A Renaissance woman for the 21st century Odalys Nanin does it all. A producer, playwright, director, actor and businesswoman, Nanin rescued West Hollywood’s Globe Theater from certain demise ushering the landmark building into its successful reign as Macha Theatre (Mujeres Advancing Culture, History and Art) and spearheading countless successful plays, screenings and events there as its artistic director.
Uncompromising in her artistic vision, and an out lesbian, Nanin has continually written, produced, directed and starred in universal material that features LGBT characters and also characters who reflect her Cuban roots, with such modern classics as Garbo’s Cuban Lover, The Skin of Honey andThe Lieutenant Nun, to name a few. Now, she can be seen starring in a revival of her very personal play Love Struck at Macha through Sept. 23.
Love Struck was first produced in 1997 and again in 2002, but with its enduring themes of love and passion infused with her trademark humor, it’s the perfect play to revive for the times.
Nanin chatted with SheWired about the Love Struck, Macha’s amazing roster of events and what it’s like to do those steamy love scenes on stage.
Visit Macha Theatre’s website for tickets to Love Struck.
SheWired: This is the third time you are bringing Love Struck back to Macha. What is it about the play that resonates so much for you?
It was the first play I wrote and the one that inspired me to write about our LGBT stories. Love Struck is also the play through which I came out of the closet.
What was your original inspiration for the play?
Marie Barrientos, my co-writer, and I wanted to write a play for us to perform together. We actually wrote the Toy Scene for Erotica Night, a fundraiser for the Gay and Lesbian Center. After we performed it we had so many people come up to us and asked us to write more scenes. So we did and that's how Love Struck came to be.
How do you feel you’ve grown and changed in your role in Love Struckhaving now played it three times? Are you bringing a depth to the character that perhaps wasn’t there when you first acted in it?
I have grown as an actress, and it actually resonates deeper now then when I first performed it. It's a great piece of work, a candid look at a relationship between two people who love each other but are like night and day! Who has not been Love Struck and whose heart has not been broken?
How did you arrive at Tricia Cruz to play your love interest?
Ten years ago she auditioned for the role and she's been playing it ever since.
How is her interpretation different from your prior Love Struck costars?
Tricia Cruz is a professional actress. She takes directions well and connects with me on stage. She also loves the role and it's a natural at it.
What is it about the play that makes it themes so universal and timeless?
Love Struck is a romantic comedy about a candid look into the ups and downs of a relationship regardless of the sexuality of the couple involved. In the play they happen be both women and gay. It’s about issues that come up when you open your heart to love.
The audience connects to the issues and conflicts of both characters because they identify with them.
You’re a writer, actor, producer and director. How are you able to juggle all of those jobs without losing your mind?
You focus on each element separately and then you bring it all together, orchestrating and executing it with confidence and trusting your gut feeling every step of the way.
You have always been very deeply couched in creating art about LGBT people. These days there are more and more LGBT characters in pop culture, especially on television. How do you feel about the portrayal of LGBT characters on television? Do you feel we are portrayed authentically, or do we have a long way to go?
There are very few films that I have seen that are really worth watching. My favorite of all times are two -- Desert Hearts and Aimee and Jaguar. When I write, I focus on telling the story, not selling it to Hollywood. That's what's great about live theater, the story has to be good and the characters have to be true to the story.
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There are so many ways for young people to consume pop culture and art these days on TV, YouTube, Hulu, etc… How is it you are able to keep the theater relevant in our ever-changing digital society?
I know what keeps the audience coming back for more -- witty writing, creative direction and great acting. You deliver that on stage and you have a hit play!
That's what I strive for with every play I write, direct and produce. Love Struck, Garbo's Cuban Lover, Beyond Love, Skin of Honey, The Nun and the Countess, Lavender Love, Naked in the Tropics andBitch Slap! These are perfect examples. Theater is the foundation of all other medias. The experience of a good piece of work on stage is truly unforgettable. In theatre there are no retakes. The magic happens on the first take.
Going back to the fact that you were creating LGBT material long before the rest of the world began to catch up, was there ever a point when you thought it might just be easier for you to create mainstream material rather than try to tell the stories of your community?
I write the stories that need to be told. They just happen to be about same-sex love. I rather be unique than mainstream.
Can you touch on how your Cuban background has continually affected your work as well?
Greatly, since the leads in my plays are, for the most part, Latinas.
Under your direction, Macha Theater, the old Globe Theater that you saved, has continued to churn out successful plays during an economic downturn. What tactics have you employed to keep the business side up and running?
Choosing what plays to produce is the key. You also have to be creative in how to use the space. I produce not just plays but cultural events, comedy nights, Indie music nights, Tango or Flamenco Nights, film screenings and I rent out the theatre for film shoots. I do co-productions and teach playwriting classes. Macha Wine Bar Cafe located in the lobby has a cabaret atmosphere, which the audience enjoys.
However, since California is bankrupt this has been one of the most challenging years. The bigger the challenge the more fearless you must be.
You recently had an incredible success when you directed Bitchslap! at Macha, about the rivalry between Betty Davis and Joan Crawford. Why did you decide to branch away from lesbian-themed material toward this wonderfully campy play?
When I first read the play (by writer Darrin Hagen) I could not stop laughing! So I immediately knew that I had to direct it and produce it. Bette Davis has been a huge inspiration to me as an actress, and to bring these two icons live on stage became my obsession. But I also knew that I had to change things and make it more interesting to the Los Angeles audience. The pacing had to be faster, the characterizations had to be precise and the direction had to be unique. I achieved it by following the advice of Ms. Davis herself -- in this business you have to have guts! So I placed the character of Baby Jane Hudson behind a blue screen creating a huge shadow for her famous scene with Edwin in the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane! The audience loved it. I'm very proud of the work that I achieved in that production. My actors were fabulous and very dedicated in achieving my vision of the piece.
I know you’ve always infused your work with steamy scenes. Do you enjoy doing sexy scenes after all these years? I imagine we can expect some hot scenes in Love Struck…
Yes, I always deliver what I promise and there is a sexy and steamy scene in Love Struck. But sexy steamy scenes on stage take on a different meaning. Love scenes create a moment of silence on stage that is filled by the characters intentions... like the anticipation of a first kiss. You can hear a pin drop as the audience goes silence in the anticipation of that kiss.
Please tell us about other projects you have in the works...
Great things are coming to Macha Theatre/Films. Keep posted and go to the Macha Theatre website to find out.
What advice would you offer young people who are attempting to break into theater?
Work on the craft of acting and experience the world around you. The deeper you love the better actor you'll become! It’s all about the work. Dream big!