Latina Boom Crossover Seminar
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Latina Boom Crossover Seminar
Lara is an experienced poet and performer, and Vanessa is a naturally talented speaker and actor. Both are good friends and make a natural comedy team. Their decision to create an original comedic performance piece, inspired by a skit from John Leguizamo's videotaped television special, Mambo Mouth, was the perfect final project for them to share with their audience. They wrote an original script, used a PowerPoint slide presentation and music, and drew upon many of their personal experiences as Latinas. In their hilarious live performance, they also acted in role, as the actress, Jennifer Lopez, and the Colombian pop singer, Shakira. Lara and Vanessa very effectively satirized the cult of personality, as well as the cultural expectations and stereotypes, surrounding these famous "crossover" Latinas.
Vanessa: [We explored] the theories of Stuart Hall, specifically his ideas on how the images within the media play into society's sexual fetishes, and which further stabilize these fantasy stereotypes. [Hall] proposes two ways of dealing with this: either do the opposite or delve into the fetish and try to intervene in the connection from within the fetish. I have never played into the fetishes consciously, and since Lara and I are quite strong presences, it would be easier to exploit these fetishes and intervene.
Lara: The project lent itself well to a lot of creativity between more than one person. We wanted to bring to light a pet peeve of ours, which is the hypersexualized and white-washed image of Latinas in the media. We wanted to get our point across without being preachy, and comedy seemed the best way to do it. People tend to react better to ideas that make them uncomfortable if they are veiled in laughter, so we figured that was the best way to get our point across.
Lara: We started out wanting to do a stand up comedy act, but decided the structure of a skit or act would work better. John Leguizamo is known for just that, and Vanessa and I have always loved his work. Vanessa and I modeled our project on a Leguizamo skit about crossing over from one culture to another, only we adapted it specifically to women and the Latina fever that seems to be taking over the media. The project changed from simply a skit to a multimedia project involving music and pictures so that it was both comedic and cathartic.
Vanessa: The script came quite easily, and following John Leguizamo's organization, the lines came naturally. When we finally got all the topics we wanted to address, we had to reorganize some points into groups: Basics and Fetishes. We definitely had to cut some topics out of the script since it did not flow. When practicing, the script was altered a tad from adlibs, and during each practice there were definite adlibs thrown in that changed each time. However, by the time the performance rolled around, the adlibs were stable and memorized instead of being written into the script.
The PowerPoint images, and which songs to use to express our points, came to me quite readily and I had no trouble putting them together, and the Internet was helpful to find the pictures of JLo and Shakira that we needed. We decided midway to add some personal pictures to the PowerPoint images since Lara believed it would bring some of the messages home.
Vanessa: When approached with the opportunity of creating something creative in representing Latinas/os, there was no doubt in my mind that it would have to include humor. Moreover, there was also no doubt that I would be collaborating with someone. Lara Santiago Renta was an obvious choice because we come from similar backgrounds, our personalities are similar in many ways, and at the time we were both discussing similar situations we are faced with as first/second generation Latinas in America and at Dartmouth, in particular the way men view us on this campus. In addition, we amplify each other's personalities, therefore, when we are humorous, we can be doubly as powerful and energetic.
Lara: The collaboration element of the final project was essential. From the beginning it was set to be a duet. Vanessa and I worked off of each other on stage and did everything from writing a script to memorizing lines and coming up with a soundtrack together. I usually work alone, but in the end it was both rewarding and fun to share the creative experience with someone else. If anything, it was more fun to rehearse with a friend and to have ideas different from my own to integrate into a comedy act. (Besides the fact that comedy is easier to try to pull off when it's not just you on stage!)
Lara: Using live performance is a difficult medium, but it's very effective. You can reach an audience in an intimate and immediate way that is just not possible with media like video and print media. The instant reactions of the audience and the back and forth interaction create a level of honesty and immediacy that is rare-you can visibly see what people's gut reactions are to an idea or concept; and the fact that the audience can become part of the performance is great. As far as performance media, I regard it as one of the single most immediate and effective modes to communicate messages and ideas.
Vanessa: The funny part of this project was that Lara and I were ourselves even onstage but more amplified. Those who knew us were aware of this fact; however, we wonder if the other audience members thought of the performance as acting or realized some truth of our characters to our true selves. We were hoping to clarify a lot of these points to the mainstream society that attended the performance by delving within our personal experiences. All the lines were from personal experiences and we were happy to find that many of the Latino audience members who attended also appreciated our performance. The parts we ended up cutting were actually parts about our [Latino] society that would only be funny to those from a Latino background. Therefore, we decided that we needed to be more inclusive so the message would not get lost.
Vanessa: Latinos in the Media has really sparked another side of observation within me that I knew was there, but was not aware that it was there so passionately. The reason I have used the word passionately is not to play into the stereotype of Latinos as people of passion, but I have truly found explosive energy when talking on the subject. I have learned that I am an angry Latina on so many levels. I am angry at what we are still struggling [against] today, the sexism imposed on us by Latinos, the misrepresentation within both American and Latino society, and the misrepresentation within ourselves as women.
My personal understanding and appreciation of various types of media, including electronic, has increased dramatically with this project, as well as with the reaction from the audience. Seeing the audience's response was quite surprising for me because I am not used to performing in front of a live audience. I have seen that any little use of media can affect the population at large and that the way you represent yourself is very key to how others will perceive those of a similar build and background. I personally question if people's perception of me has changed due to the performance. The use of different media within the project was wonderful because we had several methods of expressing ourselves and people can take several interpretations from each of the media and decode it in several different ways. It was interesting to see what points stood out to some audience members, and how it changed from person to person. In addition, the performance was a more personal way of talking to the audience since they see you in the flesh and you are putting yourself out there on the line unlike the Internet, video, radio, and art.
Lara: In the course I have learned about thinking critically and analytically about both how I portray myself/am portrayed and about how I am perceived. It was an exercise in understanding and deconstructing my frustration with the media, not just complaining about it. It has been interesting to go beyond personal experience and be able to intelligently debate and discuss ethnic roles and portrayals.
One thing that stands out about the project for me is the immense power of media representation. The media can create a whole new human being and erase all traces of who they used to be. They can create a concept out of a person and a person out of a concept. Just looking through the internet to find photos of JLo and Shakira was intense, in that it was possible to see what these women had been and subsequently turned themselves into. The influence and scope of electronic media and paper media on an individual (and beyond) became very obvious.