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BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th

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"It is important  for more people of color, women of color to be in different positions behind the table."

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th

She's not a circus performer but Maria-Christina Oliveras is about to be shot out of a cannon. After years of building up a reputation as a free-thinking, art-forward, deep-dive artist of the acting persuasion, singing and dancing in musicals that think outside of the box and in television dramas that follow a format, Ms. Oliveras is making her own playground. On August 6th, this singing actress, arts advocate, performing arts instructor, and world activist will make her solo cabaret debut at Feinstein's/54 Below, and she is ready, willing, and able... if a bit on pins and needles. Going out on Friday night to do her show THE GLORY OF LOVE won't make her nervous because she's an empowered woman whose inner strength is informed by two different strong cultures, but Maria-Christina is certainly enjoying the delectable anticipation that comes when you are an artist about to unveil a new work.

As the days (and rehearsals) drew ever closer to her opening night, I got on the phone with Maria-Christina to chat about growing up in The Bronx, breaking racial and gender barriers in show business, and the difficulty of talking about your show without exposing spoilers (tip: get a clever Broadway World editor to remove all the spoilers). It is time for Maria-Christina Oliveras to tell her own tale.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Hi, is that Maria-Christina?

Yes, it is! Stephen?

Himself.

Hello! It's so nice to speak with you. How are you?

All quiet on the Midtown Western front.Thank you for chatting with me today.

Absolutely my pleasure.

How are things going? Are you enjoying the summer?

So far so good. It feels like, when it rains it pours. As we're reemerging into theater and live (performing) I'm inundated with auditions! And this cabaret is my love and my joy, but it's 24-7, so when anything else, project-wise, comes up, it's like, "Aaahhh!" (Laughing) So it's been nice to emerge out of this whole situation - it was a very challenging one for all, for so many of us. There was some stuff that came up on this end that I'm glad we're on the other side of. (Laughing)

That pesky little thing, you know...

(Laughing) Oh, yeah, that thing, exactly.

Are you back to auditioning for things in person or are you still having to do self-tapes and stuff like that?

Believe it or not, it's now a combo. I went to my first live one last week and it was wild. There was like a shift, right? We just walked in and it was like, "Oh my god, people! Oh, no masks! I'm not reading off a screen,!" (Laughing) It was utterly joyous to actually re-engage... but I have to say there is a sense of just "re-entry" ... it's still very surreal. I don't know what your experience has been like coming back and re-emerging into the world and the whole "normal" thing. Nothing feels normal yet. (Laughing)

I'm not sure when it will start to feel normal again. For me, it's almost like I'm still in a kind of quarantine because the clubs I review are all just blocks away from my home, and my second job is in a gym that's two blocks from my home. So I'm still in a kind of bubble but with lots of people in the sidewalks.

Right! (Laughing) All of a sudden we've re-emerged but it's still the same!

Now that you're back in the audition rooms with people, has the vibe changed? Are people different to one another after all this?

It was a little tricky because it was a very warm room, I knew the creative team, but it does feel like everybody's shifting to a much more present (vibe). People are much more present, and there was a sense of appreciation for the work... you know, most creative teams are so wonderful to the actors, they really do cultivate a room, but even more so because we've been on hiatus. How many Zoom readings can you do to feel jaded? So I feel much more presence on both ends.

I think people might be appreciating each other more.

I hope so. I hope we didn't go through all of this for nothing, and that we're making strides forward, as humans, that there's an even shift in the stories that we're telling, in where we're putting our energy... I'm hopeful. I can't get a sense of that yet, cause we're just slowly coming back with all of the things that are being produced and all of the different auditions. I am hoping there's a good shift.

You do a lot of work in small theater companies and working on the boards of theater companies and arts organizations, and teaching; do you find that you have a hyper-awareness of what's going around you because of that work?

I think so. I feel lucky enough - or not even lucky - I'm choosing to do projects that, if an offer comes, (I ask myself) "Do I really want to be in a room with these people for the next (few) potential years?" You know, new works develop, and most of the stuff that I've been in has been new work that's evolved over years... I've been involved with some for five years, minimum. So I feel like I bring that hyper-awareness of "What stories are we telling, what are we putting out into the universe?" across the board. And in the acting world, even in the content, it's choosing work that I feel is pushing us forward a little bit more, either entertaining us in a great way that we need or helping us ask questions. I think because I'm constantly with younger people, and working on (organization) boards, seeing a different lens, that I'm definitely hyper-aware of it, that it translates all across - that's my hope.

What is the appeal to working with the younger crowd for you?

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: Jeigh Madjus

Honestly, I learn from them (Laughing) as well. Not just basic stuff like - literally - Tik Tok (Laughing)... But I think it's important because I had wonderful mentors and teachers, but I never had any women of color guiding me. Most of my teachers were white men, wonderful mentors, but never in a classroom, so I was kind of emulating that and striving for that. I know that sounds odd, but it really makes a difference. I think that in the world, to have people of color in leadership positions, as role models, is so important because then it's like, "Oh I can be that." The given is not the system as it is, which is - for better or worse - a male patriarchy. I feel like my presence in that way is important, as a role model. John Leguizamo, who is very politically minded, is a force in that way. All the fierce women who I do homages to by pulling their work into my show, the ballsy, brassy women like Patti LuPone and Bette Midler are people of presence.

I do want to talk about your show, but since you brought up your status as a woman of color, I should tell you I'm Filipino and Cherokee Indian.

Shut up! (Laughing)

Yes.

What?!

Yeah!

That's AMAZING!

(Laughing) So, I'm interested to know: as a person of color, as a woman of color, as an artist of color, after the last horrible four years of racism and bigotry this country has seen, and now we have a new administration and a heightened awareness of acceptance, are you seeing the seeds of change in the industry?

Honestly, I am coming from the perspective of an actor... here's the gig: I feel like the people who I know and who are champions of me have always been that, and now they're getting the power to bring me in for roles that they would not necessarily have been able to bring me in on because things were so myopic and so homogenous. So I do see shifts, I see people making the effort. I don't know how, or whether it's going to follow through, quite honestly, because everybody's making the initial effort, but I'm curious how long that will last. It's not about black or white, it's often about green. I don't know what the changes are, what they will be - I really am hoping for lasting change, and I am seeing shifts, slowly but surely, but I don't know how it's going to come out on the other side.

We need to not become complacent.

Exactly! That's exactly right. And the lip service that people are doing now... it's like every movement where people come out full force, and then we go back to being complacent or forgetting, or in survival mode again. It's really, really, really tricky... but I am seeing some changes, particularly from some roles that are becoming more available.

It's a start.

Yes. I also think it starts behind the table too. That's why it is important for more people of color, women of color to be in different positions behind the table - as teachers, as producers, because then we have more power there to really make the changes on the other side.

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
As Tolima in the world premiere of "KISS MY AZTEC"-Photo Credit: Alessandro Mello

Absolutely. Now, about your show.

Mmm Hmmm!

You're kicking off on August 6th at 54 below. Why only one show, why not do a run of shows?

They offered it to me out of the blue, so I just chose a date and this is, literally, my first solo venture (Laughing heartily). Oh, I love this form. I loooooove this form! But this is my first one!

How did you decide which direction you wanted to take this evening of cabaret?

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: Sears

Emerging out of this pandemic and coming into live performance, I wanted to embrace and celebrate love. It took me over three decades to find romantic love and fall in love... because I had love, and I was so dedicated to work, and I had my heart broken for the first time. So... what is love, work love, romantic love, friendship... what has pulled us through the pandemic? It is all the ups and downs of love and coming out on the other side. I kick off with a little bit about me, as far as being Catholic and growing up in the Bronx, and how I first learned about love. I tell stories about my parents and how I was supposed to be a lawyer, initially, but my Latino dad from Puerto Rico introduced me to Broadway. He'd sit in his mancave with some Bacardi and listen to Tevya, "If I Were a Rich Man" and Don Quixote de La Mancha. So I do the heartbreak of love, work versus romantic love, and ultimately it's all worth it in the end.

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: Betty Oliveras

Your theme for the evening is all love.

Yes, absolutely. It's a celebration of love in all its complication, the ups and downs, and different types of love... and the love of the theater and being back in this space - this love I hope will always be here: this is what I've missed this whole time, but here we are sharing our stories because we got through it.

Your father put you on the track to your vocation - will your parents be at the show?

Yes, they will be! They're getting shout-outs!

You're a native New Yorker, so that means your parents live here - did you get to quarantine with them?

No, I was here, in my studio apartment in Chelsea... we had some very challenging times. I was hospitalized for COVID, my mom was hospitalized for COVID, so it was a very challenging time. We tried to quarantine and then ironically when we did see each other, we did not get to enjoy it... we ended up... (Laughing) I do recommend - if you do get hospitalized for COVID: NYU. Great east river views.

We get to celebrate that you guys made it, you're still here.

Oh yeah. That was a huge one. You know, so many people went through so much stuff, so I don't want to reduce that because we made it and I'm thrilled to be breathing, alive, and celebrating love and the theater.

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
The Civilians' production of PRETTY FILTHY - Photo Credit: Gregory Costanzo

About the theater... you have a resume that shows a lot of really interesting work - is that something that you go in search of, or have you built up a reputation that makes people say, "Let's get Maria-Christina for this, she'll like this."

You know, it's funny... I love new work. I love just throwing stuff against the wall and going balls out and figuring out "What do we have here?" so I think that energy of curiosity and fearless exploration really couples itself with new work and out-of-the-box ideas. So it's true all of the musicals that I've done have been outside the box: Here Lies Love was this all-immersive pop concert about Imelda Marcos; Amelie was in years of development and was very non-traditional, it was this quirky adaptation of this great French film. I love stuff that is outside of the box that is also asking really fun questions, interesting questions. I think it's a combination: I started doing it, and then the energy just kept building, and those are the projects that I ended up in and found most interesting.

Do you pass this philosophy onto the students that you teach? Throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, adventure in your work?

Absolutely. I think we all have to move forward with (the idea that) the more curious we are about something, the more we can find and discover. So yes, I do definitely try to encourage that... in my own work, I always have to remind myself that it's about joy, it's about fun. You're not going to find it if you're trying to look at something from the sense of, "It's gotta be this." It's about "What if" and "How about" - and it could be the worst thing in the world, but who knows? You don't know until you try, right?

You seem like a really upbeat, positive energy person, full of joy and ebullience, but all of your television work is in hour-long dramas. Is that an accident or is it something you seek out?

You know, it's funny - I also have a very kind of intense side and I'm kind of maternal and grounded as well - especially if I'm very passionate or angry about something so I think maybe the TV people tap into that more, that side of me versus theater, where I'm allowed to be big and bold, and where I have been working with directors and writers who have allowed me to embrace that. TV, especially episodic TV, is kind of a set thing, and you go in and you serve whatever the energy is or the function of the show is itself.

A second ago you talked about being a passionate woman and I think that sort of comes with being half Filipino and half Puerto Rican, you know,

I talk about that in my show because ... are you going to get to come?

I've been booked to see your show for weeks.

Oh, fabulous! I talk about Puerto Ricans. I definitely embrace both of those things but I don't want to spoil anything for you!

And I don't want to spoil anything for the readers, so we won't give any details away. Did you sit down and write a script or did you hire a director to help you formulate the show?

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: Cherie B. Tay

Oh, I am scripting it even daily, rigorously. I have a friend who is a writer who is looking at some of my patter because this is my first time out, and I know how specific the language is - I am scripting everything within an inch of my life so that I can play. I do believe that... yes, I am joyous and jubilant and "throw stuff against the wall" but I do believe in a structure - then you can play right - especially cause it's my first time out. So I'm really working with a lot of friends, a lot of collaborators - it is scripted, very much so - I'm a storyteller. I think what I love about the cabaret format is that it really can hold a lot of different ways of storytelling - like people who are just singers who want to just do a songbook or themes; I'm just very much a storyteller, and I believe, as a singer, my singing just serves the story. I've got the power. And I have this fabulous band and music director who's been really great about helping me storyboard. I love these amazing songs that we all listen to and put our own memories on and our own stories on them. I'm excited to explore these songs from my experience and hopefully, that is universal for all of us. I love the universality. In the show I talk about the New York hustle, the sacrifice for the love of the theater: cleaning bathrooms at Broadway Dance Center for free classes, putting on my makeup at McDonald's Times Square after commuting at 5:00 am from the Bronx, all under this lens of (the fact that) I was a first-generation Filipino American. You don't go to Yale and become an actor, you know? And I was on scholarship, too, so I had to hustle to make a living, to take the classes, to be able to be competitive, to get to the audition... that's all in this show.

A lot of actors living and working in New York City moved to New York City. Your family is right here with you. Put me in the picture of what it's like to have your birth family and your artistic family and your college family all so close to you at all times.

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: whoseventbooth

It has been such a gift. It's so interesting to hear people saying, "I'm moving to New York to pursue my dreams." So to come back home, to have community here, and have this be where I can be loved as a sister and aunt, be respected as a colleague, be able to work, to have my community, but then go out with friends who've known me for decades makes such a difference. It really makes New York home - and my parents are still uptown in the Bronx, in my childhood home, and my sisters are up in Westchester, quite a few of my friends are here, my theater community's here. My thing is... when I moved out of the Bronx, my first apartment was in an efficiency hotel, and I had mice and I had bugs, I was like, "Okay, now... this is it, this is it. This is the dream. This is the dream." So, there's a sacrifice but this is my home and this is my life's blood.

Ok, this is it. Your solo show is a few days away - how do you feel?

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: Pomegranate Productions

Wooh! Like I'm shot out of a cannon! (Laughing) It's so funny because doing a solo show - it's also producing, making sure that the band is taken care of... and I don't have a stage manager because it is my first time out, so it's literally a learning curve. I'm working with my music director, and she was like, "We need an arrangement of this," and I have an amazingly generous community of artists... I call a friend and I'm like, "Do you mind if I run this by you?" and everybody's been so generous. So, how do I feel? (Laughing) Yeah, like I've been shot out of a cannon (Laughing) terrified, exhilarated, excited... all of the things! (Laughing) It feels like a new musical to me, the problem is I don't have previews! As I said, I love this format, so I'm hoping it's the first of many - I'm just thrilled to be doing a Celebration of Love, emerging from the pandemic with this. I'm so excited, so let's do this re-entry into the world, let's celebrate being together in the same room, eating, drinking, sharing stories, singing, I'm really excited.

For information and tickets to Maria-Christina Oliveras THE GLORY OF LOVE visit the Feinstein's/54 Below website HERE.

Visit the Maria-Christina Oliveras website HERE. and YouTube channel HERE. Follow Maria-Christina Oliveras on Instagram HERE.

BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: Robert Croonquist
BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Stepinac High School Production of GODSPELL; Photo Credit: Nellie O'Brien
BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: Broadway.com
BWW Interview: Maria-Christina Oliveras of THE GLORY OF LOVE at Feinstein's/54 Below August 6th
Photo Credit: David Noles

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