An suspenseful tale commenting on toxic masculinity? Sign us up! We sat down with Lorca Peress, Director of Ominous Men, to speak on her advocacy and passion for women in theater. Ominous Men, a daring new show on stage from October 19 to November 3 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y, tells the story of three men confronted by their pasts during the 1977 New York City Blackout. Don’t let the show’s title fool you, a mostly female production team is behind the scenes!
Tell us a little about yourself— not only are you a director, but we would love to hear about your advocacy work for women in theater.
I would first start by saying that my multicultural and multidisciplinary artistic background has shaped me as a person, artist, and advocate for gender parity and diversity in theatre. I have dedicated my career to creating and developing new works, and fought to advance the world’s perception of culture, race, and identity through the theatre I choose to produce, direct and support. My mother, Gloria Vando, is a Nuyorican poet, publisher, and activist; and my father, Maurice Peress, was a symphony conductor, scholar and author whose parents were Polish and Iraqi Jewish. My father’s life work is archived at the Columbia College Butler Library. My maternal grandparents, Anita Velez Mitchell and Erasmo Vando, were theatre artists, performers, writers and activists. Both their lifeworks are archived in the CUNY Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. One cannot be raised with that legacy and not step up. We have marched for many years and continue to do so onstage and in the streets.
In 2008, I was introduced to Ruth Mayleas, a board member of the League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW). The meeting was an important step to my finding an avenue to raise awareness for gender disparity in theatre. I joined LPTW, was elected to the board and later as Co-President (2011-14) serving with co-presidents Kristin Marting (HERE Artistic Director) and Maxine Kern (playwright). The League has brought me amazing relationships with women theatre artists and I have collaborated with many since joining LPTW.
Some advocacy highlights include serving as a Mentor for NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s “Conference on Women Mentorship” (Barnard College), as a Guest Speaker at Columbia Teachers College on Leadership, on panels: NO-PASSPORT’s Conference on “Dreaming the Americas/ Diversity and Difference in Performance” (CUNY Graduate Center), “Performing Across Cultures and Histories” (NYU Tisch), The Fire This Time Festival panel of female directors, at CUNY Hunter College of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, for Theatre Resources Unlimited, and I served as a founding member of the Creative Network for the Governor’s Office of Puerto Rico. I have been a grantor for the Ohio State Arts Council screenwriting/ playwrighting in Columbus, and judged Repertorio Espanol MetLife Nuevos Voces playwrighting contests, Strasberg One Act plays, and others.
We know you have a mostly female production team, in telling a story about toxic masculinity, how does this female-driven creative team impact the framing of your storytelling?
Several of MultiStages productions have featured all-female creative companies, including our current production of Ominous Men. Women have made inroads in the field particularly in not-for-profit NYC companies, but regionally and commercially, it is still an uphill battle for representation, equal pay and equal opportunities.
When I first read Desi’s play Ominous Men, the MultiStages New Works Contest winner chosen from 185 blind submissions, the sub-story of abuse against women was arresting and palpitating. I felt it was my responsibility to bring this story to the fore through a female perspective and engaged an all-female creative company. Even though the play focuses on three men, female abuse moments are spread throughout the play: poignant underscores of a woman crying, stories of abuse against wives, and a reenacted murder. Once the team was in place, I began design discussions about how to maintain the female story within the overarching plot through projected imagery, sound, and the onstage fight and movement choreography. I don’t know if a male design company would have focused as much attention on this part of the story, but we felt we needed the narrative to hold throughout. It is easy to get intoxicated by all the action onstage and I am very glad we have found this grounding. In working with the team, we have shared our experiences of abuse, whether witnessed, or as survivors. We connect to the Woman and the female voices in the play, and I have worked hard to make sure that the men onstage get that.
What drew you to this piece? Tell us a little about your working relationship with the playwright, Desi.
Desi and I have an excellent collaborative relationship. Through shared and independent cultural history as Newyorican women, we understand these men. We were both alive during the NYC blackout of 1977 and we each bring our NYC moxie and aesthetic to the work we create. I met Desi when I was the curator for the Strasberg Studio in the NYU hotINK Festivals (2001-2010). I read over 100 plays and chose Desi’s for my portion of the Festival. Her voice, vision, and bravura intrigued me and I wanted to work with her. It so happened that in 2013, she submitted “Comida de Puta” to our New Works Contest and won. We produced that winning play in 2015, and that was the first time we worked together in a director/ playwright collaboration. It was an exciting and scary ride stepping into the world of Santeria (BTW, I cast my 99-year old Puerto Rican grandmother in one of the video roles) on this Phaedra adaptation set in the contemporary Bronx. We had great success with that production. Desi submitted “Ominous Men” to the MultiStages New Works Contest in 2017 and won again! And here we are bringing her amazing work to life. I am thrilled to work with Desi again and am a huge fan.
Why now? As an advocate, is there a call to action that you’re hoping for in telling this story with our community?
Important question. Whether the setting is 1977 or 2019, we are still battling female stereotypes, male assumptions, blonde/brunette jokes, and domestic abuse. We need to remind ourselves daily what we are still up against and what we have endured. As a child, I watched my mother burn her bra. I marched for the ERA. I used the term MS and bought the magazine, read Germaine Greer, etc. I was and still am a proud feminist. I am glad that a spotlight has been shined on abuse and harassment, that women are marching in the streets, that men are joining us, I am thrilled that “we have come along way, baby” but we are nowhere done.
Our call to action in this play is to stop the abuse. Yes, we know how to say, “No,” we know how to report, we take sexual harassment training, but we still see/hear daily newsfeeds that another woman has fallen victim to her husband, been raped in military service, been stalked by a man, or murdered for walking or jogging down the street. Shelters are filled with women in trouble. All of us, gender aside, have a responsibility to get involved. Live theatre is tangible. It’s not a Facebook post that we quickly read and scroll through. Plays like “Ominous Men” make us feel, at times we get triggered, but that trigger should be a call to action. Not to go inside but to go outside. To do something about it, not scroll by. If you see this play and feel compelled to get involved to do something to stop abuse against women, then we have all done our job.
Ominous Men // theater
October 19 – November 3
Desi Moreno-Penson | Playwright
Lorca Peress | Director
MultiStages New Works Winner. It was the wrong night and the wrong place for these OMINOUS MEN to be playing a game of “Bones” when the 1977 NYC Blackout hits the Bronx! Overtaken by their demons, they descend into a supernatural night of the soul. Told through a magic realism lens, “Ominous Men” is a gothic horror tale about race, poverty, drugs, misogyny and violence in America.TICKETS
Catch a first glance at a Preview Performance, from October 19 – 23, and receive $5 off all tickets using discount code EARLYBIRD.
General Admission: $35
VIP Reserved seating: $45
Running Time: 105 minutes
Please note this performance contains adult content, including strong language and stage violence.
FREE ADULT STUDIES CLASS!
Wednesday, October 30 | 1:30 – 3:00 PM
Bessie Award-winning lighting designer and Production Manager of 14th Street Y Theater Kryssy Wright will lead a discussion group based on the current show in the 14Y Theater. This discussion will focus on what happens when a play transfers from the written word to the stage: how do the choices of the Director and the Design team affect the story, and your enjoyment of the piece? M Free, NM $5
This session will focus on Ominous Men, written by Desi Moreno-Penson, running October 19 – November 1.
To register, email Julie Gayer Kris at JGayerKris@14streety.org.