In the age of Hamilton and In the Heights, it’s less and less surprising to find Latinos telling their musical stories on stage. 1989, on the other hand, is something totally different: taking songs from the likes of Soda Stereo, Seru Giran, Sumo, and Los Abuelos de la Nada, director and creator Tatiana Pandiani seeks to encapsulate a particular moment in the history of her country and her parents’ lives. I talked to Tatiana about the play, which she will be presenting this week on the 17th-20th.
(Full disclosure: the author of this article attends the same MFA program as Ms. Pandiani.)
When did you first fall in love with Argentine rock?
I grew up listening to rock nacional. My parents are not artists, but they are people of the arts and humanities world, so that meant growing up in a house with film and music. The songs in the show were the soundtrack of all our summer road trips. When I got into my teens I had a phase where I thought this music was the worst. Literally. Could not stand it. I guess I was trying to separate myself from my parents in a way. It took me ten years to rediscover it. I sometimes think this show is a rediscovery of my childhood.
For a period, all content in English was prohibited from mass media in Argentina. This gave local bands the opportunity become mainstream.
That’s why this music is very special to me, it’s a way to look back at my childhood and before that, my parents’ youth. They were kids during the dictadura, they were teens during the Guerra de Malvinas and they were newlyweds during the crash of ’89. The upside of that is that they grew up in one of the most fertile times of our culture. They participated in Teatro Abierto (a theatre scene that began as a reaction against military dictators). Later, they saw the culture opening up after the military dictatorship ended in 1983, and went to concerts of fantastic and iconic rock en español, such as Soda Stereo, Seru Giran, Sumo, Los Abuelos de la Nada.
After Malvinas, for a period of time, all content in English was prohibited from mass media in Argentina, including radio. This gave local bands the opportunity become mainstream, to become known outside of the underground or counterculture. Not only that, but some of these bands began generating a following outside of Argentina; for example Soda Stereo in Colombia, Chile, Venezuela. So this time in the 80s was a very interesting and exciting time for rock in Spanish; for the first time, I believe, Latin American youth started to have rock in their own mother language that spoke to them, instead of just importing British and American rock.
Tell us about the history of ‘1989’. When did you decide to create a show? How did it develop?
I wanted to tell the story of 1989, and thought that the music was inextricably linked to the era. The music in the show, which ranges from 1980 to 1989 (with the exception of one song from the 60s) speak about universal themes of love, fear, and sadness, but they are embedded in a decade of Argentine war, economic crisis, political instability, and cultural change.
I decided that I wanted to use the influences and legacy I received from my parents to tell a story about surviving a crisis and forming a family. It all began with me talking to my parents and picking their brain about 25 years ago, both their personal lives, as well as Argentina’s situation, as well as the youth culture they participated in. I listened to all of the music again and started putting the two worlds together. After that, I began working with Argentine composer and vocalist Juana Aquerreta, with whom I continued the musical exploration. At that point, I began looking for actors from Argentina who were living in New York and were interested in sharing storytelling meetings with us. During these meetings, we would sit around and talk about our own families, bring in research both from national and international media about the 1989 crisis, listen and react to the music.
In the next stage of development, we began to separate 12 scenes or moments representing each of the 12 months [of 1989.] Juana, in addition to other musicians that had tagged along by this point, identified the 12 songs that we thought spoke to these 12 situations. After that I spent a month in LA making sense of the huge quantities of material we had. It was a long and difficult process, and I had to get rid of probably 75% of all our work. But I came back with 12 scenes, 12 songs, and a handful of interesting characters.
We rehearsed for three more months and did a workshop presentation at the Schapiro Studio at Columbia University in 2014. It went very well, but it needed more work, both dramaturgically, to unite all of the parts of this big moving machine, and in the depths of the actors’ performances.
So we took some time off. We all worked on other projects. We needed that separation from the show to really see what we had made. And now we’re coming back to it. I think this time it really feels like we are working with a strong piece of writing in a more traditional way.
What are the challenges that come with doing a bilingual show in New York?
Doing a bilingual show in New York is a bigger challenge then we thought. There are many audiences to whom we are speaking. We are speaking to the Spanish speakers whose main language is Spanish, we are also talking to bilingual Latino people that live in the city in hybrid worlds, we are talking to a non-Spanish-speaking audience; we are talking to Argentinians who can grasp every little detail of the cultural performance, as well as Latinos who are not from Argentina who understand the language but not necessarily all of the cultural content.
There’s something magical about telling a story about your home, while you are so far away from home.
In 2014, the show – which is 70% in Spanish and 30% in English – did not have supertitles. We had a breakdown in the program similar to those you find in opera to guide a non-Spanish speaking audience through each scene. But as we moved forward, we knew we wanted to include supertitles to make the play more accessible. And supertitles are a very tricky thing. What I keep in mind constantly is that my main audience does speak Spanish. These are the people for whom I am doing this show. These are the people for whom the actors and musicians are doing this show. However, we want to invite others who do not speak Spanish, and in doing so we have to acknowledge that parts will be lost by necessity, and that “lost in translation” is a real thing. Very mundane decisions, such as where will the supertitles be displayed, become very important in thinking about a show like this. Who will look at the supertitles? Why are they there? How much should they communicate? The one thing that makes our job slightly easier is that, in addition to English and Spanish, the show utilizes the universal languages of dance and music. They compose 50% of the show. So in a way, I think that works to our advantage.
There are also other challenges, such as making graphic design and copy bilingual and accessible to all of the audience as I mentioned above. Marketing the show as a bilingual show is tricky, finding venues that work in this way is harder than I thought…
How did you select the songs in the show? Was it a long deliberation? Is there a song you wanted to include but couldn’t fit?
One big element in the show is nostalgia. I think that the music means a lot to a lot of people, and so it’s a perfect gateway into our story. People in their 40s, 50s or 60s relate to this music in a direct way: it is the music of their youth, it is the music that reminds them of those good old times. For people that are my age, more or less in their 20s and early 30s, this is our parents’ music, and it becomes very nostalgic in a different way. I like the meeting of two generations. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things that the theater and music can do. This whole time, as I work on this show, I have been daydreaming and imagining what my parents were like when they were my age, what their life was like, what the relationship was like before they became my parents, what my country was like, what the world was like. I was born in 1989, the year the Berlin wall fell, the year my parents survived this crisis, the year that my country took a political and economic shift that would change our reality forever. And it is almost like all of that is too much to process or too much to put in the show without music.
Choosing the music as I mentioned before was a long process, so I was in a lot of pain every time we had to eliminate a song from the show. Luckily, our music director had to do a lot of cutting and spare me from the pain… My favorite song in the show is Viernes 3am by Seru Giran. It is one of the darkest moments in the story, however there’s something very special that happens in the music’s combustion of dark lyrics and beautiful melody.
What are your future plans for ‘1989’?
My hope is to perform ‘1989’ in other cities where there are Argentine ex-pats. There is interest in taking it to Miami and Washington DC. I especially want to do the show in Miami, because I lived there for five years and I know the Argentine ex-pat community quite well. In addition to that, festivals around the world and a Latin American tour. I’m hoping to continue developing the show, adapting it to different presentations, and digging deeper into the story. Regarding what we are doing with form, I am interested in continuing to work in this hybrid way, with artists from different backgrounds and combining straight theater with musical theater, live rock performance and dance and movement as another language.
Tell us about the theater scene in Miami.
I am very excited for the theater scene in Miami. I trained there, I have a theatrical community there and I am looking forward to going down south to work in that scene. I think there’s a real boom of our younger generation of artists from Miami (and from all over Latin America) that are finding each other in Miami. The city has such a fertile ground to develop its theatrical voice. It is a city of immigrants, of dreamers that have brought their own music and their own culture to a new international big mixing bowl. So it seems to me that it should be the next hub not only for Latino artists, but for all artists that speak to the immigrant experience, to culture shock, artists that speak to the new face of American demographics.
I am specially interested in Miami New Drama led by Michel Hausman (who is also a Columbia graduate). Miami New Drama is a very fresh new company happening in Miami. I’m looking forward to collaborating with them in the near future. I think that the fusion of languages, cultures, experiences, theatrical traditions is popping and really challenging the status quo in Miami. I am excited to see what happens in the next few years especially as new theatrical spaces and projects can develop from the already existing and very rich music and dance scene.
February 17, 18, 19 at 8PM
February 20 at 2PM and 8PM
$15 general admission, free for students.
220 E 4th Street