Saturday, May 12, 2012

Who's Juan Villa? How He Wrote His Life Story

When I lived in a little attic apartment in Syracuse, a guy’s name would pop up on the caller id when I used the telephone. “Who’s Juan Villa?” everyone who called   asked. “He was a tenant in the apartment before me,” I answered. But the Juan Villa thing didn’t die down. People took to answering my calls with, “Hola Juan!” Some people pretended to flirt with Juan.  My Nigerian classmate flat out asked me if Juan Villa was my husband that I hid in my apartment and didn't tell anyone about. Unbeknownst to him, Juan Villa had become a bit of a legend.

I met the real Juan Villa before I moved to New York City. It turned out that he’s an actor, and was also moving to New York City after living in Chicago. We became friends, and he took me to his home on the Lower East Side where I met his mother and the rest of his family at their apartment on Allen Street.

I had a feeling that Juan and his family were epic in some way, but I had no idea how epic they were until I went to see his solo show, “Empanada for a Dream.” This show, written and performed by Juan Villa, seeks to answer thesame question inspired by all the people I talked to in Syracuse. Who is he? He's a Colombian kid who grew up on the Lower East Side. But there’s so much more to his story. And isn’t there always more to the story?

I went to the show and sat, aghast, as his mother sat in the front row, reacting to all of Juan as he aired the secrets, confessions, and confrontations of the family on  stage. After the show, I happened to see a woman who had a tattoo of a signature on her foot, like an artist’s signature at the bottom of a canvas.  And I wondered if we all are works of art, paintings, books, plays, in human form. And if this were true, what would make them good?

Juan gave me some insights when we talked after his show. Although these are ostensibly tips for writers, they also double as strategies you’d pay personal guru lots of dinero for.  These are some of the tips that Juan would give to someone who is writing their life story:

· Figure out how you feel about everyone and everything. This can be a revelation, especially if you’re one of those people that need to let go of something or someone in their life.

· Tell your truth. Don’t edit yourself based on what you think or know others will say about you. Also, internalizing other people’s truths leads you away from what you want and who you are.

· Find your thematic cord. In acting, this is the through line of all the roles you’ve played. In other words, these are the themes or subjects that have inspired or drawn you to them throughout your life. Think about what roles you have played in your own life and determine if there are themes or situations that are repeated.

· The more specific you are about your experience, the more universal it is.  Also, the more you you are, the more genuine and relatable others find you.

· How do others see the subject you are writing about? Getting feedback about your subject (even when the subject is you) is necessary, at least as a starting point.
  Have an objective observer or editor help you find what’s necessary and important. This is important in so many areas of life. In order to tell the true story, we need someone to let us know if we’re over focusing or cluttering our vision with extraneous or impertinent details. I often wish I had an editor for my life.

Juan did a lot of soul searching to tell his story.He turned what could be a typical Latino coming of age story into a Greek tragedy. His solo show is populated with many characters that he plays with a searing honesty that hits hilarious and heart breaking notes. If you’re in New York City, go see the show and find out who this guy on the caller id really is.

Empanada For A Dream - soloNOVA Arts Festival

 May30 at 7:00pm until June 6 at 10:15pm
Written and performed by Juan Francisco Villa
Directed by Alex Levy
Wednesday, May 30 at 7:00 pm
Thursday, May 31 at 9:00 pm
Saturday, June 2 at 7:00 pm
Sunday, June 3 at 4:00 pm
Wednesday, June 6 at 9:00 pm
Fresh from a sold out run with Ballybeg at the Barrow Group Theatre, EMPANADA FOR A DREAM is a haunting love song to the Lower East Side. Juan Francisco Villa's return to the neighborhood of his childhood is a dangerous and hilarious tale about growing up by getting out.

No comments:

Post a Comment