For a long time, I've wanted to perform my play in Arizona. The state's notoriety in stoking anti-immigrant sentiment was something I thought about often. When SB 1070 (Show Me Your Papers Law) was enacted in 2010, it was the broadest and strictest anti-immigrant state law. Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewer gloated in media outlets about their state's anti-immigrant law. Soon, other states tried to outdo each other, passing punitive anti-immigrant laws. The history of discriminatory laws and the norms they preserve are themes in my one-woman show, Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?
Two years after Arizona adopted SB 1070, baseball pitcher Sergio Romo wore an I Just Look Illegal t-shirt at the 2012 World Series Victory Parade in San Francisco.
Days earlier, Sergio had clinched the World Series victory for San Francisco's beloved baseball team with his fine pitching. Sportscasters and news analysts discussed whether Sergio was making a political statement and if it was appropriate to do so on this occasion. He was most definitely making a statement: laws like SB 1070 racially profile people who look like him. Four years later, Colin Kaepernick took a knee and heightened awareness about police brutality in the African American community. In the following years, many athletes, including entire NBA teams, showed up courtside protesting police killings of black men by wearing t-shirts with the words "I Can't Breathe."
One day, while working on my play, I flashed on this image of Sergio Romo at the SF Giants World Series Victory Parade. This reminded me of various situations where I and others (who look Mexican) have been expected to justify our presence in the United States. I knew then that I needed to use this picture of Sergio Romo in my show.
My wish to bring the play to Arizona finally came true in Scottsdale on December 10th. I had a wonderful time visiting Scottsdale and Phoenix and seeing long-time friends who have lived in Arizona their whole lives and others who found their way to this beautiful part of the country. The Kerr (pronounced care) Theater is a warm, intimate space in a handsome Southwestern adobe that was once the home and studio of one of the nation's early women composers and classically trained musicians, Louise Lincoln Kerr (remember its care). She was known as The Grand Lady of Music for her generous arts patronage. World-class musicians came from around the world for days and weeks to visit and play music at the Kerr home. I could feel the power of the woman who created this space and imagined her joy - doing what she loved best, making music with friends and colleagues.
I am happy to report that all went well with the show (something one can't ever be sure of; see below) and that I had a wonderful audience. Thanks to my friend, Micha Espinosa, ASU Professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theater, for connecting me to the Kerr Theater. She also introduced me to one of her students, Gianbari Deebom, who recorded some audience members' reactions to the show, which we've put in this short video.
Do You Get Nervous Before Shows?
I'm often asked this question YES, I do, and I was significantly more anxious than usual as I had new material that I was presenting for the first time. Although I was pleased with what I had added and how it complemented the other scenes in the show, I kept messing up my lines. Typically, when this happens, I simplify the text and tinker with specific words. On Friday evening, two days before my show, I concluded that my script needed more than tinkering. I needed a rewrite of several pages, which I did. But I was beside myself with worry that I would be able to remember this part of the script.
Saturday was set aside for tech rehearsal, which is the time when the performer (and the director, if present) sort out appropriate lighting for each scene and make sure that the images and sounds that support the story are seamlessly incorporated into the flow of the show. The number of techs that are part of the behind-the-scenes of a solo show varies depending on the complexity of the set and the size/budget of a theater- sometimes, it is just one person. Other times, it is a team of several people. I had two experienced techs at the Kerr: David, responsible for stage lighting, and Mitchell, who handled sound and images.
All started well enough, but I was not performing well when I got to the new part. We practiced the same material a couple of times. I told the techs we should move on, and fortunately, the rest of the show ran smoothly. Since it was just 3 pm Saturday, I decided I'd be okay with a few more hours of dedicated work.
When I'm having trouble remembering my lines, I do the following: I re-record them on an App named LineLearner. I then hit the trails (or streets) and hike or walk around, listening and repeating the lines. The physical movement is essential to the learning process for me. I start with one sentence, then another, and in a matter of hours, I can remember bigger and bigger chunks of the script. Back home (or in a hotel room), I write out the vexing lines with multiple colors pens. Sometimes, I'll write the same line in longhand -- five, six, ten times over. I did his Saturday evening (before and after my dinner break with friends). I went to sleep, confident I was ready. Early Sunday morning, I set out on my walk and started reciting my lines. Soon, dread seeped in. YIKES, I didn't have my lines down.
I was due at the theater at noon but decided to go earlier to warm up and get more practice. The house was set to open at 1:30 pm, with the show starting at 2 pm.
The techs and I agreed to run the hour-long show at noon, allowing us enough time to fix any glitches before the doors opened. About 20 minutes into the show, I was still messing up repeatedly when I got to the new material. Freak out time. Let's forgo the rest of the rehearsal, I told the techs.
I returned to the Green Room, heart pounding, palms sweating. Take a deep breath; now take another deep breath. Calm down. It will all be OK, I reminded myself. I pulled out my colorful pens and a piece of paper, wrote down several bullet points, and made a flow chart. I told myself I didn't need to know my specific lines; I just needed to remember the sequence. First, the 1963 Birmingham Church bombing, then the racially motivated killings this past decade: Mother Emmanuel Church, Tree of Life Synagogue, El Paso Walmart, Pulse Nightclub, the passage of historic Civil Rights Acts in the 60s, George Floyd, Rodney King, Jose Campos Torres, ethnic studies, the fight against CRT, Justice Ketanji Jackson's Senate Confirmation hearing.
This random listing of events won't mean anything to you unless you saw the Scottsdale show. But this list guided the story I was sharing with the audience. I walked around the room (fortunately, it was a nice-sized room,) imagining the flow of the story. Then, repeating this sequence, I danced to my eclectic preshow playlist, including Little Joe, Etta James, Rolling Stones, and Donna Summers. Finally, there was a knock on the door, showtime.
Without a doubt, I was more nervous than at other times. Within a few minutes, after getting some laughs from the audience, I felt at ease, at one with the universe. When I got to the portion that had vexed me for several days, the lines flowed as they were supposed to. What a relief; the rest of the show was smooth sailing.
Thanks to my SF Bay Area friends who have seen my show and recommended it to their Phoenix peeps. (Maria, Ellen, Gilda, Bonnie, I'm looking at you, and I know there are others). It brought me such joy when Maria shared part of an email from her friend who had attended.
“So glad to learn of Irma Herrera's work, which was very entertaining, funny, poignant, and educational. It gave me pause as I contemplated her journey and a deeper understanding of some of her and others in similar circumstances, experiences, and challenges. She has new fans in Arizona.”
If you saw my Kerr Theater performance, I'd be happy to get a testimonial from you, too. I welcome any leads to theaters in Phoenix, Tucson, or Flagstaff as I'd love to return to Arizona.