Interview: Tatiana Pandiani of TORERA at Alley Theatre

Learn about her journey in the arts, how she met playwright Monet Hurst-Mendoza, and how she brought the complicated piece to life.

By: May. 22, 2023
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Interview: Tatiana Pandiani of TORERA at Alley Theatre
Director, Tatiana Pandiani (Center) choreographs movement with Jose Jose Arrieta Cuesta (Left) and Carolina Ornelas (Right).

Last year, when I heard the news that “Law & Order: SVU” writer Monet Hurst-Mendoza would be having a workshop of her play Torera at the Alley All New Festival, I was overcome with excitement. When it was announced in the 22-23 Alley Theatre season, my excitement grew not only due to the capability of a full scale production, but also because Director and Choreographer, Tatiana Pandiani, would be at the helm.

Pandiani is one of those directors who seems to have one of the keenest eyes in the theatre industry today. As both a dancer and actor, Pandiani is that rare jewel of a performer who is able to bring complicated pieces such as Torera at Alley Theatre to life.

Upon witnessing Pandiani during the tech process, it is easy to see how decisive she is and why she is the perfect candidate to bring Hurst-Mendoza's beautiful work to Houston audiences. I sat down with Pandiani to ask a few questions and listen to the wisdom that only she could provide.

How did you get into the arts? I know you have a background in dance, was that the point of entrance?

The myth goes that when I was three years old, I got kicked out of pre-K for being too active and distracting other children. To get me back into pre-K, my mom had to promise the owners that I would come to the afternoon session, totally exhausted. So, at three, I was put on a healthy and exhausting activity diet of daily dance and karate. The karate didn't work out so well...

I grew up traveling and moving every three or four years. Every time we got to a new place, my mom made sure I had a good dance studio and enrolled me in as many classes as we could afford. Growing up with so much change around, and being what is called "a third culture kid", dance school, and the yearly preparation for dance recital was, a very welcomed, consistency in my life.

Interview: Tatiana Pandiani of TORERA at Alley Theatre
Jacqueline Guillen (Left), Jose Jose Arrieta Cuesta (Center), and Jesse Castellanos (Right) in Torera at Alley Theatre.
Photo by Lynn Lane

How did you and playwright, Monet Hurst-Mendoza meet?

It's funny, I've been asked that a few times since Monet and I got to Houston, but I can't really remember. It's been almost a decade. We met through Rising Circle Theater Collective, which is an organization that develops new plays by artists of color in New York City. I don't totally remember. I think we got paired up to work on one of her plays and that was the beginning.

What brought you to directing, Torera?

Monet started developing this play at the Emerging Writers Group at The Public Theater and asked me for the ride. I was immediately taken by the theatricality of the world of toreros and torera, and curious about the staging. I was also in love with Elena, a character that I feel very connected to. We did several developmental phases to get us here.

Interview: Tatiana Pandiani of TORERA at Alley Theatre
Jacqueline Guillén in Torera at Alley Theatre.
Photo by Lynn Lane

In the rehearsal room, you have a strong artistic vision, what influences your decisions in the rehearsal room?

I do a lot of planning. I make a lot of decisions beforehand, but I always know that 80% of them will change. Nevertheless, having a clear vision weeks and months before we start can help guide the design team and the writer, even if my initial instincts aren't quite the right choice eventually. It's like the Jerome Robins thing—try to leave as many doors open for as long as possible while also having a strong through line.

In the room, I direct very specifically tailored to each of the performers. If they are new actors or dancers, the first week of rehearsal is me trying to understand who they are as a person, how I should specifically communicate with them. If they are performers that I have directed in the past, there is a shorthand. But whatever the case, it’s important for me to adapt and "translate" to the style and needs of each performer. I also lead the room with a sense of humor—I think it's very important to cultivate that from the very beginning. So, I also try to figure out what these performers love and what makes them laugh beyond the play we’re working on.

One of the most important "techniques" is to be flexible and change my mind rather quickly. If I had had an impulse and it's not working out, I pivot and regroup—fast. A lot of directors get stuck in what their vision was, and they forget to see what's actually happening in the room in real time.

Interview: Tatiana Pandiani of TORERA at Alley Theatre
 Jesse Castellanos (Left) and Jacqueline Guillen (Right) in Torera at Alley Theatre.
Photo by Lynn Lane

Who are some of your inspirations, whether professionally, or personally?

Maria Irene FornesPina Bausch, and Twyla Tharp.

If there is something you are taking away from your time with Torera, what is it?

Director-choreographers: Always bring your favorite lighting designer in your back pocket with you at all times :-) (shout out to Yuki Nakese Link!)

Are there any specific plays or productions you would like work on in the future?

Yes! Many, but here goes: I’d love to do a bilingual Latino Cherry Orchard, a big production of Sweet Charity (with a killer, charming and funny as hell actress, playing Charity), something by Alice Birch, Sarita by Fornes, a contemporary Antigone, a musical with BOMBA ESTEREO... and an adaptation of One Hundred Years of Solitude (can anyone get me the rights?!) And, of course, continue developing new plays, and musicals with my favorite writers: Monet Hurst-MendozaMelis AkerRudi GoblenAlexis ScheerHannah BenitezDanny Tejera, Jon Rua, and Dominica Feraud. So yes, a lot- producers hit me up. List goes on but I'll stop there.

Interview: Tatiana Pandiani of TORERA at Alley Theatre
Jacqueline Guillen and Carolina Ornelas in Torera at Alley Theatre.
Photo by Lynn Lane.

Do you have any other projects that you are working on that audience members can see in the near future?

Yes! I have been developing a bilingual musical called AZUL for the last eight years. It is my baby and will have a concert at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater on May 24. You can learn more about it by following @azulthemusical on Instagram and visiting our website: www.azulthemusical.com

Torera by Monet Hurst-Mendoza runs at Alley Theatre's Neuhaus Theatre till Sunday, June 4th. Performances are Tuesday thru Thursday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be bought at alleytheatre.org or by phone at 713-220-5700.




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