A Chorus Line Mexico: The reality of Mexican Musical Theatre

Last week I was invited to Opening Night of the Mexican Version of A Chorus Line: La línea del coro. They have two slogans for the show, one that translates  “The Musical that Revolutionized Broadway” and the second one ” World Quality: This line is golden”. Now, I usually don’t write reviews in this blog of shows most of my readers won’t be able to see, but this time it has made me realized many realities of the Mexican Musical Theatre and I wanted to share it with you.

Of course I went with a whole bunch of theatre people who all (including me) love the show, love the music and love the text. The problem when you go with these kind of people is that we all take out the claws and criticize every single thing but most of all, the number one comment was: ” I saw it on Broadway and it was breathtaking, and here in Mexico is not like that”. I agree. However, we really need to stop comparing to Broadway, or take it as a reference point to judge if something is good in Mexico or not. There is not a cast in Mexico that could have had Broadway quality, this may sound harsh or bold but no one could have done it better, even though it wasn’t enough. The truth is that not a single person that criticized the cast as a whole or individually could have done it better, as a whole.

The thing is that no one is really prepared to do theatre at that level in Mexico. Most people that are on stage actually studied something else and then trained on their spare time, no one dedicated professionally to the craft from an early age, and even those very few who had the guts to do it, there is no recognized institution of high standards to train our talented people to be top quality in Musical Theatre as a whole. There is a lot of talent in the country, don’t get me wrong, but we are simply not developing because today, a career in Musical Theatre, is not an option. The cast of The Chorus Line is just a sample of the most talented actors in México, the ones who had the guts to take their profession past a hobby, the ones that have been in big musicals building a career, and sadly, its still not enough.

On the other hand, as usual in this company, production was flawless, clean. The lighting and sound design was precise and I even going to dare to call perfect. Unfortunately, they still have to bring American designers to do it for us, I just hope its a matter of time for us to learn to do it ourselves with that level of quality. Choreography was clean and the few production elements were well achieved.

So my main criticism is not the cast itself, nor the production, but to the producers. I admire and respect big time their work because they are the ones who brought quality in theatre to the country. They brought full versions of Les Mis, Phantom, Beauty and the Beast, Mamma Mia! and other hits. But this move, seemed cheap to me. I understand that mexican audiences are not cooperating enthusiastically in the box office, so they decided to put on a show that relies on cast and not production (therefore saving a couple million pesos). As any other production of chorus line: simple costumes, the mirrors, the fan, and the golden suits. But what makes you want to pay the $120 dollars on Broadway is the cast, a line of headliners and dancers that are professional dancers who have dedicated their whole life to dance, with pure technique and style. Trying to do the same thing in México, with a line that is not what its promised, at the same price they asked for Beauty and the Beast ($650 pesos, which is a lot for the Mexican Economy) and on top of all to an audience that appreciates production but can’t really read coreography, is simply wrong to me.

“The musical that revolutionized Broadway” – Yes indeed, in the 70’s, not 30 years later. “World Quality, This line is golden”- As for golden, it just refers to the colour of their costumes. I hope I’m wrong in my forecast. A big success in A Chorus Line here in Mexico would tell me that mexican audiences are growing and appreciating more this type of art and maybe respect it more, and maybe be a bit more open when a kid says ” I want to sing and dance for a living” and then maybe, just maybe, we will see a golden line in the future. And for that dream and reason I would actually recommend people to go see it, but wait for a price change or big discounts or else you are going to feel disappointed.

Feel free to leave any comments and debate with me. Thanks for reading!

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Mom, Dad… I am an artist…

I was last night watching a TED Conference talk on education by Ken Robinson [brief interruption for those of you who don’t know TED Conferences, its this annual Conference where the most important creatives from around the world gather to talk about their ideas hoping to reach other important people to receive support for their ideas. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design check it out at www.ted.com or their Podcast]. Anyway, he explains his ideas on how the current education system worldwide is focused on punishing mistakes and pushing young people to think in a linear way, pushing our intelligence to just one part of our bodies, our brain, and mostly just one side. A school presents the scenario of success as a University Professor. Anything else is just unacceptable.

I remember in my school for plays in Grammar School the main roles were assigned to the kids with the highest marks. Yes, the main roles were assigned to the nerds (and you can imagine most of them were not very talented). To be part of the school choir or soccer team you needed 8.5 (of 10) in your marks. And you would dedicate just 1 hour a week to this so called EXTRA CURRICULAR activities. This is where we grow up, in a culture where being good as an athlete, musician, dancer, singer, painter, writer, composer, is a nice quality but useless, a hobby, an ‘Extra’, but what really matters is that you are good at memorizing, not creating. Then we are told we are children and that we are supposed to change the world and make it better.

Telling my parents that I was dropping out of University to do theatre was not an easy thing. Even when I had a scholarship for doing art at it. But even my University asked for a 8.3 average to be able to keep doing that thing that got me the scholarship in the first place. I was fortunate to go to Theatre School after and study Production (in Canada because you can’t even study that in Mexico) Parents intend no harm, but we live in a world where we believe that artists can’t make a living, or get a job. I grew up in Mexico and I wonder how many Mechatronic Engineers this country needs? and why is it better than what I do? There is no better and worse and that is the whole point.

I plead to parents and educators to encourage the sports and the arts. Make it as important as Math and Literature, and please by all means stop calling it Extra Curricular activities. Take your kids to concerts, theatre and big sports events and if your kids dream of being there, let them explore and get to know themselves. Remove all prejudice from you mind and encourage ANY area a kid or teenager wants to explore. If you think your kid won’t make a living by being a dancer, then start going to ballet and dance shows and start encouraging people to do so, so your kid has a future.

But the most important task is in us. Those of us who are good at extra-curricular. If we don’t act accordingly, no one will ever respect or believe in what we do. I wrote the 8 points to put a future in what we do as emerging artists and try to live and act according to them:

1. Believe in what we do, because if we don’t no one will.

2. Explore, train and pursue, work hard on it. Taking it easy is the reason why people think its an easy road and therefore a bad one.

3. Be professional, or no one will understand that its a profession.

4. Stay away from drugs, no real talent should need to fuck up with your brain and body to flourish.

5. Support your colleagues. Recommend all shows and performances and when you critique be constructive, don’t trash, we don’t want to keep people away from theatres or halls, even if they are ‘competition’. We need each other people.

6. Teach. Go down to the chain of happening and put some time in encouraging interested younger generations to do what you do.

7. Don’t give up. We are swimming against the current but its very easy when you understand why. Create and be part of moving us further, as a community.

8. Keep it real. We live in a real world with limits of time, money and space. If we get lost in our abstract creative world we will be useless for the rest of the world and therefore our craft will die.

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