Theater Roots

IT ALL STARTED WITH DOLLY
In the summer of 1983 I accompanied a friend who wanted to audition for a musical at Teatro En Circulo, in Panama City.  The show was Hello Dolly, and it was being directed by one the most important directors in Panama, Bruce Quinn.  I didn't know much about the show other than some memory of Barbra Streisand in the film version.  We arrived at the theater where my friend signed up and waited for her turn to audition.  This was all new to me, not knowing much about the theater other than seeing the Spanish tour of Jesus Christ Superstar earlier that year.  The idea of being part of a show was appealing to me more and more as I sat in the audience watching the audition unfold.  My friend passed the first audition with an assistant to the director and while we waited for her next round, she kept pushing me to audition as well.  I was nervous, and as an introvert, it was very difficult for me to see myself auditioning for a show of this type.  After a moment, and perhaps because of pressure from my friend, I signed up to audition.  I stood up on stage and sang a song with others, and right then and there I was selected.  Unfortunately, my friend wasn't and she didn't talk to me after that.  Never for a moment did I think that I could get a part in a musical, less work for renowned director Bruce Quinn. 

Hello Dolly program and cast photo.

Hello Dolly program and cast photo.

Hello Dolly was not only the first show I ever worked on, but it was the starting point for something that I truly enjoyed doing.  The theater experience filled my heart when I felt lonely, it filled my mind to learn about the discipline required to be successful, and it allowed me the opportunity to make some really good friends. 

Two years later, Bruce Quinn got ready to direct West Side Story at the Panama Canal College Auditorium.  Bruce had actually directed this musical back in 1968 with an unknown Ruben Blades.  I did everything possible to get a part in the show and after an easy audition, I got the part of Luis, a minor role in the Sharks gang.  I was going to be part of this historical moment.  The show was staged in a combination theater in the round connected to a standard stage auditorium.  Bruce updated the look of the show to the 1980's with Punk fashions that included Michael Jackson-type leather jackets to showcase the New York gangs depicted in the story.  For me, it was also interesting how he mixed the Latino and Anglo talent within the show but unlike the story in the musical, the diverse cast got along really well.  I made some really good friends from this experience and learned a lot about staging this difficult play.  The show won best musical in Panama that year. 

West Side Story program and cast photo of the Sharks Gang, with two of my best friends David Silva (standing behind me) and Javier Barahona (sitting next to me).

West Side Story program and cast photo of the Sharks Gang, with two of my best friends David Silva (standing behind me) and Javier Barahona (sitting next to me).

NEW YORK
In the summer of 1985, I had the great opportunity to live in New York for a month between June and July.  Shortly after I arrived there, it was impossible to miss any of the Broadway theater advertising on the streets, television, radio and newspapers.  Cats at the Winter Garden Theater was the first show I ever saw on Broadway.  The whole theater was decorated to make you feel like you were part of the show.  I was hooked.  Then followed The Phantom of the Opera.  I remember not being able to afford a seat to see that show, so I saw it in a standing section behind the orchestra seats.  It was magical and upscale, what a musical!

Once back in Panama, that same year, I decided to return to the University to continue my studies in Computer Science and immediately signed up for the Teatro El Desvan Drama Club.  I participated in two shows with the University drama club: Las Fisgonas de Paso Ancho by Samuel Rovinski on September 1985 and then Prohibido Suicidarse en Primavera by Alejandro Casona, on December of that same year. 

Between 1986 and 1988 I was fully immersed in full time work with the Panama Canal Commission and then the U.S. Army South, while also attending the University at nights.

1988
In the summer of 1988, I couldn't resist it and returned to the theater to work for the Theatre Guild of Ancon's production of Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon.  I was cast in the role of Carney, which was perhaps one of the most difficult roles I played because of the unique accent and extensive lines, including a cappella musical numbers alone on stage.  

Biloxi Blues program and cast photo. From left to right: Richard McQuown, me, and Christopher Etter.

Biloxi Blues program and cast photo. From left to right: Richard McQuown, me, and Christopher Etter.

My interest in the theater kept growing beyond acting and once Biloxi Blues was over, I signed up to be a Stage Assistant for the next production at the Theatre Guild of Ancon, the show was The Nerd.  For this show I did a lot of different things that included set construction, painting, setting up lighting, and organizing all the props and set elements.  This show was not only entertaining and fun to work on, but it also taught me a lot about stage management and how important it was to the success of any theater production. 

The last show I was lucky to be part of at the Theatre Guild of Ancon was called Nunsense, by Dan Goggin.  I happened to travel to New York while the show was on rehearsals and was able to speak with Dan Goggin directly on the phone.  Bruce Quinn, who was directing the show had a question about a scene and who better to know than the creator of the show.  Dan was very kind and helpful, as well as excited to know that his play was being produced in Panama.  In Nunsense, I played the part of Stage Manager, which is an actual part on the play but realistically is a real Stage Manager.  The difference here is that the Stage Manager opens the show in full priest attire.  I still remember this show fondly, perhaps because it was the last show I ever worked on before moving to the United States. 

Nunsense program and cast/production photo.

Nunsense program and cast/production photo.

WALT DISNEY WORLD HERE I COME
Fast forward to 1996 in Orlando, Florida, I was working as an Animation Artist for the Magic of Disney Animation Tour when a great opportunity came about to work on the Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame Animation Celebration Show.  The production had toured the country in a popular mall tour earlier that year, and now the show was being cast for a special event that took place at the Disney-MGM Studios (known now as Disney's Hollywood Studios).  The show involved explaining the process of animation and how the film was created to park guests that attended the event.  It was heavily scripted with intricate staging that included playing an automated piano, drawing in front of a camera at an animation desk and a large monitor wall that showed sequences under the control of the artist.  The three-level set was framed by a oversize open book and was decorated with the look and feel of the Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame film. 

After the Animation Celebration was over, we were told about an upcoming event called the Disney's Hercules Mega Mall Tour which would take place in early 1997.  I was able to get an audition and was hired as a tour back up animator.  In January of that year, a team of 4 artists were sent to California to train to draw the characters from the film.  We underwent a rigid training program with Feature Animation in Burbank.  We toured the studio and met with animators Nik Ranieri (Hades Animator) and Eric Goldberg (Philoctetes Animator) in order to understand the character personalities.  Half the time was also spent learning the script, staging the show with the director and cast as well as rehearsals.  After the 30-day training, the tour debuted in Atlanta, Georgia.  I was able to tour 13 of the 26 city stops which was a fantastic way of seeing the country.  This has to be one of the biggest highlights of my career at Disney thus far.

My love for the theater has grown through the years and even though my career has taken me in the direction of the graphic arts and marketing, I continue to participate in the theater experience.  in 2012, I had the opportunity to work with a local community theater, Mad Cow Theater, to create poster art for three of their shows: Dancing At Lughnasa, Hedda Gabler and Private Lives

The fact is that the theater saved me.  The whole experience helped keep my mind busy and focused on something more joyful in the moments when my life wasn't.  It helped me mature into a more responsible individual as well helped me build genuine relationships with people.  The thrill of being exposed on stage also helped me combat my insecurities and introversion.  It all helped me be who I am today and no one can take that away from me.  I have always believed in living my life to the fullest and if it meant doing something scary, which for me it was totally, then be it.  I did it and it made me a better person for it.