Bruno Louchouarn’s compositions range from the cantina music heard in the film Total Recall, to works for orchestra, ballet, theatre and multimedia performance pieces. After graduate studies in Paris, he earned a Ph.D. in music composition at UCLA. Currently, Louchouarn teaches music, multimedia, and cognitive science at Occidental College. His work has been widely performed, including at Redcat in Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, UCLA’s Royce Hall, Zipper Hall, the Getty Villa, the Getty Center, the Pasadena Playhouse, the San Diego Rep, Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena, La MaMa in New York City, and the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, as well as many university venues. He also created the musical score for Herbert Siguenza’s A Weekend with Pablo Picasso and talked with PROLOGUE about that experience.
PROLOGUE: First, how do you pronounce your last name?
Bruno Louchouarn: Loo-SHWARN. It’s an old Celtic family name from Brittany—my heritage is both Breton and Mexican.
When Herbert Siguenza performed his A Weekend With Pablo Picasso at Houston’s Alley Theatre last year, he had a few things to say to The Alley’s Mark Bly about why he paints and why he took on the perilous task of not only impersonating an iconic artist on stage, but also of creating an actual painting on stage.
Mark Bly: What inspired you to write A Weekend With Pablo Picasso?
Herbert Siguenza: I was born with the mysterious gift of being able to draw. Since I was a young boy, I would press crayons against paper and create imaginary worlds and characters. In fact, when I was in second grade, my teacher, Mrs. Sharp, would pull me out of the reading circle and have me draw on giant rolls of butcher paper instead. She kept everything I drew.
Sam Woodhouse co-founded the San Diego Repertory Theatre with D.W. Jacobs in 1976, the offshoot of an earlier group of street performers (of which he was a part), composed of college students eager to make theatre of protest together. Woodhouse has been the Rep’s producing and artistic director ever since its inception and has worked as a director, producer and actor on more than 150 Rep productions. The performance group Culture Clash consists of Herbert Siguenza, Ric Salinas, and Richard Montoya, the author of American Night. American Night is Woodhouse’s first directorial project for the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC).
DCPA: We know that Culture Clash is a socially and politically charged Los Angeles-based comedy troupe that has been around for nearly 30 years. Rich Montoya, one of its founding members, wrote American Night. What’s your history with the group?
SAM WOODHOUSE: I’ve known and worked with Richard and Culture Clash for maybe 20 years. Most recently I directed one of their full-length plays, Water and Power, for San Diego Rep.It’s a powerful allegory about power struggles, both in families and politics, and it was a rousing success. Earlier on, Culture Clash was doing more sketch comedy and improvised work, but as they’ve matured, their work has grown and extended to fully-formed, evening-length works of real sophistication and literary merit. They’ve always been an extremely successful performing ensemble, doing satire and shorter pieces, but they’re tackling bigger issues these days. They use “performance collage” to bring history, geography, “urban excavation,” “forensic poetry” and storytelling together in a contemporary, movable theatre narrative through a Chicano point of view—what Guillermo Gomez-Peña describes as “reverse anthropology.”
DCPA: I saw American Night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). The piece has a real satirical bent, but it has real heart, too.
SW: Oh, it does—you laugh hysterically, you may cry, you even sing along—and it takes you on a real journey. You’re not the same person at play’s end that you were at the beginning. I think satire without an emotional core gets old pretty quick.
DCPA: You are an Anglo, running a big, successful theatre company in San Diego, and you’re working with what has been a self-producing, somewhat “wild and crazy” group of guys with a decidedly Latino/Chicano point of view. It almost sounds like herding cats. How have you, Richard Montoya and the guys, come to an artistic meeting of the minds across such a cultural divide?
SW: Let’s see—I was born and raised in Southern California. The size of the Latino population there is probably on a par with the Anglo, Asian, African-American and other populations. You’re surrounded by Spanish language, Spanish culture and Latino people from all over the Americas. San Diego is close to the Mexican border, so I’ve had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Mexico as well. I’ve gotten good at what you could call “traveler’s Spanish” so [we] have language in common. But what is much more important is that, after all these years, I understand the culture, which is maybe even more important than knowing the language. And what is more, the guys and I all speak the language of theatre—that’s our real common bond. We’re walking together down the same road.
DCPA: Is American Night essentially a Latino play aimed at a Spanish-centric audience?
SW: No! Heavens. It’s an American play. Without making it sound in any way dry or didactic, it’s a play about the history of American immigration, American settlers—the famous, the infamous and the unsung. The play has a real cross-section of American types—Latinos, Anglos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, you name it, they’re probably in there—along with historical figures, religious figures, a real smorgasbord. All ethnic types and races and economic classes. The play is about the core of the American Dream, really. From early immigrant times to our current era.
DCPA: Yet the play is told from the point of view of a young Mexican man who is studying for his citizenship exam.
SW: True. We’re led into the story by a protagonist from a culture that is maybe not so immediately familiar to your average subscriber. But from there, as I said, it would be a mistake to narrowly categorize the play. And the audience will immediately warm up to Juan José, our leading man—his journey, the hero’s journey if you will—is one we all go on, at one time or another, in one way or another. I believe that everyone in the audience will recognize at least one character in the story. To me, as a postscript, this is Culture Clash’s most sophisticated, elegant, complex, ambitious and incisive work to date.
DCPA: I understand you’re working closely with Rich Montoya. You and he went to the casting calls together in Denver, Los Angeles and New York. How’s that relationship?
SW: Great. We have great communication. I think Richard is one of our foremost playwrights working today—he’s at the top of his game. He’s witty, enormously funny and entertaining. He’s got a mind that can turn on a dime; he’s deep, he’s profound—and a real free spirit. And he speaks his mind—not always the case in such working relationships. We’ve worked together on a number of projects over time to the point that we understand and, more importantly, trust one another.
DCPA: He sounds like a stimulating collaborator.
SW: He is. Our temperaments balance each other out. He’s so resourceful too, and outgoing. He can meet somebody in a taxi, a hotel bar, in the street—he’ll have their life story in ten minutes and may incorporate that into one of his plays. He’s also enormously curious—about people, politics, the social scene. He reads newspapers, political blogs, watches TV news—everything. Working with him is energizing.
DCPA: The Oregon production of American Night was staged on a three-quarter thrust, similar to DCTC’s Stage Theatre. Here it’s in The Ricketson, which is a small proscenium stage. How do these changes affect the production?
SW: The Ricketson is a terrific space for this show—I’d say it’s more intimate than Oregon’s New Theatre. We’ll be able to include all the great technical effects of the Oregon production and the Ricketson audience will still get that great feeling of being practically in the lap of the actors—almost part of the action at times.
DCPA: Sounds like fun—
SW: Fun, exciting, entertaining, educational and, one hopes, something new and different for DCTC.
This article was originally published in PROLOGUE, a newsletter produced for the Denver Center Theatre Company.
American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose plays in Denver’s Ricketson Theatre Oct 7-Nov 20, 2011. Info at: http://www.denvercenter.org/americannight