AN INTRODUCTION TO MARYLAND’S OWN WANDERLUST THEATER LAB
Local theater maven and international aid and advocacy worker Roselie Vasquez-Yetter decided three years ago that it was time to step out on her own. In early 2010, she founded Wanderlust Theater Lab, due to her perceived sense that there were not enough theater companies in the DC Metro area that were “taking risks” and doing tough plays that “make people think.” Now, barely two and a half years later, her first production (Tom Block’s White Noise) is going to New York’s
Theater for the New City (June-July, 2013) as a Resident Theater Company production, and her second play, Tom Block’s Butterfly will be produced here in Takoma Park next month, February 15-23.
This is the first of six articles that will introduce Wanderlust Theater Lab, as well as pull back the veil on what goes into creating a World Premier production of a living playwright’s work. Tom Block, Wanderlust’s Playwright-in-Residence, has been working with Wanderlust from the beginning, and Roselie has committed to producing his first trilogy of plays, White Noise, Butterfly, and Night Out in Spain, this last of which the company plans on previewing as a reading at The Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival in September 2013.
Here are a few questions about the founder of the company that Roselie (who was in Page-to-Stage Festival at the time for her “day job”) took the time to answer. A biography of Roselie follows the interview:
Tom: Tell us a little bit about your experience in the theater.
Roselie: The first example of my love of the stage can be traced to a Christmas pageant on the Army base in Panama where my father was an instructor at the School of the Americas. I wanted desperately to play Mary but there was a little girl who was so sweet and looked the part that she was asked to play the role. She was really shy and terrified and could have cared less, and there I was burning to play Mary. The consolation was that I was allowed to do a little dance with three other angels but there were no speaking lines. That introduced me to both the joys and frustrations of the theater right there!
From the age of 8, I got involved in local community theater projects…singing, dancing, acting….through junior high and high school. We had the good fortune of being in an area with a lot of professional performers who worked in the education field. I was mentored by an amazing actress/singer named Beth Hanson. She saw something in me and cast me as the only freshman in a lead role in the musical my first year in high school. I received the MACY Award for Best Supporting Actress in a high school musical at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA.
I proceeded to perform in the musicals through my high school years. I was also an active member of a local production company called Pegasus productions where I performed in several regional theater productions. I was diverted from theatrical pursuits when I was selected as one of 20 American students to take part in the Soviet American Youth Summit in 1988. I was a high school senior and traveled to Washington, Helsinki and Moscow with 40 Soviet, American and Finnish students where we presented our youth-driven proposal for how to improve Soviet-American relations. It was thrilling and intoxicating and shifted my focus to international issues. I went to a few auditions in the theater department, but it was a closed door for anything but chorus roles so I eventually gave up the acting bug and set my sights on international work. In the 20 years since then, I have explored theater in the many places I have had the good fortune to live and work…managing to squeeze in a few roles during studies in France and work in Moscow…but mainly as a spectator. Even when I was working in development, as I still am, my focus was often drawn to the intersection between expression and empowerment. I wrote my Masters Thesis on the theater of the oppressed and was determined to blend my two interests.
Why did you decide to start a theater company?
It was one of those inevitable things that I had set out to do from a young age…but the timing was never right until about ten years ago. My husband and I returned to DC after being evacuated from Turkmenistan in Central Asia right after the 9/11 tragedy. We bought a house in Silver Spring and I focused my time on our three babies (all under 3). Each day while driving my daughter to pre-school I would pass Silver Spring Stage and think “I need to get back into theater and this place is in my neighborhood”… I called the director, Norman Seltzer, who welcomed me into the production as an Assistant Director. I worked with him for the next 4 productions and learned a great deal about direction….he was a pro and is still a dear friend and mentor. Then, it was only a matter of time before I took the leap to begin a company of my own. I wanted to have the creative space and authority to develop theater that I felt would have the potential to influence the way people look at the world….to make them think, and to challenge their assumptions about the “other” (culture, race, gender, nationality, religion) …these topics have the power to be divisive or unifying….that intrigues and challenges me to attempt to achieve the latter.
What is your vision for Wanderlust Theater Lab? What do you feel that you can offer the theater world that other theater companies can’t?
Perspective…..I approach my work through a global lens and try to find the common thread within issues that matter to everyone….regardless of their geography, political context or socio-economic development. I have spent more than 20 years working and traveling abroad and what is clear to me is that people wherever I go all care about the same things: Parents want their children to live in safety; friendships around the world often evolve through the sharing of food in a kitchen or over an open fire while sharing stories of love and loss; most conflict is based in fear and insecurity; people are generally good…but we are all flawed.
These are common themes in of the arts. Stories resonate across cultures but they also offer tremendous potential for bridge building and tolerance. I’m interested in creating a space where people can explore themes that may be controversial and/or uncomfortable but might lead to breakthroughs in cross cultural understanding. When I say this I mean it broadly…cross cultural issues abound even in the domestic context. I’m interested in developing pieces that raise these issues to the surface and reveal how this cultural diversity doesn’t have to be a negative force that leads to divisions…but, rather, for the audience to recognize elements of their own beliefs, biases, expectations, confusion within the story lines and characters…and become more accepting of differences. In reality, it requires being more accepting of ourselves and our individual flaws because it is often what we are most ashamed of in ourselves that we find it least possible to tolerate in others.
Where do you envision Wanderlust being in five years time? What is your vision for its future?
I would like for our company to have a “home base” from which we can continue our nomadic tradition. By this I mean that the very idea of Wanderlust evolved from my personal hunger to travel and discover other cultures and to immerse myself in the geography and languages of the places I visited. My hope is that Wanderlust will become a place that people can visit a place and time (as depicted in the play they are there to enjoy) with the expectation that they will simultaneously discover themselves at a deeper level. This parallels the transformative experience we have while traveling.
Ms. Vasquez-Yetter has 15 years of experience managing international development programs including 6 years of on-the ground capacity building field work in Russia, Central Asia, and Africa. Roselie Vasquez-Yetter has served as project director for the US-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research and the US-Saudi Women’s Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. She has been involved with theater for the last 20 years as an actress, director and doing stage work. She founded Wanderlust Theater Lab three years ago to “do theater that will make people think.”