#OnYourFeetBroadway: A reflection on male dominance on Broadway.
Overall, I'm impressed by 'On Your Feet: The story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan.' I think it is a step in the right direction to honoring people in our community in a way that is authentic and just plain old difficult to do in a complex space like Broadway. That said, I think there are areas that we should ask questions regarding our intentionality behind representations of male dominance and what the impact is of those representations in theatre settings. We may also want to consider whether the characters' experience is the way it is, due to the residue of our patriarchal order in our writers, directors, and producers. Conversely, are these characters purposely portraying male dominance, in a covert way, as to realistically mirror humanity at a particular time, in a particular place.
Gloria's vocals are sharply engrained in my subconscious and I am grateful for them. I had not many expectations when entering the show and was just planning on enjoying the show. That said, I acknowledge that I went to see "the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan." We didn't reach the intermission before I realized that there were a few important dynamics that were at play that I wanted to think more deeply about afterward.
Gloria was not as complex of a character as her husband is in the play.
The story is being advertised through all of Gloria's voice, beauty, talent, but her character is often sidelined to give us a sense of her husband's ways of thinking and being. There were quite a few instances where I felt like he was just taking up too much script space that Gloria should have been occupying. It would have been more helpful to know about her life outside of its relation to Emilio. I think we get a clear sense of Emilio's motivations for success, he is often referencing his relationship with his son and his family. He narrates his flashbacks in dialogue and not only through song, whereas Gloria only uses music to narrate her thinking. It removes its relevance and importance, in some ways, I think. I may have just forgotten but I don't remember her having a strong relationship with her child, although I do remember how when she wasn't caring for Emilio, she was focusing on caring for her father. It was clear that she was responsible for the men in her life but there was a limited sense of her actually grappling with this reality and come to think of it, this may just be so real that it is bothersome.
Is this show a result of the realities of our patriarchal order?
A lot of Gloria's energies went into satisfying, defending, focusing on, etc. Emilio. Being that the show does have his name in the title, I suppose it should focus on him just as much as her, but he was overpowering. Is this just a result of the system that we are living under and does it necessarily need to change? Is there anything wrong with it? My immediate sense is yes, there needs to be more focus, emphasis on Gloria, but I think we can also say that Emilio was sort of hiding in the shadows throughout Gloria's career so this is an opportunity for his story to be showcased. On the other hand, with the advertisements focused on Gloria - probably an easier sell due to her hypersexualization of women in ads - one would think that she would be at least given just as much complexity.
Who cares? Why it this worth thinking about?
Well because there is a bunch of opportunity here. There could have been moments where Gloria was able to unpack and unravel her experiences in relation to these two important men. She was surrounded by men making important decisions about her career, from her husband, to all of the record company executives, to club owners, etc. Interestingly enough, there was a community of women supporting her, from her mom to her grandmother to her sister and arguably the friends she had met along the way. Where is the contextual understanding? I was waiting for the talk back session as if the actor could have given us that but I imagine there is something to be said and I am so eager to hear how the writers, directors, producers, and actors are feeling about this.
How does this show contribute to the broader ecosystem of Broadway productions?
Broadway is incredibly inaccessible and I had to seriously step back and say I am going to shift money around to get to this production so I don't think of myself as truly Broadway savvy or fully in the know of what is happening these days there. But I can't stop thinking about the way that this play is simultaneously revolutionary and not. I also don't think is common on Broadway and there were a few moments that explicitly challenged the way we think about and categorize music, especially within Latin American contexts. It is revolutionary in that it goes against all standard notions of Broadway plays by using Spanglish for the entire play, having a live salsa band on stage the entire show, and focusing on Cuban immigrants from their perspective.
It is not revolutionary in that it is embracing the delicate balance between falling into stereotypes and being authentic. Like any balance, there has to be both sides so in this case stereotyping must exist. For the record, I currently don't have much of a problem with stereotyping as long as it isn't used as a tool to generalize a group of people and folks are given opportunities to live nuanced lives that include the stereotype and other complex parts of them. It seems to me that this production really grapples with that and is intentional around problem solving that tension, which is more than I can say about most mainstream representations of communities of color, so kudos.
Avoiding divide & conquer tactics.
I hesitate to reflect so critically in a public way because I am hypersensitive to the ways that we are constantly divided and conquered. That said, there needs to be a space for healthy critique, one that does not diminish, rather instills a sense of hope and urge for forward progress, new learnings, teachings, and understandings of what the future holds.