Nana Ponceleon To Play Rita Moreno On Stage

Nana Ponceleon

Nana Ponceleon

 

Hi Nana, since we last spoke, you mentioned you were going to start working on a one-woman show where you will be playing the role of Rita Moreno. How did this come about?

I have been going to study at the Susan Batson Studio for a while now. Initially, I had to work on a series of personal exercises in the DYOM (Develop Your Own Method) class. These are a series of exercises designed to open our instrument, to help us develop our own method, which will best serve our acting and ultimately aid us in delivering a truthful performance. Once I passed all of the personal exercises, Susan suggested to me several characters that I could possibly play, based on many different criterias revealed through my previous work (emotional life, type, among many others). I had to choose… I had thought of Rita Moreno, a long time before getting to this stage of the process. Rita Moreno was one of the people on the list, which was quite long and varied as a matter of fact. Every single woman was extremely interesting and different in my mind, but I was set on Rita! So I presented my journalistic report on Rita. In this exercise, one portrays a journalist in the time period of the character,  who is passionate about the character and presents information based on the research done about the character’s life. I passed the exercise so I was given the green light to start working on Rita. Whether this becomes a one-woman show is a personal choice and of course, something that Susan needs to agree to, since she will be the director and producer of the show. This process can take years or months. It is definitely a lot of work and a huge compromise, because we have to honor the character we will be portraying, be completely true to the story and completely truthful on stage.

You are also the writer of this one-woman play. Is writing something you have always been interested in and if so why?

I have always loved writing, even though I have never done it at a professional level, except when I wrote my musical play called Volver a Empezar (To Start Over). This play I produced, directed and wrote as well, in Caracas, Venezuela. This was a play about the life of a teenager who had to struggle to study Arts and Drama fighting against her mother’s vision of what her future should be. The answer to the question that I am sure you are thinking of is… yes. This play is very close to home. I have been writing since I was a teenager; prose, poems, thoughts that became short stories, and today I have a good amount of notebooks full of thoughts and ideas, which I write in everyday. This last routine was very much inspired by Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist Way”, which still is on my bed side table. For me, writing is a healing and tremendously creative tool.

This play will be directed by the extraordinary Susan Batson, who has worked with some of the best actors in the business, what is it like to work with such an icon like Susan?

Susan Batson is one of the most generous people I have encountered in my artistic life. She has an ongoing program for actors from around the globe, who come to train with her and she gives her soul and passion to each and everyone of us, no exceptions. Her life is dedicated to the craft. We do this work on the character in the class called DYOM, as I mentioned before. She teaches only the monday classes, other teachers teach on other days. We begin promptly at 6pm and end when the last person has worked, which is very rarely before 6am the next morning. This is incomprehensible for most people in the business who have not yet been to the studio. This generosity and passion which Susan Batson and James A. Lee share with us every week, is priceless. Working with Susan is a huge challenge and honor. She is the toughest, most honest and generous teacher/coach I have had the honor to work with. If my work is not good, she will have no mercy to let me know exactly what she thinks. On the same token, she will be the most generous person to praise my work if she considers it was great work. This gives me a great sense of security, because I know the result will be nothing but the truth on stage. However, I must admit, it still makes me very nervous to work with her.

Rita Moreno IS an amazing Puerto Rican actress, 82 years old, one of 11 people in the world who has won awards in every possible category in the entertainment business: 2 Emmy Awards, a Grammy, a Tony Award and an Academy Award (Oscar), among others.  What kind of preparations have you done to play this role?

The first thing I did was read as much of her bibliography as I could, including her autobiography, Rita Moreno A Memoir. This last book is a wealth of knowledge and information. She was very generous to share it with us in such a raw, open and honest way. I watched her movies, interviews, TV shows, etc. I still have many more to see. She has 145 credits in film and television, theater not included. So first its research, research, research, and more research. Then I looked for the props: dresses, shoes, accessories, make up, sheets, pillow cases, that I felt she had during the period I am working on now, which I will use during my explorations of the scenes. This is an ongoing process as new scenes are explored or worked on and the set changes.

Do you find any similarities with Rita Moreno and yourself?

Does the sun shine above the clouds? Of course I do. So many that it is scary. Some very simple coincidences are: Rita’s real name is Rosa Dolores and her mother’s name was Rosa María. My real name is Rosa María. Rita’s father was Francisco José and her brother Francisco, whom she never saw again after leaving PR – her father she saw only once – and my ex-husband’s name is Francisco José. When she was a little girl in PR; her life was full of nature and family gatherings where she danced and sang all the time, they had lots of fun… So did I, I danced, sang and had fun at our family gatherings, also. We both were the center of attention because of our artistic expressions. Her first dance training was in Spanish dance – flamenco – so was mine. It is still something that moves me from the bones out and makes my blood rush through my veins. She was a very mature young lady, having to face a very hostile world at an early age all by her self, because even though her mother was there to push her and help her when she was a little girl, once she became a young woman, she pretty much did it on her own. The business then, was not easy for young ladies and she managed to survive and succeed. Rita has always been a very passionate woman, so much so that she almost died from it. Fortunately, I have not gone through that, but passion… I could go on and on, but those are very private things between Rita and myself to cherish.

What is something you find most fascinating about Rita Moreno, that people may not know?

That she is one of the most successful actors in the world, winning awards in every possible category the entertainment industry gives recognition to: (film, theater, television and music- 2 Emmys, a Grammy, Tony, Oscar, Golden Globes, Presidential medal of Freedom, National Medal of Arts, Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and many others); yet I feel she has not received the recognition she deserves. She has also fought for the rights of the “Latinos” in the business; fighting against being stereotyped, she has been an advocate for the Latino acting community. She is very active politically, having  been in the front row, literally, since Martin Luther King. Another amazing piece of information is that she is still as active as ever at 82 years of age. She is still performing on stage, film and many TV shows as we speak.

How do you stay so fit and healthy with such a hectic schedule?

Exercise is part of my life. I have always exercised since I was a kid. I have done flamenco, gymnastics, volleyball, bowling, jazz dance, kick-boxing, weight lifting, cycling, and during the past years Bikram Yoga, thanks to a very dear friend, who is today my soul sister. Thank you Ocly! And of course, Salsa has been a part of my life since I was 10 years old and it still very much is today. I have to constantly work out not only for staying in shape, but it’s a matter of mental health too.

What would you like audiences to take away with them when they see your one woman play?

I hope I can show them how Rita became the great actress that she is. I want people to know who Rita Moreno really is, beyond the sexy spitfire Latina, she fought so hard to get away from, during her first decades in the business. I would like to inspire each and every person with her strength, her willingness to fight, her perseverance; which was what made her be the successful actress she is today. Most importantly, I want to show the side of Rita that most people don’t know. I want them to get to know the woman who came to NY from Puerto Rico as a child one very cold winter. The woman that worked every single day of her life on developing her craft. The woman that never gave up, who loved intensely and almost died because of it. And for the woman who was able to survive and save herself only to raise to greatness.

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