Mujeres Advancing Culture, History, and Art (MACHA) – An Interview with Odalys Nanin

Odayls Nanin - Photo courtesy of MACHA Theatre/Films

An award-winning playwright, actor, director, and producer, Odalys Nanin is also founder and producing artistic director of MACHA Theatre/Films. A graduate of The Drama Studio London and Rutgers University, she has worked extensively in film, stage, and televisión. Recently, she appeared in “Criminal Minds” on TV. She has written ten plays, including “Naked in the Tropics” and “The Judy Garland Show.” In addition to her stage work, she also wrote three screen plays and produced two short films. In 2007, she was chosen by OUT Magazine as one out of 100 who made a difference. Odalys took time out of her busy career to interview in April 2020.

Odalys Nanin and Kesia Elwin in FRIDA – STROKE OF PASSION – Photo by Antje Dohm

WHEN DID YOU THEATER FIRST BEGIN? WHAT LED TO ITS CREATION? WHAT’S YOUR MISSION? WERE YOU INVOLVED FROM THE BEGINNING?

ODALYS NANIN: MACHA Theatre was founded in 2000 by its artistic producing director Odalys Nanin because of the lack of Latina-LGBTI stories in our community. It’s an acronym, Mujeres (Women) Advancing Culture, History and Art). We were nomadic and produced two productions per year with one writing workshop. We invited mentors like Maria Irene Fornes, nine time Obie award playwright, and Professor Cherrie Moraga, Chicana activist. We produced the Latina Celebration at the Ford Amphitheater and presented the Macha Award to Maria Irene Fornes and Cherrie Moraga. Thanks to the generous grants from the Astraea Foundation, the City of West Hollywood, and our wonderful volunteers, we continue to produce original cutting-edge plays and adaptations of classic plays like “Blood Wedding.” Magic was created on stage, and our houses were full.

Then, in 2007, a miracle took place – the Globe Playhouse located at 1107 N. Kings Rd. in West Hollywood became our new home! We renamed our group MACHA Theatre/Films; and, after a huge remodeling, our doors opened on April 22, 2007. We inaugurated our new venue with two new plays, “Skin of Honey,” which I directed, and “The Adventures of the Lieutenant Nun,” which Ivonne Coll directed. For the next ten years, MACHA Theatre Company flourished, gaining the reputation of a true professional theatre company. Celebrities like Al Pacino, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, and Nia Vardalos visited and produced at MACHA Theatre’s new home. But then, disaster struck. In 2017, the original landlord sold the entire corner – which included our theater. The new landlords were, unfortunately, real estate investors; and they doubled our rent. On December 27, 2017, we had to relinquish our venue. Unfortunately, we also lost $26,000!

It has taken us a year to be able to produce again and continue with our mission. MACHA Theatre is the only Latina-LGBTI company in California. We are in the process of looking for a new smaller venue to call our home. For the past 19 years, MACHA Theatre Company has produced award winning high quality and exciting theater featuring lesbians of color in title roles. We have had a loyal following ever since our inception, as well as critical acclaim for the interesting stories and great production values of our productions. This is the only professional lesbian theater company led by a Latina lesbian – probably the only one in the United States. There are not very many venues providing performance opportunities to this particular population; and thus, MACHA Theatre Company fills this need by offering cultural, equity, and inclusion to the LGBTQI and women of color community. They are an integral part of the city of Los Angeles. Our mission is to ameliorate the image of women in theater.

Natalie Salins and Odalys Nanin in NAKED IN THE TROPICS – Photo by Michael Helms

WHEN DID YOU CLOSE THE THEATER COMPANY DUE TO COVID-19? WERE YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF A RUN?

ON: We have been nomadic since 2018 after we relinquished our beautiful theater of eleven years. We were planning to produce “MARILYN-My Secret!” in September or October 2020, but this is now on hold due to Covid-19. If we are not able to produce it in 2020, we might decide to stream the play on You Tube or Vimeo.

OVER THE PAST WEEKS, HOW HAS COVID-19 IMPACTED YOUR THEATER COMPANY?

ON: It’s been difficult because everything has been put on hold. We are planning to produce in February 2021 at Casa 0101 Theater. Despite our financial problems, we hope to keep going.

ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING RIGHT NOW TO KEEP YOUR LIVE THEATER COMPANY GOING? STRAMING? HAVING VIRTUAL MEETINGS? PLANNING FOR YOUR NEXT SHOW WHEN YOU RE-OPEN? AUDITIONS? FUND RAISING?

ON: Presently we are mostly writing grants in order to produce my hit play, “The Nun and the Countess,” next year. The play is about a seventeenth century cloistered nun, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, who was a poet, musician, and philosopher. She strongly advocated for a woman’s right to be educated, and she is considered the Tenth Muse of the Americas. The play explores her romance with the Vicereine of New Spain, Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes, who was responsible for publishing Sor Juana’s work in Seville. Eventually, Sor Juana was stripped of all her books and writing tools and forced to confess all her sins as punishment for having a voice of her own. She died of the plague in 1695.

Angela Nicholas and Odalys Nanin in GARBO’S CUBAN LOVER – Photo by Kelly Mullis

WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON LIVE THEATER IN GENERAL IN LOS ANGELES? DO YOU FORESEE ANY PERMANENT CHANGES?

ON: I think after this lock-down people will value live theater more than ever because of its great value to the community. A night out to see theater will be a special night – the same as it was before Netflix. I hope we do not go back to our old ways – but instead create a new world, a world were human beings value and respect the arts, the environment, the animals, and our beautiful planet.

WHAT DO YOU NEED RIGHT NOW TO KEEP GOING FORWARD? WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE FROM THE THEATER PUBLIC?

ON: I think the audience will be hungry for live theater and new works. I think that they’ll get tired of streaming and will yearn for a live performance.

MACHA Theatre is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing the LGBTQI community performance opportunities, as well as building bridges to the mainstream in order to foster understanding between both communities. Please, donate whatever you can to make our projects a reality. Theater lives in our hearts and enriches our lives! Theater is the oldest media of communication where education, entertainment, and enlightenment are manifested! Regardless of the changes in our fast-moving world, MACHA Theatre Company has survived and will continue because it’s a necessity. Your kind tax deductible contribution -small or large – will go to achieving this goal! Please watch “The Destiny of MACHA Theatre” documentary at www.machatheatre.org.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

ON: I am still planning to produce “The Nun and the Countess” in 2021. Also, I‘m planning to develop a magical set for my other hit play “FRIDA-Stroke of Passion” by creating a digital-animated-immersive experience for the audience. As a playwright who has written ten plays, including “Love Struck and “Garbo’s Cuban Lover,” and a playwright who has translated a lesbian adaptation of “Blood Wedding,” I feel blessed and grateful to have been able to produce in my own intimate 99-seat theater. Our theater gives a writer the opportunity to do rewrites before the actual full production. This is why I continue to produce in smaller spaces. We must keep intimate theater alive! Viva live theater!

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