The Chicago Tribune’s Kelly Reid declared that “the quality and variety of work on display would make Yo Solo a vital and welcome addition to the local theatrical menu any year.” And although Chicago Sun-Times theater critic Hedy Weiss doesn’t recommend seeing the entire six-plays program in one day, she praised how each piece offers “an intensely memorable, larger-than-life personality working in a distinctive style to tell a fiercely personal and very different sort of story”.
A founding member of Collaboraction and an ensemble member of Teatro Vista (where she served as its Associate Artistic Director from 2006-2008), Sandra has appeared in such productions as the world premiere of Migdalia Cruz’s “El Grito del Bronx” (a co-production between Collaboraction, Teatro Vista and the Goodman Theatre); Melinda Lopez’s “Sonia Flew” for Steppenwolf; Luis Valdez’s “Zoot Suit” and Luis Alfaro’s “Electricidad” at the Goodman, among other productions in Chicago, the Midwest and the country.
Where were you born?
CHICAGO!!! “Imma Chicagoan, ‘til Chicago ends and we blow like Chicago wind.” Who said that? I’ll give you something nice if you answer correctly.
How would your grandma describe you?
My paternal grandmother Abuelita Carmen, or “Melita,” moved from Medellín, Colombia to Chicago in the late 90s when she was 81. We had stopped going to Colombia back in the 80s because of the violence in Medellín, so I didn’t have much contact with her except for the occasional phone call and letter. After a bomb exploded close to her home and a head landed in her atrium, my father asked her to move to the States. I can’t believe that at the age of 81 she packed up to start a new life. It was so brave.
We had a very sweet relationship–such good energy between us. We didn’t have to talk; quite the opposite we enjoyed quiet time together. She crocheted while I read. I’d hang out in the kitchen as she cooked. She liked to confide in me and I enjoyed listening.
She died on the eve of her 91st birthday as she made rice, a ritual that she had repeated thousands of time in her lifetime. It was a beautiful and poetic close to a long and complicated life. I think she admired that I did things my own way, that I didn’t follow the traditional path that women of past generations (and some of this generation) thought they had to follow, and that I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind. I still feel her with me, and I see her in my daughter all the time.
My maternal grandmother, Abuelita Graciela died when I was two. I don’t remember her. The show that I created for “Yo Solo,” “Para Graciela,” is my way of connecting to this woman that birthed some of the most incredible, generous and loving women I know: my mother and my tías.
When you’re asked the question, “what do you do?,” how do you answer?
This is interesting: up until a few months ago, I would say I am an actress.
What would you LIKE to answer?
Because of “Yo Solo” I am now owning what I have become an actor, writer and producer. It feels good.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
Really, just one? OK. When I was 18 I became part of a music group called “C Schmoove and the First Family.” Yes, for real. It was the early 90s and C&C Music Factory was all the rage. Guy rapper, girl singer. C Schmoove had himself not one, but three girl singers. I was one of them. I had big hair and a spiral perm and my show clothes were from Contempo Casuals. Our big claim to fame was opening up for Kriss Kross at the Riviera.
OK, two more pretty please? I have successfully given the Heimlich maneuver twice and I once fell down a manhole.
Any special talents?
Well yes, please see above: the Heimlich maneuver! If you are going to choke, do it around me. I am also really good at finding things my husband has misplaced.
What was the first piece of theatre you ever experienced?
My first theater experience was playing Bottom in like second or third grade. I loved making the other kids laugh. I can actually still hear the laughter–it is such a vivid memory. I recently saw “Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Chicago Shakes and was so psyched to see Bottom.
Why do you think you got into the theatre?
I performed a lot as a child, mostly singing and dancing as part of the Colombian Folkloric Troupe. In high school I gravitated towards musicals, because it was a natural extension of the dancing and singing I had done as a child. Straight theater utterly terrified me. Once it was time for college, I decided that I would study medicine. I thought it was a good way to help my fellow man, to do something that could change lives for the better. Although I Ioved theatre, I didn’t think it was a viable career option. It seemed impossible.
Five years later after dropping out of college twice and losing my academic scholarship I met Anthony, my future husband. The first night we met he asked me, “What do you want to do with your life?” I instantly responded, “I want to perform again.” I didn’t even know that that was going to come out of my mouth. So basically, I got back into theater because there was nothing else I wanted to do more. It was something I absolutely HAD to do.
I’ll add that now that I’m in the middle of my second decade as a theatre artist, the reason I am still here is because in theatre I have found a way to realize my life goals of cultivating compassion, understanding and strength in myself and in my ever-expanding community.
I create because I am driven by a desire to make connections between people. I want to illuminate our communal truths: the hopes, fears and feelings that we all share, by creating work that examines the lives of immigrants, of the displaced, of the poor, and the elderly. And I want to empower other actors to own the creator inside of them as well.
What’s coming up for you? Any cool projects you want to tell us about?
AH lots of good stuff to share! I feel so blessed. I am the PROUD, oh so PROUD producer of Teatro Vista and Collaboraction’s first annual “Yo Solo” Theatre Festival of Latino Solo Shows running through August 12. You must come see it. I am humbled and honored by the artists that have worked tirelessly to make this dream a reality. All of them owning their aesthetic, all of them telling their stories in completely different ways, playing with form and content. It is so inspiring. Can you believe that a Latino Solo Show festival has never happened in Chicago? Quite possibly the country–please correct me if I am wrong. Long overdue. I also created a piece inspired by interviews with my mother and tías, “Para Graciela,” for the festival. “Para Graciela” is part of a larger piece, “Para Mis Madres,” that I am currently developing at the Goodman as part of my Fox Fellowship.
And after that, watch out! Cause I will be swearing up and down, backwards and forwards and every other way as Veronica in the “MotherF**cker with the Hat” at Steppenwolf beginning in late December.
I’ll also be working on “Para María,” the second part of my triptych for “Para Mis Madres.” The inspiration behind it is my parents meeting and their eventual marriage by proxy. What is marriage by proxy you ask? On my mother’s wedding day in Medellín in 1965, my mother walked down the aisle and said her vows to my father’s cousin, mi Tío Pingüino, while my father was in Chicago with a priest and a witness at Mt. Carmel Church (on Belmont between Halsted and Broadway). It is totally crazy.
Think Colombia in the 1960s, Colombian pop music, bright colors, white knee-length boots, maybe even a little go-go dancing. No, definitely some go-go dancing. It’ll be an ensemble built piece, based on interviews my ensemble and I will conduct with our respective families. Oh it’s gonna be fun…