Art and revolution: New work in progress ‘The Box’ to be performed at UNC

Nov. 14, 2013 @ 10:25 AM

Carmelita Tropicana is a playwright, author, actress and performance artist whose work examines issues of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, always through a humorous lens. She creates performances from her experiences as a Cuban-born American and as a lesbian with characters with the names Carmelita, Pingalito, and others.

In “The Box,” her new work in progress, Tropicana will offer audiences more of what she calls “the writer’s voice. … I don’t have the mask,” she said. In “The Box,” audiences will hear more of the experiences of Alina Troyano (her given name, but she prefers to be called Tropicana). The one-woman show is about Tropicana’s relationship with her father, who was a leader in the Cuban Revolution, an ally with Fidel Castro, but like many Cubans, was later forced into exile.
Tropicana will perform this work in progress today and Saturday as part of UNC’s Process Series, which exposes audiences to new works of art in development.
Tropicana began performing in the early 1980s at the WOW Women’s Café and other theaters in New York’s Lower East Side and Greenwich Village. Among her performance pieces are “Milk of Amnesia,” which she wrote after visiting Cuba in the post-Soviet period of shortages of goods called the Special Period, and the film “Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst is Your Waffen (Art is Your Weapon),” a take on stereotypes.
“We don’t have that much exposure to an artist like her here,” said Joseph Megel, director of the Process Series. He called Tropicana a pioneer in theater that tackles issues of culture, race and sexual orientation “in a humorous sort of way.” In addition to “the Box,” audiences also will get a taste of her Carmelita and Pingalito characters.
“The Box” is more autobiographical than her other works, Tropicana said. “He was in and out of our lives,” she said of her father. (She was raised by her mother and grandmother.) He was a leader in the 13th of March Movement, a parallel group to Castro’s, but centered in the Escambray mountains. “The Box” explores how his legacy as a revolutionary plays out in her life and work. “He was a revolutionary, and what does that mean?” Tropicana said. Her new work offers audiences a chance “to look at how you are marked by your parents, good and bad,” an experience that is universal to all people.
After her father died, she started writing down stories that she remembered about her father. Her father also self-published a book about his experiences which she has used in developing “The Box.”
When she began performing in the early 1980s there was “not much lesbian work that had an edge to it,” Tropicana said. “When I started out doing theater in the ’80s, it was pre-Ellen DeGeneres, pre-‘Glee,’” she said. The humor of that time was “trying to bring in a different take on how things are.”
She hopes “The Box” inspires audience members to look at past difficult relationships “and your part in that. … what you did to make it easier or hard.”
“As an artist, you come here and try out material,” Tropicana said of the Process Series. “As an artist, you have to try out material in front of an audience. … I don’t know how people are going to receive it,” she said. “It’s going to be just as interesting for me as it will be for the audience.” 


WHAT: “The Box,” a work in progress by Carmelita Tropicana
WHEN: Today and Saturday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Studio 6 of Swain Hall, UNC Chapel Hill campus