BWW Interview: Lojo Simon of ALBERT PORTER: BOY EXPLORER at Creede Repertory Theatre
Creede Repertory Theatre's 2017 Young Audience Outreach Tour (YAOT), Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador), kicked off on August 26th during the acclaimed Headwaters New Play Festival. Celebrating 34 years of bringing excellent bilingual musical theatre to schools across the Southwest, Creede Repertory Theatre's Young Audience Outreach Tour (YAOT) is one of the largest providers of educational theatre to the rural Southwest, serving over 24,000 children in over sixty communities. Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) is written by LoJo Porter, directed by Melissa Firlit, and features original music by Ian LeRoy. CRT sat down with playwright Lojo Simon to ask her a few questions about her process and the themes of this year's YAOT tour.
CRT: What is Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) about, and where did your ideas come from?
Lojo: Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) tells the story of a boy from southwest Colorado who goes on a journey back in time and discovers people and animals who lived in the place he lives before him and left their "spiritual imprints" on that place. His story ends with a discovery of his family's roots, making his journey ultimately one of self-discovery and gaining a new understanding and appreciation of home.
I'm very interested in the memories that are held by physical places - how the spirit of a place holds the memories of the people who came before us. When I began to work on this project, I immersed myself in studying the history, culture and geography of the Four Corners area, served by the Young Audience Outreach Tour. I wanted to tell that story.
CRT: What is the process of writing, rehearsing and performing the Young Audience Outreach Tour? What are unique considerations for this project, and how do you collaborate with CRT in the creation of the piece?
Lojo: We've been working on Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) for nearly a year. Initial drafts were disseminated by email (since the creative team is based all over the country), and I came to Creede in winter for a read-through. Education Director Johamy Morales has been a significant voice in the room from the start, sharing her wealth of knowledge about the demands of the tour and her enthusiasm for the project and its subject matter. Composer Ian LeRoy came on board later, and he made magic with my lyrics! The creative team met monthly via video conference, and there were lots of phone conversations with director Melissa Firlit prior to everyone convening in Creede for the month-long rehearsal process. We have an incredibly talented and dedicated team.
CRT: What excites you about writing a bilingual piece of theatre for young people in rural, underserved communities?
Lojo: Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) is actually multi-lingual! In addition to English and Spanish, characters also speak French, German and Native American languages. Many of the children served by the Young Audience Outreach Tour have limited exposure to live performing arts, especially to theatre in multiple languages. We've also chosen to perform Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) in the round, which allows the children to watch character and costume changes. This will be a new and hopefully eye-opening experience for them, exposing them to a different kind of storytelling, but also one that resonates with the storytelling traditions of the Native Americans.
CRT: What is universal about your play?
Lojo: We all want to know who we are and where we come from. At the top of the play, Albert Porter hasn't been told his family story. He doesn't know about his hometown and its rich history. He thinks he's just "a plain old average ordinary boy" who lives in a boring place in the middle of America. In the discovery of the history and culture of his hometown and the richness of his family's story, he realizes that he is, indeed, a unique and special person. That discovery of self is a universal journey we all take as we mature and come to understand and appreciate our place in our family and community.
CRT: Why is this work important now?
Lojo: Sadly, we live in a time when some people in this country no longer value diversity. I believe that America is better because of its diversity. Many of the 24,000 children who will see Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) reflect that diversity. I want them to celebrate who they are and where they come from. I want them to be proud of their heritage and themselves.
About Lojo Simon (playwright): Lojo Simon is extraordinarily excited to bring Albert Porter: Boy Explorer (Niño Explorador) to children and families in Creede and the Four Corners area! Lojo's other plays for young audiences include Nice & Slow, which won the Old Miner Playwriting Award and toured Utah schools earlier this year; Mi Corazón; and a commissioned middle-school play for Kaiser Permanente's Educational Theatre. She also writes grown-up plays, which have won awards and been produced nationwide, making audiences laugh and cry and hopefully spend more time thinking about their humanity and connection to the people and world around them. You can learn more about Lojo at www.lojosimon.com and read her plays on the New Play Exchange.
About CRT's Young Audience Outreach Tour:
YAOT's mission is to bring high quality musical theatre to young audiences in rural and underserved communities by annually producing an original children's show that tours throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. After the performance, each child receives an original book that reinforces the play's themes and connects with their school curriculum. In 2016, YAOT served 24,047 children from 97 schools, nearly half of whom are minority and many speak English as a second language.
About Creede Repertory Theatre:
As a cultural home for artists, residents, and visitors of the West, Creede Repertory Theatre creates a diverse repertory season of plays, new works, and dynamic education programs. Founded in 1966, Creede Repertory Theatre is a professional theatre company located at 9,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Each season, CRT produces 7-10 plays in rotating repertory, hosts numerous musical events and concerts, develops new works through the Headwaters New Play Program, and offers nationally recognized educational programming. USA Today called CRT "one of the 10 best places to see the lights way off Broadway" and The Denver Post hailed CRT as "legendary" and "one of the state's top five theatre companies.