Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rose Cano shines light on homeless with her play (her company eSe Teatro presents “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle” at ACT Theatre’s Central Heating Lab)

Rose Cano in a humorous moment pretending to be Don Quixote (courtesy Rose Cano)
Rose Cano has spent 19 years as a medical translator for patients at Harborview. She’s heard a lot of stories. Some of the stories from the emergency room and from homeless shelters formed the basis of the characters in the play Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle she and her company eSe Teatro will present from September 10 to September 28 at ACT Theatre’s Central Heating Lab.

Rose, busy with (besides a full time job) running her theater company, directing, developing community, talks about the development of the play. She says it is her first multi-character play and “it’s my first fully produced full length play. I’ve done a few one person shows and written two bilingual musicals.

“2011 is when I got the idea. Working at Harborview in the emergency department, I saw a number of homeless Latinos on the weekends. We see highway accidents, violent crimes, jail inmates and indigent people. Based on some of the men – we see mostly men in the ER – some were gentlemen and some succumbed to the street. And I started to think about how they keep their dignity on the street.

“I saw one guy in particular who was trying to get off the street and leave an addiction behind. He was well dressed and handsome and I wondered what twists and turns led to him living on the street. What allows people to remain caballeros (gentlemen)? I thought, ‘Who is the most quintessential gentleman?’ It’s Don Quixote. I thought of the parallels and thought of Sancho Panza wandering all over the Spanish countryside, asking for food, getting humiliated, trying to find shelter, getting beat up. Just trying to keep their dignity in those conditions. If they were alive today, they would be at Harborview. My imagination took off.

“Once I had these two iconic characters at Harborview, I had them battle chronic inebriation, finding shelter, and the big one: mental health issues. A lot of people have mental health issues and trying to treat that is very hard. (My character) Don Quixote is a newer immigrant and only speaks Spanish, and I set him as an older gentleman who came to pick fruit in Eastern Washington. He buddies up, as many do, with Sancho – these are nicknames – who came from Mexico at the age of one, so Sancho speaks Spanglish.

“The interpreting (that Sancho does for Don Quixote) provides the comedy I was looking for. It would seem grim, but even in Cervantes’ thousand pages, it’s a comedy. One aspect is using not-so-good interpretation by Sancho. They are both battling things street people battle. It’s everyone’s dream to have food in their stomach and a warm place to live in general. They navigate the streets and the health care system.

“I (first) did a series of readings at Consejo Counseling and Casa Latina and Union Gospel Mission in 2011. We’ve also had readings at Harborview. In 2012, I got a grant from King County to create the outline and develop the play. Last year we got Seattle Office of Arts and Culture grant to do Dialogues on Dignity at shelters in Tent Cities.

“If you can imagine, people who heard our readings would dialogue after and tell me their stories and I modelled some of their experiences in the play. I had only written two or three scenes when I did the readings, so it developed as I went along.

“Over a two year period, and even now in this rehearsal process, we changed things. It’s sharpened things. The play is always in process. It’s truly exciting after working on this for three and a half years. I even saved the napkin I wrote the idea for the play.

“I feel honored that David Quicksall is directing and amazing actors are bringing my words to life. I also feel honored to credit the people in the shelters that helped me with their comments and I credit them as my co-authors in the program.

“That’s why we’re having a special performance Sep. 13, an excerpt with Dialogue on Dignity at the Seattle Public Library at 2:00pm and it’s free, and we’re inviting the homeless community and homeless advocates and the community at large. A lot of this is about health care and so we’re inviting the health care community. Also, on September 27, as a post-play discussion, we will have a special panel with homeless advocates.

“It’s bringing my two worlds together, because I’ve been a medical interpreter for 19 years (so my passion is to build community with the downtrodden) and theater. They’re both passions and now it seems like I can never keep those two worlds apart, they’re always colliding.”

[Note: A  30 minute excerpt of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle, followed by a community "Dialogue on Dignity"  will be presented at the Seattle Public Library Downtown September 13, 2:00 pm. in the Microsoft Auditorium as part of the "Expression Without Limits" series. Free and open to the public.]

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