In Part Three of a series of interviews with the cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s The Emperor’s Nightingale meet José María Pineda-Fernández.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on our local stages.
José: Hello everyone, my name is José María Pineda-Fernández, but am known by my family and friends simply as Chema. I am a multiracial (Nawat & Sephardic), multicultural (Latinx & Anglx), Transgender/Non-Binary (Two-Spirit) artist, who lives in Virginia, with roots from Central America. I work with local Native American communities, particularly refugee populations, in expressing culture and experience through theater, with a troupe called Teatro de la Séptima Generación/Seventh Generation Theatre. I am a graduate of the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts and the Actors Repertory Theatre; and have been seen in Faction of Fools’ Titus Andronicus, Smithsonian’s Discovery Theatre’s Seasons of Light, and NextStop Theatre Company’s Miss Electricity. Most recently, I have been seen in GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold as Cristo Bedoya, and The Puppet Company’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as Prince Eric.
Why did you want to become a member of the cast of The Emperor’s Nightingale? What moved you the most when you read the script?
I wanted to be a part of this World Premier production because I absolutely love the new play process, and because I love Adventure Theatre MTC’s dedication to the inclusivity of diverse cultures on their professional stage. I was super excited that this play was being highlighted for an Asian-Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration, particularly because my father has given me Sephardic heritage from the Middle East, and because my second/adoptive family is of Chamorro heritage from the Pacific Islands (Guam). I love the decolonial nature of Damon Chua’s script and how he has adapted the Hans Christian Andersen culturally insensitive story into an unapologetically Chinese theatre piece. The show may be read as political to some, and maybe it is, but what is truly is is a representation of narratives that are marginalized and erased by the European gaze. The play fleshes out the fairy tale, and gives identities to the characters in the story, while celebrating Chinese history, culture, and language. The play gives audience members an opportunity to experience decolonized theatre for young audiences.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to these characters?
I am understudying Andrew Quilpa and Jonathan Frye who play Prince Hongshi/Tiger Tail and Minister Wu/Tiger Head, respectively. I think that despite these two tracks being the “villains” of the story, I am able to relate to their strive to reach their goals, their desire to leave their mark in their society, and their urgency to eat. (FYI: I perform as Prince Hongshi/Tiger Tail on May 22!)
What personal experiences did you bring with you that helped you prepare for your roles? Did you base your performances on anyone you know-a friend or family member or someone else?
My job as an Understudy is to communicate to the audience, the characters developed by the Actors, under the guidance of the Stage Manager. My performance is based solely on what Director Natsu has instructed Andrew and Jonathan to do and how the actors have created their personalities. I use my past experiences as an understudy to better learn the tracks of the people I am covering.
What lessons can young theatregoers and their parents learn while watching this show.
Like the saying says, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” Audience members will learn that when we have a core understanding of who we are and who our ancestors are, we are able to meet any one of our goals.
Director Natsu Onoda Power is known for creating stunning visuals in her work. Tell me about how the visuals tell the story and what impresses you most about the look and design of the show?
Natsu had a unique way of bringing out brilliance from the actors. She was sweet and strong, and just an absolute pleasure to watch work.
How would you describe Natsu’s style of direction and how has she helped you to mold and enrich your performances?
Natsu is a very hands on director. She likes to physically get into boxes and throw herself around. It’s amazing and inspirational to me as an early-career director.
What is your favorite costume of Deb Kim Sivigny’s that you are wearing in the show and what is your favorite that someone else is wearing and why? Describe them for us.
My favorite costumes are the Tiger. Who doesn’t love fancy orange jump suits? I can’t wait to get to play around in it!
How would you describe Stella Choi’s choreography and what were some of the challenges you have had learning it?
The choreography is exciting! It’s like watching an action or a dance scene. My favorite is the opening Cipai monologue Nightingale has. Watching Nadine do her thing, hearing Damon’s words and seeing Stella’s choreography- just beautiful There was a roll that the tiger did in rehearsal that was so hard for me. Practicing at home as both the head and the tail, I couldn’t help but admire Andrew and Jonathan for their hard work.
Have you ever played Pong Hau K’i before you got involved in the production, and now that you have had new experience, how would you rate yourself (from 1-5) as a player?
2-fair but nothing to brag about
4-damn good-I challenge you to play with me!
5-Where can I try out for the Pong Hau K’i Olympics?
If there was a 0, I would chose that because I’ve never played. I looked it up and it seems very interesting. I’m up for the challenge! Who’s playing?
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing The Emperor’s Nightingale?
I would love audiences to take away a great appreciation for Chinese culture, as well as for diverse Asian and Pacific Island cultures. I want them to take away the experience of witnessing a truly decolonized theatre piece; a gem in the face of the disenfranchisement of Asian and Pacific Islander artists this month of heritage celebration. Hope you all enjoy the beautiful show!
Kendall Mostafavi’s review of The Emperor’s Nightingale on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Meet the Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’: Part 1: Nadine Rousseau.
Meet the Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’: Part 2: Sue Jin Song.
Meet the Cast of Adventure Theatre MTC’s ‘The Emperor’s Nightingale’: Part 3: Jonathan Frye.