A multicultural theater group from UC Irvine will soon embark on a risky venture: California's Teatro Sin Nombre (CTSN) is preparing to perform a Mexican play at the 39th Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.
Giving alternating performances in Spanish and English, the 10-member group is scheduled to present Carlos Solorzano's existential Los Fantoches ("The Effigies") at the Fringeonce daily from Aug. 12 through 17.
But don't confuse the Fringe with the "official" program of the Edinburgh International Festival. Although both events began in 1947 and both take place during the last three weeks of August, the Edinburgh International Festival is the more prestigious of the two. This year, such artists as Yehudi Menuhin and Rudolph Nureyev will appear, as will the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Moscow State Circus.
In contrast, a Fringe brochure states that "each performing group simply invites itself to take part." That doesn't mean the Fringe isn't a substantial international event in its own right, however. For the Fringe's three-week run last year, more than 400,000 tickets were sold for 7,000 performances of 883 shows.
CTSN's involvement began last winter when Jose Cruz Gonzalez, 28, who will be directing the play and appearing in one of the roles, spotted a flyer from the UC Committee for Intercampus Arts, which offered to subsidize UC ensembles chosen by the committee to appear at the Fringe.
About a month after submitting a proposal, Gonzalez--who graduated from UC Irvine with an MFA in theater direction and is now a literary assistant with South Coast Repertory--learned that CTSN had been chosen along with four other music, theater and dance ensembles from the various UC campuses.
Asked why he thought his group was selected, the energetic Gonzalez replied: "The committee, I think, was looking for something unique that is experimental to a certain degree."
CTSN, which was formed specifically for this project, is made up of two faculty members from the UCI drama department, four current students and four alumni, including Gonzalez. "We've all worked together as director, actor, designer . . . so we've got a good working relationship," Gonzalez said.
When he was considering names for the new group, Gonzalez consulted with Guillermo Retana, now the company's dramaturge. They knew they wanted something both English and Spanish-speaking theatergoers would find amusing, but they had trouble finding something suitable. "Then, finally," said Gonzalez, "we were really stuck and I said: 'Well, why don't we just call it Teatro Sin Nombre--Theater Without A Name?' And that's how it started. Later, we added 'California' because we thought that would help to make a draw in Edinburgh."
Because only three members of CTSN have Hispanic backgrounds, performing in Spanish presented a problem for most of the cast. For nearly two months the actors have been listening to tapes of the play in Spanish and receiving individual tutoring from Retana and the other Spanish-speaking members of the group.
The lanky, soft-spoken Retana, 29, who is working toward a doctorate in Latin American literature at UCI, said: "I help them with their Spanish pronunciation. I try to improve it, which is very difficult in a very short period. But they are doing very well. I'm impressed, I really am, because I have taught Spanish for five years and my students don't do as well. There's something about actors . . . . They can do just about anything."
Although he expects the group to be well-received in Scotland, Gonzalez isn't leaving a strong audience turnout to chance. There are plans to distribute press packets to the media in Edinburgh. Gonzalez also intends to pass out leaflets in that city. And during the Fringe's big opening parade on Aug. 11, he will toss candies wrapped with the CTSN program.
The group hasn't yet raised enough money for the trip. So far, it has raised $12,000, including the $1,500 provided by the Intercampus Arts Committee and additional funds from a variety of sources at UCI. Gonzalez said the group needs $2,500 more and is now seeking donations from corporations and individuals within the community.
Although their fund-raising goal hasn't been reached, company members eagerly await participating in the Fringe festival. Marie "Teusa" Masuda, 25, a UCI alumnus who works as a production assistant for the Japan America Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, is most interested in finding out how other production people arrived at the festival, and, she said: "I want to see as many of the groups as I can, just as an actor."
Patricia "Chuck" Goheen, 28, who is working toward a graduate degree at UCI, is CTSN's costume designer. She'll also do some acting. Goheen said she doesn't expect to get any offers of employment as a result of the group's appearance at the Fringe. "But for me," she added, "one of the greatest benefits of going to Edinburgh is to see the work of other costume designers from around the world."
And what does CTSN's participation mean to the practical-minded Gonzalez?
"It's a neat thing because it opens up possibilities for us, again, for more work. Maybe not as much here, but perhaps in Europe."