Meme García on house of sueños

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 162

For generations, artists have been shaping and changing Shakespeare to fit their times. The best adaptations add specific textures of place and culture, or a fluidity of language that can take centuries-old work and make it brand new. Seattle Shakespeare Company is presenting one of those works: a Salvadoran-American adaptation of Hamlet called house of sueños, by actor and playwright Meme García.

In house of sueños, sisters Rina and Amelia prepare to celebrate Mom’s marriage to their new Stepdad. But when Amelia tells her sister of the mysterious voice and shadowy figure she saw in the attic last night, it becomes clear that not all in this house is as it seems. 

García’s play is being released as a five-episode series from the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Rough Magic podcast. You can listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or on the company’s website through March 17. 

We talked to García about adapting Shakespeare, mental illness in Hamlet and in their own experiences, how they crafted the language of their play, and making the ghost of Papi actually scary. García is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, NPR One, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Playwright Meme García is a Fulbright Scholar with a Master’s degree in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. As an actor, they have performed with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, upstart crow collective, and Seattle Shakespeare Company, among other theaters.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published March 2, 2021. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “What Dreams May Come,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts.

Previous: Shakespeare in the Harlem Renaissance | Next: Stephen Hopkins and Stephano


Related

Richard II on the Radio
The Public Theater and WYNC's radio production of Shakespeare's Richard II inspired García's approach to house of sueños's stage directions when they adapted it into a podcast. Listen to our interview with Richard II's creators, Saheem Ali and Emily Botein.

Hamlet 360: Virtual Reality Shakespeare
Listen to our interview with the creators of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's Hamlet 360: Thy Father's Spirit. In this virtual reality Hamlet, the viewer watches the play from the perspective of the ghost of Hamlet's father.

Hamlet
Read, download, or search The Folger Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's play for free online. 


Transcript

MICHAEL WITMORE: Hamlet is Hamlet is Hamlet is Hamlet.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Angela Hernández is Amelia and Caro Zeller is Rina]

RINA:
ay, that this too too solid flesh would melt
thaw n resolve itself into a dew!
or that el todopoderoso had not fix'd
his canon contra suicidio! ay dios! dios!

WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I'm Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. For generations, theater artists have been shaping and changing Shakespeare to fit the times. When they do, the best ones add specific textures of place and culture, or fluidity with language that can take centuries-old work and make it brand new. Seattle Shakespeare Company is presenting one of those works as we’re recording this; a Salvadoran-American adaptation of Hamlet called house of sueños, by 28 year-old playwright Meme García.

Because of the times we’re all living in, the play is being released as a podcast, presented in the style of Meme’s favorite horror podcasts: Lore and The Horror of Dolores Roach.

house of sueños—like its playwright—exists in English, modern and Shakespearean, and in Spanish. It hits many of the most popular Hamlet highpoints, but also has a unique 21st-century freshness that makes this work very much its own thing.

Meme García joined us to talk about the work and its creation from their home in Ashland, Oregon. We call this podcast: “What Dreams May Come.” Meme García is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
-------------------

BARBARA BOGAEV: So, this started as a solo show, right? You going through things in an attic that stirred up memories from your actual childhood. So how come of that original show involved the language and themes from Hamlet?

MEME GARCÍA: The original one that I did, it didn't take place in an attic. It took place in a sea cave, if that is… if you can believe that. And it was really wet. I had all these buckets. It was a concept.

And then, it actually… the second version took place in a basement. My grandparents had just passed away, and they had one of these basements that was like you were walking into an antique mall. So it was quite haunted, and so the set, it was just so macabre. I can't believe I'm admitting to this, but we used a lot of stuff from my grandparents' basement before the estate sale, as like set dressing for that show.

BOGAEV: Wow. So truly haunting for you.

GARCÍA: Quite haunting. And text, Hamlet or Shakespeare, has always been a part of it. Originally there was, like, 12 different Shakespeare plays in it, and I was like, "Well, I don't need to live the arc of all these characters. I could just live the arc of one play." We decided that Hamlet was the best option for that.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Angela Hernández is Amelia and Caro Zeller is Rina.]

          AMELIA:

          After you left to smoke…
          I saw a figure like him,
          n I swear to whatever god there is
          that I believe it was Luis, our papi.

          RINA:
          Did you not speak to him?

          AMELIA:
          Rina, I tried,
          but answer made he none. he just
          started telling this story—from when we were little
            n as soon as I tried to speak
            he had vanished from my sight.

            RINA:
            your lying

            AMELIA:
            why would I like about this?
            I would you had been there
            it would have much amaz’d you.

BOGAEV: And why Hamlet? What did that play mean to you throughout your life?

GARCÍA: It was the very first play I ever did when I was 12. I played Hamlet in this, like, summer camp version of it.

BOGAEV: Cool, enlightened camp.

GARCÍA: Yeah, very, very. I wasn't supposed to play Hamlet. I think I was Bernardo. Then the person who was playing Hamlet dropped out, and I was the only person with a part small enough that they could replace it.

BOGAEV: Excellent.

GARCÍA: I know. But it was also—my Salvadoran dad, Luis, he had a copy of Hamlet in Spanish. And I remember him reading it to me as a kid.

BOGAEV: Huh. Of your dad. And your mom did remarry. Right?

GARCÍA: Mm-hmm. Yes.

BOGAEV: So tell us about that part of your life and how you folded that in.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Angela Hernández is Amelia and Caro Zeller is Rina.]

AMELIA:
it’s hard for her.

RINA:
n it’s not hard for us?
feels like just yesterday he disappeared.

AMELIA:
it’s been 5 years.
n he didn’t disappear.
he abandoned us.

RINA:
whatever helps you sleep at night.
maybe you’ll say tis but my fantasy,
n will not let belief take hold of you
but I know you’re haunted by the same face, el mismo hombre.
he’s out there Amelia.

AMELIA:
he’s not coming back.

RINA
what did Papi always say?

AMELIA:
“if you’re hungover drink more?”

GARCÍA: So my mom remarried her college/high-school sweetheart when I was… I must have been in seventh grade. He has a daughter who became my stepsister and now is my sister. She was very much not enthusiastic about the wedding, and so I just have all these memories of just the two of us getting ready for my parents' wedding and she's like, just...

[CLIP from house of sueños. Angela Hernández is Amelia, Caro Zeller is Rina, and Sophie Franco is The Attic.]

RINA:
dónde puede estar…
remember that suit she made me wear for the funeral?

AMELIA:
the all black one?

RINA:
si pues.

AMELIA:
you can’t wear that.

RINA:
y porque no?
it’s a great fit.

AMELIA:
it’s a wedding.

RINA:
it’s that or ripped skinny jeans n converse.
ah ha! here we go.

THE ATTIC:
the two sisters stand in front of a mirror in the attic, both of them holding the costumes they’ll have to wear for the wedding tomorrow.

BOGAEV: Okay, now I can see where it all comes together; how you've drawn your experience from this wedding and your stepsister to create the sisters characters in this radio drama. Rina and her younger sister, Amelia. And in the radio play, Rina's the Hamlet figure and Amelia is kind of the Ophelia/Horatio figure. So if your stepsister was Hamlet-like and hated your parents' marriage, were you Ophelia?

GARCÍA: Yes, I really didn't distance myself that much from the play. My real name is Amelia. I would say yes, I was probably more of a Horatio, Ophelia type. We had a lot of struggles in my family with mental health challenges. And my mental health challenges; it's not that they were pushed aside or any less important, it's just that other people in my family required an immense amount of care. I think that now that I look back, I'm like, "Wow, that really affected me."

BOGAEV: Oh, I can imagine. I mean, well, mental illness is so often the subtext of Hamlet productions, but your production puts it right in the forefront. And something we know now in the 21st century that really comes across in your production is the question of the genetic nature of mental illness, how it's passed down in a family. Is that what you struggled with in both writing this, but also in your life?

GARCÍA: Yes. My Salvadoran dad—Luis is his name—my papi, he has a lot of PTSD.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Armando Durán is Papi.]

PAPI:
And when I looked into the eyes of our “American” friends
I didn’t see the bullets they provided or the guns they made
Or the soldiers they trained who tortued me
Vi seres humanos…

GARCÍA: He has a lot of experience with the Salvadoran Civil War. And so I grew up, and all my tios—my whole Salvadoran family has it, right? I mean, it's a huge handprint on our history.

[Clip continues]

PAPI:
Did you see my children? Esta casa?
Did they see the way you and your sister would make me laugh?
The Christmases, Halloweens, Valentines days or cumpleaños?
No, I’d given up everything to become nothing.


GARCÍA: And something that I've kind of grown up is, I'm like, "Well, what does that intergenerational trauma look like? What does it feel like?" And for me, a lot of it feels like, isolation and alone, because I didn't grow up in a huge Salvadoran-American community. But I also feel it kind of in my bones and in my blood, and I forget that intergenerational trauma and legacy burden actually shows up physically, like, in our body.

And I see it manifesting in all different types of ways, right? I see it in my inability to trust, in paranoia, in particularly struggling with, like, trusting any type of institution. And I also feel it, kind of, in this idea that, you know, both my parents were revolutionaries. And I am an artist. So part of me is like, "What kind of collective liberation am I fighting for? How am I actively trying to make the world a better place?" And that's a lot of pressure to place on yourself.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and it gives such explosive power to the idea of Hamlet's ghost. So how did you think about portraying Hamlet's ghost, understanding Hamlet's ghost in this production?

GARCÍA: To preface this, my collaborator, Wiley and I, we had always asked ourselves this question, "Have we ever seen a production of Hamlet where the ghost is actually scary?" And my answer is no.

BOGAEV: I don't think I have.

GARCÍA: I've never. Yeah. But I'm sure when it came out, it was just horrifying, right? Like, the very first production you saw of Hamlet, it must have been just incredible, I think, and that awe-inspiring, truly, and very terrifying.

And I love horror, so I was like, “I want to make the ghost in our show, the ghost of Papi, terrifying.” Because if anyone who's experienced depression or anxiety or any type of suicide ideation knows that it's kind of like a constant presence that drives a lot of your day. And it kind of feels and it tastes like fear, in my opinion.

So then I was looking at this Hamlet ghost scene, and the ghost of Hamlet's father is so disappointed in him. You know, he's like—he starts off, he's like, "I find the act. Don't pity me." Just the lines that he has at the beginning, and Hamlet's like, "What can I do? How can I be present for you?" And he is like, "God, this isn't enough."

[CLIP from house of sueños. Armando Durán is Papi and Caro Zeller is Rina.]

PAPI:
Pero you—you look good my little prince.

RINA:
Papi?

PAPI:
What did I always say Rina?
Cuando te vas, te quedas.
You didn’t think I’d really leave you did you?
Nothing would keep me from you—
salvo mi muerte, salvo mi muerte.

RINA:
you’re dead?

PAPI:
No temenos mucho tiempo.
Tu hermana es demasiado débil.
She can’t hold off death for long.

RINA:
mi pobre Papi

PAPI:
Don’t pity me
Listen for once in your life.

GARCÍA: And so then I mirrored it with—there was this production apparently, I think it was with Jonathan Pryce at the RSC, where Pryce played it as if the ghost has possessed him. I was fascinated by that. I was fascinated by possession. And I was like, “What is it if the ghost of Papi in this play possesses the youngest daughter? And she becomes like a conduit for his spirits in a way that I become a conduit for my papi's trauma.”

BOGAEV: Hmm. I do want to ask you about language. The play moves in and out of modern English and Spanish and slang, and then quotes from Shakespeare pretty directly, or paraphrased. So how do you decide when to drop in the Shakespeare? Because sometimes it's just a line in the middle of just contemporary monologue, like when the stepfather's talking to Amelia about Rina's mental illness.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Andrew McGinn is Stepdad.]

STEPDAD:
Something you have seen
Of Rina’s transformation
[If that’s what we wanna call it]
What it should be
More than papi’s absence, that thus hath put her
So much from the understanding of herself
I cannot dream of. I know your mother will want you from this time forth
To be something scanter of your presence,
But I know that your sister… well, she’s healing,
And we gotta put her on a tighter leash, so to speak.

GARCÍA: I wish there was a really intelligent and poetic response to this other than, "When I feel like it." I was really trying to rack my brain. I was like, "Okay, come on, you're a playwright. Everything has a reason.” And, you know, I modeled it a lot of how I go in and out of Spanish. So in one moment I'll go from speaking English to hablando español, and it's as smooth as that. And so part of me was like, “How can I mimic that experience with Shakespeare.” And I guess that's...

BOGAEV: So were you modeling it on kind of the musical theater idea? Good musical theater where people just seem to flow, like when the occasion calls for song?

GARCÍA: Yes.

BOGAEV: And suddenly go from speaking to singing?

GARCÍA: Mm-hmm, yes. I think that's a great way to describe it. Also, code switching I think is another good way to describe it.

BOGAEV: Oh, sure.

GARCÍA: Definitely they're like, "Yes, I can't express what I have to say with my words, so I'm going to burst into song." And I guess in this play they don't burst into song, they burst into Shakespeare.

BOGAEV: So maybe your answer's going to be the same for this question, but what would make you rewrite Shakespeare? You know, what would make you like a rewritten line of Shakespeare better that the original line? On what basis would you decide that? Like, relevancy or accessibility?

GARCÍA: Accessibility has a lot to do with it. I think, also, part of me is just like, “How does this line sit in my actor's mouth?” I have always found Shakespeare to be one of the most accessible playwrights in the sense that he is free. But I've also found him to be inaccessible in that I don't understand what's going on probably 50 percent of the time. So I was just like, “How can I take that 50 percent of the time that I don't know what he's saying and bring myself, meet him there.”

[CLIP from house of sueños. Caro Zeller is Rina.]

RINA:
to die, to sleep; morir, dormir, to die;
to sleep: perchance to dream: ay there’s the rub
for in that sleep of death que sueños podrán llegar
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil
must give us pause: ahí está el respeto
that makes calamity of so long life;
for who would bear the whips n scorns of time,
the oppressor's wrong, those [expletive] up rides in the back of an ambulance,
heartbreak that feels like a chainsaw, la tardanza de la justiciar,
las preguntas y las miradas, the forgetting n remembering,
the distant memories

GARCÍA: This is for us. This is by us. I'm forcibly bringing him to me, in a way.

BOGAEV: Ah, so it's about the right to be there too.

GARCÍA: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: So you can see yourself in Shakespeare, in the language, and also in the world of Shakespeare?

GARCÍA: Yeah, and it's hard because I have always seen myself in Shakespeare. There has never been a point in my life that I don't see clearly where I belong. But what I realize is that it's the rest of the world that hasn't made that connection. Particularly, like, when I think about house of sueños, I'm like, this is a Salvadoran-American play. I see that relationship between Hamlet and Central American identity so clearly. But I don't think the rest of the world does, which is a surprise to me. So how can I write a play or create a world that allows and introduces other people to that same concept that I have?

[CLIP from house of sueños. Catherina Castellanos is Mom.]

MOM:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent
And like the mother I am I am bent up in
kept secrets and promises I made a lifetime ago.
"Is that what you said to papi?”
I couldn't say anything because
The truth and the lie sit heavy on my tongue,
And I can almost see myself thru her eyes:
these cursed hands are stained thick with her Papi's blood.

BOGAEV: And getting down to the level of rhythm, there's something really interesting going on in the language. There is some iambic pentameter, but a lot of it isn't quite iambic. So what rhythms were you playing with?

GARCÍA: So first and foremost, I'm an actor. I was always confused by iambic pentameter until I did a project in grad school where we rapped it. We dropped one of the feet, one of the iambs, and put it into four-four. And I started to realize that, I was like, "Whoa, you can really tell a lot when you mess with rhythm in Shakespeare." Where you take it out of what is kind of foreign and you place it into the home experience, like rap or hip-hop.

So I started to kind of be like, “Well, how can I use the rhythm of Shakespeare to, A, tell my actors what is supposed to be going on? But B, also make it a little bit easier for the audience to understand what someone's feeling.” And also, just continue to be like, "It doesn't matter." I'm like, “Let's just throw something at a wall and see if it works.”

BOGAEV: And let's flow.

GARCÍA: Let's flow.

BOGAEV: Because it seems like Spanish, it fits. The four-four rhythm fits Spanish in a different way than—I mean, Spanish has different stresses than English, right?

GARCÍA: Much different stresses, yeah. And I think when I did try to fit it so that it was all in iambic pentameter, right, I was like, "Okay, I want to make it work. If I have half the line in English, half the line in Spanish, I want it to fit." It really didn't flow. So then I was like, "Okay, let's just forget about it—the rhythm—and not try to make it an alexandrine or iambic pentameter, whatever. We're just going to make it sound like the music I grew up with, which is reggaeton.” What Would Bad Bunny Do? is always how...

BOGAEV: WWBBD.

GARCÍA: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

BOGAEV: So, you know, the Spanish, there is a lot of Spanish in this radio drama, and I live in Southern California, so I understand a bit of Spanish, but some of it I didn't at all. And it was kind of like, “Okay, I'm just going with this. It sounds great. I love the rhythms. Maybe I just don't have to understand everything.” How did you think about that? How do you decide when to use Spanish? It's kind of an interesting parallel with the accessibility of Shakespeare to everyone with the accessibility of your Spanish to your listeners.

GARCÍA: Well, I didn’t grow up—English was not my first language, and that was an incredibly difficult process for me, learning English. And sometimes I think when I go see a Shakespeare play, like so many other people, I'm like, “I have no idea what these people are saying, but I'm here, and I'm present, and I'm engaged.”

I think about that sometimes when you hear another language. And I'm like, “Okay, it might be kind of scary at first not to know what people are saying, but at the same time, there's kind of a beauty in opening yourself up and how that is mirrored with the experience of seeing Shakespeare.” I also say in the notes on language at the beginning, I say that Spanish is the language of immediate secrets. I want monolingual English speakers to feel like they are listening to a secret that isn't necessarily being given to them.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Sophie Franco is The Attic]

THE ATTIC:
as soon as she's gone, the attic begins to move and machinate, breath pumping life into its veins. twinkle lights that were once hidden, blink slowly to life, and a sweet smell, como menta e hibisco lingers. the attic is happy for the first time in a long time, y lo puedes sentir. como magia, drop cloths that covered old furniture pull themselves into the air to make a beautiful tent in late summer, chairs rearrange themselves to make room for guests who are made out of old clothes.

GARCÍA: Something that I've carried with me for many, many years, is being able to find someone, I'm like, "Cool, you speak Spanish, we can connect." And I know that speaking Spanish is not necessarily a representation of culture, but so often when I do speak Spanish with someone, it is with another Latinx person, another Latina person. And I'm like, I need to just, I guess, code switch, really, is what it is, right? I need to just be real for a second in a way that I feel like I'm not real in English sometimes.

BOGAEV: And for you with a Salvadoran background, I mean, Spanish was the language of the colonizer, right?

GARCÍA: Yes, yeah. So I think that's another thing that's so hard, is that this… for many, many Latina and Latinx folks who don't grow up speaking Spanish, right, that there's like a double grate, if that makes sense. There's a grate that we're not Latina enough or not Latinx enough. But then there's a grate that it's like, "But it's the colonizer's language, it's not my language." In El Salvador, the indigenous population, because of centuries of genocide and then because of the Civil War, the population, the indigenous population is quite small. So only a fraction of people actually speak Nahuatl, one of the many indigenous languages. Compared to in Guatemala which is, I think, a 36 percent population of indigenous folks. They speak, like, 40 different indigenous languages there.

BOGAEV: Wow.

GARCÍA: And so, yeah, it's hard because people associate Latinidad with Spanish. And so often I'm like, “It is a portion, I suppose, of our culture, but not all of it.”

BOGAEV: With so many layers. And on top of that, you have some Shakespeare in Spanish.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Caro Zeller is Rina.]

RINA:
ángeles y ministros de la gracia, defiendenos!
seas espíritu de salvación o duende condenado;
traigas contigo aires de Cielo o ráfagas de infierno;
sean tus intenciones perversas o caritativas.


BOGAEV: That's really interesting to hear. You had the, "Angels and ministers of grace defend us," speech. When do you decide, “We're just going to do some Shakespeare in Spanish?”

GARCÍA: So I'll look at a combination of text, different translations of Hamlet into Spanish. So often these translations are from Spain, so they are Castilian Spanish, and they use "vosotros." I find them to be quite tiring. I will work with my actor, Caro Zeller, who plays Rina who's incredible. And I'll be like, "Okay, what is this straight-up old text? What does it sound like in your voice?" And we'll kind of play with it and I'll be like, "Uh-uh, this doesn't sound right." So I then readapt it to make it heightened Latin American Spanish.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Angela Hernández is Amelia and Caro Zeller is Rina.]

AMELIA:
I don’t have a good feeling about this.
where has he been all these years?
why is he showing up now?
sis please stop—

RINA:
why stop? qué temores debo tener?
I do not set my life at a pin's fee,
n for my soul—qué le puede hacer,
siendo como él mismo cosa inmortal?

BOGAEV: And this is a really charged moment too, this speech. You know, that moment of conjuring, right? We're dealing with a ghost here, and the stakes are high. It's about her relationship to her father.

[Clip continues. Armando Durán is Papi.]

RINA:
adonde estas?

PAPI:
Mijaaaaaa

RINA:
aqui estamos!

THE ATTIC:
Amelia begins to fight off an invisible force. she falls to the ground and begins to crawl towards Rina, reaching out for help.

RINA:
my fate cries out
n makes each petty artery in this body
as hardy as a lions roar.
still I am called—unhand me sister—

[SOUND: RINA kicks her hand away AMELIA cries out]

RINA:
por los cielos convertiré espectro al que me sujete.
come in come in we’re ready for you!


GARCÍA: How can we meet this old “vosotros,” or the Spanish “vosotros” with contemporary Latin American Spanish?

BOGAEV: On another tack, something I really love is that the stage directions in this radio drama are a character.

GARCÍA: Yes.

BOGAEV: The stage directions are the attic. So where did the idea come from, or come to you to write them that way?

GARCÍA: My stage direction… I have two plays that I've written in my life. But in those two plays that I've written, they've always been quite poetic. Primarily because one day I hope that they are on stage and I really want to give designers, kind of, free rein to really interpret that. I'm very much inspired by the stage directions of Chuck Mee, of Naomi Iizuka. I was like, “Yeah, they are poetry.” And then I started listening to the Public's Richard II with Lupita Nyong'o, was the narrator. And I was so inspired by that. I was moved by having someone who is such an incredibly talented actor playing the narrator. And to infuse myself into this character; if I get a place as a playwright in the story, it's here.

[CLIP from house of sueños. Sophie Franco is The Attic.]


THE ATTIC:
however, like most haunted things, this attic won’t stay still for long. it’s always churning, always working. And somewhere in the distance, behind some boxes, you can almost make out a sigh, or a breath on the wind, promising: who’s there?


GARCÍA: Someone looking in from the outside moving these characters around. And I have to be present to the trauma that these characters are going to experience. I have to give them little respites, or I have to acknowledge the pain that they're going through. So that's how I wrote the attic; with a lot of love.

BOGAEV: Wow, that puts you right… it's as if you're encompassing all of the characters and all the actions. They're inside of you.

GARCÍA: Yes. I mean, after I finished writing this play, I think I slept for probably like at least 20 hours.

BOGAEV: It's like you gave birth.

GARCÍA: It feels like I just carved a chunk of myself out to share with the world. I think that people, when they hear it—people don't know me, obviously, maybe they don't experience this—but I think for the people that know me, they're like, "Wow, that's what it's like inside your head." And I'm like, "Yes, this is what it's like inside my brain all the time." It's kind of scary.

BOGAEV: Well, it's really interesting. This is kind of a small point, but it's a real window into your brain I think; is that I read the script, because your production team hadn't finished putting them together yet before we did this interview. So when you look at the script on the page, it's almost like reading a novel because the stage directions are so poetic, and then there's these really interesting idiosyncrasies in the actual words on the page. Like the word "and" is almost always just the letter “n.” And sometimes the first words of sentences are capitalized and sometimes they're not, so sometimes they're like a poem, and sometimes not. The audience will never see your script, so why do they look like that?

GARCÍA: I think… so, like I said before, I'm an actor before I'm anything else. When I went to acting conservatory, one of the things we always did was we would retype our scripts up and we would get rid of all the "ands," particularly in Shakespeare. Because you wouldn't say, like, "fish and chips," right? You'd say "fish 'n' chips." And so I was like, "Yeah, I think that lives in this play too."

Also, I love how Shakespeare, because of the iambic pentameter, he puts it in your body and he allows it to be extemporaneous. And I was like, “How can I mimic that?” Right? How do I write my extemporaneous speech? And so often, when I'm writing text messages, I don't write out blocks of text.  I'll write out little sentences. They'll be like… if you get a text from me and I'm really feeling strong about something, it'll be 50 text messages. All one lines. Because that's how I think. Extemporaneously. So I wanted to kind of mimic that.

I also wanted the actors where were playing Rina and Amelia to know that this isn't Shakespeare. This is just us. This is how you text, this is how you talk, this is how you tell somebody you love them. It's our language. And it doesn't exist in capital letters. It doesn't exist in lots of punctuation. It exists in a much more messy place.

But there have been lots of other authors who have used, kind of—who've distanced themselves from capitalization, from grammar. I mean, I can think of bell hooks really being kind of one of the main ones. Because also, part of me is continuously frustrated with how my grammar and my language has been policed by primarily white institutions, online, as not sounding academic-enough. And I'm like, "No, no, no, I'm an academic, I'm just not an academic in the way that you see academics. Because you've never allowed us into your space like this before."

BOGAEV: So it's a political statement, really. Even though no one's eyes— except maybe your actors, definitely your actors—are going to see this. You know, the audience isn't going to see this. But it sounds like you're making a political statement for yourself and for them.

GARCÍA: Yes, I am. One day, maybe it'll be, who knows, maybe it'll be published and there'll be some queer little Salvadoran kid reading it, and they'll see, "Oh, they talk like me. This playwright is writing how I talk." And I think that's one of my dreams.

BOGAEV: Well, that makes me think that you didn't really have any trepidation going into adapting Shakespeare, which is what you're doing in this radio drama. But we've had so many guests on this show who have either adapted Shakespeare in plays or into novels, and we always ask them, "How do you think about that? Do you struggle with it?" We asked that of the Washington Post humor columnist, Alexandra Petri who wrote an adaptation of Hamlet. And she had this great answer. She said, "You know, if Donald Trump can be president, then I can rewrite Hamlet." So that was memorable. And I do wonder, you know, how did you think about adapting Shakespeare? Was there any worries about that at all?

GARCÍA: You know, no. I don't think so. Primarily because every time I perform in a Shakespeare play, I'm making a political statement. Any time I say his words, I'm making a statement because I can't separate my identity from my body, no matter how many times I try. I'm not a neutral space. And that idea of neutral is, in and of itself, non-existent. I inhabit a very political, beautiful space. And all of my Shakespeare has primarily been with upstart crow collective with Rosa Joshi. It has been doing these shows; that they're about the story, but the bodies you see playing the story make the story better.

And so when I sat down to do house of sueños, it was never, I think, a fear, like, “Well, will my writing be as good as Shakespeare? Will I be prolific enough or genius enough?” And I was like, "No. It's okay." Because also, I think that we tend to deify Shakespeare. We look at him like a god, and I think he was just a man. We get to treat him like he's just a man, and we get to be like, "Some of your stories are incredibly problematic." And if he was alive today and he wrote the misogyny he wrote in Hamlet, we would be like, "Yo, dude, are you okay?" And he would be like, "I'm not okay, I need help," and we'd be like, "Yes, we're getting you the help you need."

So, we can treat his works like new plays and throw out what works and keep what doesn't. And as Deborah Warner says, “Throw them up against the wall of our times.” We just get to wrangle with them in a beautiful way and collaborate.

BOGAEV: Well, I love how you wrangled with Shakespeare in this. And I just wish you all the best and good health. Take care of yourself.
GARCÍA: Thank you, thank you.

BOGAEV: And thanks so much for talking today.

GARCÍA: It was a blast. Thank you.

-------------------

WITMORE: Playwright Meme García is a Fulbright Scholar with a Master’s degree in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. As an actor, they have performed with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, upstart crow collective, and Seattle Shakespeare Company, among others. Meme was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

house of sueños is currently available as a 5-part series, available as part of Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Rough Magic podcast. It was written by Meme García and directed by Wiley Basho Gorn, with sound design by Meghan Roche.

The play is available through March 17, 2021 at seattleshakespeare.org/houseofsuenos—S-U-E-N-O-S. That’s seattleshakespeare.org/houseofsuenos.

Our podcast, “What Dreams May Come,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.