For the past decade, Tina D’Elia has defined herself in so many other roles – public speaker, acting instructor, casting director – that it’s easy to forget she’s also a performer in her own right. When I ask if it’s awkward for clients and students to see her in the different context, she tells me it’s quite the contrary.
“[I’m] moved when they attend my shows,” she says. “I think it’s helpful for actors to see someone who is a casting director and acting teacher’s craft live. And hopefully it inspires actors to take a solo show workshop to tell their stories.”
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In a way, her various professions and her willingness to inspire are what led her to create her latest show, Overlooked Latinas (running Oct. 6 – 29 at The Marsh, San Francisco). The solo show, directed by longtime collaborator Mary Guzmán, follows openly-queer Latina tv exec Angel Torres as she’s on a personal and professional high in January of 2021. In addition to the relief she feels after the 2020 election, she and her creative partner have been given the greenlight to produce a show highlighting Latina performers blacklisted by McCarthy during the Red Scare. That would be all well and good, but the arrival of a mysterious femme fatale sends the married Angel’s life into a personal and professional tailspin. A great many hijinks ensue.
If the show’s 2021 setting makes it seem like it’s from another era, it should come as no surprise that D’Elia has been working on the show in various forms for over two years now, with a pre-pandemic version set during the infamous 2016 election. She’d planned to stage it at The Marsh this past Spring before more COVID surges led to its postponement. She used that time to do more rewrites and refine the story’s setting, even considering a shift to the unforeseen future.
As someone who specializes in amplifying diverse voices, D’Elia’s aware of how the conversation around representation – both artistically and politically – has changed for better and worse.
“What has gotten easier, thanks to LGBTQIA+ movements, [is that] representation matters more to the mainstream,” she says. “More straight allies will hear our stories and want to hear our stories, support our shows, and tune in more easily with streaming platforms. So, whether it’s fight to have a Black mermaid or a BIPoC Trans/Queer story told, we are always up against backlash and the same uphill battle.”
That uphill battle is one she knows well, having worked as casting liaison in San Francisco’s oft-overlooked film industry. She’s helped cast major television shows – including HBO’s Looking and Discovery’s I (Almost) Got Away with It) – as well as dozens of local independent films. When I ask why such a talent-rich region as the Bay Area rarely nourishes its own talent (major theaters like the ACT, Berkeley Rep, and Cal Shakes are notorious for prioritizing actors from LA and New York), she openly quotes author Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
“We have a long way to go,” she continues. “The Bay Area does have incredible artists and talent, and those in power – whether major productions or theater houses – have come from a power structure that does not center power, leadership, and artistic stories of people who have been historically marginalized. I ask everyone to go support and see artists at the smaller theaters, venues, clubs, dance spaces, community art spaces, and if you love their work make sure those in power know.”
It’s during that mention of smaller venues that she shares her lament for the impending loss of San Francisco’s famed EXIT Theatre, where she and Guzmán staged The Rita Hayworth of This Generation to great acclaim during the world-renowned SF Fringe Festival. Location played a crucial role in D’Elia’s decision to stage the show at The Marsh’s San Francisco venue, located in the historically Latinx Mission District. (The Marsh’s other venue is in downtown Berkeley.) D’Elia studied at the Mission location and became part of their Rising Stars program.
Yet she’s also aware that the genre of her show – described as a “telenovela farce” – may be a popular one, but also one rife with accusations of Latinx stereotyping.
“My intention in crafting a [..] telenovela is queering the genre from my leftist lesbian feminist Latinx edge and desire by blending my political satirist tone and high drama levity,” she explains. “Whether my characters are divas or not, I believe in embodying each character by showing their humanity, heart, and all their flaws.”
As she puts the finishing touches on her play – including researching the lives of actresses like Dolores del Rio and Rosaura Revueltas – she insists Overlooked Latinas is an antidote to many of the more troubling headlines found these days. She regards her show as “both escapist and [a way] to strategically suggest there is hope in our future.”
She also hopes that the performers highlighted by Angel Torres will stay in the minds of the audience long after they’ve left the theater.
“I hope to inspire hope and for everyone to go out and research our ancestors, queer/BIPOC/etc, who came before us. I want to inspire people to tell creative stories.”
“Overlooked Latinas” runs on Thursday and Saturdays October 6 – 29 in the Studio Theater of The Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street, San Francisco. Proof of vaccination is required for entry (including a primary booster no later than February 1, 2022). Masks are required at all times. Tickets range from a sliding scale general admission of $20 – $35 to reserved seating $55 – $100. The show is over 75 min. and recommended for audiences over the age of 12. Tickets and information can be found on the production’s official site: https://themarsh.org/shows_and_events/runs/tina-delia-overlooked-latinas.
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theater artist and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at The Thinking Man’s Idiot.