Playwright Anthony Valadez, right, and director Peter Grego with turntable equipment Valadez uses onstage for "Blasting Holes in the Night," opening October 8.
Anthony Valadez wears his clothes loosely, incorporates hip hop music and rhythm into his drama and is not shy about speaking his mind.
Valadez is the one-man chorus in his drama, "Blasting Holes in the Night," selected to represent Cal State Northridge at the Third Shanghai Experimental Theatre Festival in November. It opens at CSUN's Little Theatre on Friday, Oct. 8 (see Calendar, page 4).
The young playwright bears more than a passing resemblance to the loosely draped chorus of Greek tragedy, which spoke in unison about deeds and misdeeds witnessed onstage, often punctuating the commentary with flute, lyre and percussion.
The Greeks' style was classic. Valadez' style has a hip hop flavor. But both speak directly to the heart about loss, grief and man's craving for justice.
"I was overwhelmed that 'Blasting Holes' was chosen for China," said Valadez, a June 2004 CSUN graduate. "It's weird, because here's my reality going to Shanghai before an international audience. It's time for foreigners to see that America is not just blond-haired, blue-eyed people. I wanted to paint a picture of multicultural America and some of the issues we face."
The playwright's "reality" begins with his family. Except for him, its entire membership has spent time behind bars. Valadez transported that reality to "Blasting Holes," the story of a youth named Ernie Munoz, whose brother is murdered in prison. The prison authorities' refusal to turn over the brother's body for burial sends Ernie on a quest for justice and self-revelation.
Valadez substitutes two turntables and a mixer for the instruments the chorus may have used in "Antigone," Sophocles' play about a king's fateful refusal to sanction the burial of a traitor. But the writer said the kinship between the two works was deliberately drawn, and goes deep.
"I've been able to mesh my personal stories into the things I've learned from 'Antigone,'" Valadez said, "developing parallels between Greek tragedy and hip hop culture."
The author, whose "Tables of Contents" show airs on the campus' KCSN-FM radio station, pulled from his deejay background to score the play on turntables, experimenting with records and scratches to create sound effects such as gunshots.
"As the godlike chorus," Valadez said, "I show my power through the sounds and the scratches."
With "Blasting Holes," director Peter Grego discovered a vital new theatrical neighborhood. More experienced in traditional theater, he became intrigued with Valadez's play when colleague Doug Kaback took the drama on a tour of several local theaters.
"Tony uses elements of hip hop to get his point across to the audience," said Grego, who sees the play more as contemporary drama than as "hip hop theatre," as it has been called. "When you hear 'hip hop,' you think it's a musical. Honestly, it's more linked to Shakespeare. It can go from prose to verse to rhymed couplets."
CSUN's Theatre Department threw its full support behind Grego's desire to take "Blasting Holes" to China as the university's festival entry, and the playwright and director spent the summer re-working the material to accommodate the smaller cast stipulated by Shanghai Festival rules.
On November 18, the eight-member CSUN cast--joined by Grego, the technical crew and costume designer Garry Lennon--departs for Shanghai for the play's international debut, followed by a special performance at Shanghai Normal University.
Valadez's remarkable journey to China began when he enrolled in Northridge's theatre program, where he at first felt alienated. "It took a while to develop parallels between what I was learning and what I already knew," he said. "It wasn't that I lacked the depth; I just couldn't relate to Shakespeare. My Shakespeares were the hustlers in my neighborhood."
With time, however, he made the connections, forming bonds with "non hip-hop" CSUN theatre faculty who were nonetheless supportive and eager to learn about the new genre.
In Shanghai, "Blasting Holes" will make its bow with at least a dozen other companies from around the globe, both professional and academic. "I think the audience there will see a play that is for all ages, genres," Valadez said. "If it creates discussion, my job has been done, because we need to talk."
@csun | October 4, 2004 issue
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