When you employ the mind alone to a project you get something brilliant. When you employ the heart to it you get love. But when you combine both the mind and the heart that is when the fires of art at its finest are stoked. The night of March 14, 2015 at the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center was one to remember. There, two of the most talented writers that I have ever known set the stage ablaze as they performed their poetry not from the confines of a sterile podium but as art flowing like the waters course down the river banks.
Brenda Riojas kick started the event. First impressions upon learning that she was debuting her acting/performance might induce some to lean toward a skepticism as to the quality of the show. But upon witnessing the first few minutes, the entire sold-out audience was captivated. It tends to happen when artists speak from the heart the words that were seemingly born from the mind onto the written form. Brenda took us on a journey through "La Primera Voz Que Oi/The First Voice I Heard," a play/monologue based on her book of poetry by the same title. She enacted scenes of her childhood mixed with images of historical events that predate her birth. All the way back to La Revolucion in Mexico. She spoke about her Mexican mother and gringo father, and what it was like to seek belonging in this American society while all along losing her identity by disconnecting with her Mexican roots. Then by some unspoken magic unknown to us, like the fountain of inspiration that strikes at any given moment without our intervention, the language of her mother returned to her tongue and she reconnected with it and has not let go. Brenda's ode to her mother was powerful and moving in its ability to make us connect with that which is primordial and unbreakable: family.
After a five minute break among strange faces, art pieces hung up on walls and empty wine bottles on the reception tables we were called back for the second show. Amalia Leticia Ortiz was entering the stage from within the audience. Short physical stature, hair pulled up to a bun that struggled to maintain. Dressed in loose-fit khaki pants and an oversized hooded sweater. She was unassuming and unremarkable at first glance. I must admit that I thought maybe she could have employed more thought into her wardrobe choice for her show. But then again, isn't that how artists are supposed to affect their audience? Throwing us off with contradicting images and ideas. She took to the stage and exploded into multiple characters, quickly changing costumes behind small spaces hidden by the curtain, taking swigs of her Tecate can between sketches. She transformed from the cholo with his call to conscience, to the grandma' with her diabetes dilemma and love of Big Red soda, to the battered woman seeking an escape from an abusive relationship and finding no way out, to the poet cat-called out on the streets by blind men who fail to see that she's more than female body parts, she's a mind--a universe unto herself. All these characters from her play "Otra Esa on the Public Transit" living in their parallel universes meeting in the same bus route on the San Antonio transit system .
These two shows proved their worth far beyond the "suggested" five dollar entrance contribution. These shows belong on the road, on major stages throughout the country. It is a good thing that they are here to begin with. Throughout the Valley, more and more visionaries are rising up to the occasion. The next time you know of these two exceptional creators presenting make it a priority to get out there and witness it. It is not often that brilliant minds are able to craft the messages born in their hearts and lay it all out on the stage where they pulsate with the rhythm of life. They make you not only see it as a passive observer, but feel it...live it. That is more than art imitating life; that is life singing a song to itself.
Gabriel H. Sanchez is an author, poet, actor, editor, and publisher from the Rio Grande Valley.
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