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When José Torres-Tama steps on the stage of the GALA Hispanic Theatre this Friday, he has a message he’s determined to convey. And he’s going to try to get it across any way he can—ranging from Star Wars parodies to carrying a cross covered with dollar bills.
The piece, titled “Aliens, Immigrants, & Other Evildoers” is billed as a “sci-fi Latino noir, multimedia solo.” Co-commissioned by GALA, Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans, and MECA in Houston, the art piece was funded through the National Performance Network Creation Fund. The piece is touring nationally, stopping in D.C. this weekend.
Torres-Tama, who created the piece as well as stars in it, says his work will be at times sardonically funny, and at other times deadly serious. He also says that visually he’s pulling out all the stops. “It’s a multi-media portrayal that’s very appealing visually,” he says. “While it’s moving, it’s very satirical in nature.”
The sci-fi satire draws from films like The Matrix and Flash Gordon, along with an extended Star Wars parody referring to elements of the Republican and Tea Parties as the Imperial Empire, under the command of a Darth Vader suspiciously similar to Karl Rove, and a propaganda service resembling Fox News.
“I’m a big sci-fi fan,” he says. “Sci-fi is able to contend with social concerns… In a sci-fi narrative, things can be a little more palatable.”
Torres-Tama says he was first inspired to work on the piece in 1998. While visiting an international performance festival in Slovenia as a representative of both the United States and Ecuador, Torres-Tama lost his green card. When he reported the card missing to the U.S. Embassy, he received an official letter in which Torres-Tama was repeatedly referred to by the technical term “alien.”
“That document repeatedly referred to me as an alien,” Torres-Tama recalls. “That helps create the idea of the foreign born as different… and here it was, embedded in this real U.S. document.”
The letter plays a major role in Torres-Tama’s visual work during the piece.
“We’ve done some really cool sci-fi treatment of this letter,” he says. While his voice re-reads the letter, its words will appear on screen, with the words “alien” growing green and bulbous, emphasizing the foreign nature of the word.
Other visual elements go in a different direction. A red cross covered with dollar bills is targeted at the U.S.’s consumer culture.
“Above all, it’s a consumer cross—everything here’s in pursuit of the American dollar,” Torres-Tama says. “I play with that idea, you know, the dollar everyone comes here for is painful.”
While developing the piece, Torres-Tama was an artist-in-residence at GALA last April, interviewing Latino immigrants in D.C. He also conducted interviews in Houston and New Orleans.
“A lot of these lines are based on the actual interviews,” he says. “I’m trying to put a human face and a human heart on these issues.”
The piece appears at 8 p.m. March 4 and 5 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St., NW. (202) 234-7174. The piece is bi-lingual.