series. Then I’m writing the music for a musical. I have a TV bible for the children’s animated series that stems from the web series set around a younger, nine-year-old little Sofia, Little Justice. I am also developing the book – the libretto for the Justice Woman theater project.
TíoLouie: What are your $0.10-worth of advice for actors in avoiding certain pitfalls when launching their own production be it a web series or a theatrical production?
Vanessa: You have to be realistic with yourself. Do you have what it takes? When working with others don’t give up different aspects of the project because it’s not their baby. You may have to do it all yourself. But if you’re doing it for self-gratification then you become fulfilled. If you’re doing it to become a celebrity, you can’t link your success with simply being famous because you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and depression. But if you have a purpose and mission outside of yourself, then you find your satisfaction. My mission is to bring Latinos to the mainstream and to bring forward more positive role models to the forefront in media.
TíoLouie: Going to law school was it a means to an end and would you take a different track with your training or career today if you could go back in time?
Vanessa: No. I am happy. If I had not been a lawyer, I would not have the knowledge, experience and confidence to pull everything I have gained today. It has served a purpose to get me what I have today. You learn from your failures more than your successes. I would not do it differently. I went to law school, though I wanted to be an actress coming from a single mom in the Bronx. After graduating from college I knew I had to go to graduate school in pursuing either an MBA or a law degree. Plus, my mother would not have had it any other way. I had to pursue even greater higher education.
TíoLouie: Your mom is a recurring theme in your work, your inspiration and someone on the East Coast who you deeply miss when in LA, explain that relationship?
Vanessa: My mom is everything to me. She raised me. I am who I am because of her. She is strong and self-sufficient. She had my brother who is a severely autistic, mentally disabled man and this woman continues to be my super hero. When I look at all my experiences it is because of my mom that I speak five languages and have lived and worked in Europe. My mother taught me to be fearless. It’s why I do what I do. Fear is not something I can give the time of day to.
IMPLICATIONS OF COHABITATION
Thru Friday, August 26
Tickets normally $20.25
Use HOLA & PRIME LATINO MEDIA
TRCON15 Promo code for $15 tickets
Theatre Row – The Clurman Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Between 9th and 10th Avenues
New York NY 10036
For the purchase of tickets on Telecharge:
@TIO LOUIE/Louis E. Perego Moreno
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.
Facebook (personal page): Louis E. Perego Moreno
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