Work Samples and Summary

In 2004, while living in a small artists community near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I heard a knock on my door. Veronica, an actress friend, greeted me, holding out a thin book. “Would you write some music for my show?” The book, she explained, was “Poesía no eres tú” (“You are not poetry”) by Rosario Castellanos. She would be performing some of its poems and felt that music would help. I quickly found myself obsessed with Castellanos’ poetry. I wrote music for my friend’s show, filled with inspiration. The little book became my refuge in times of stress. Over the years, I have set many of its poems to music and read anything I could find by its author.

Castellanos was Mexico’s first outspoken feminist. She was also a fierce defender of the rights and dignity of the Mexican indigenous population. Her tools were poetry, stories, journalism, and theater. Although dismissed by many of her male contemporaries, her novels changed the way sociologists of the time wrote about native peoples. Her weekly column in the Excelsior, always interesting and humorous, was widely read, bringing a feminist perspective to Mexico without creating a backlash. But that isn’t what interested me. Like most of her readers, I simply felt less alone when I read her work. I grew to appreciate her skill as a persuader later when I became aware of the “alt-right”.

For me, the Trump years and the time leading up to it provoked feelings of trauma and helplessness which deepened my appreciation of Castellanos’ work. Chipping away at the patriarchy was her bread and butter. She had developed many techniques to cope and persuade that could serve me now. And perhaps they could serve the world and add to the repertoire available to activists.

Answering a call for scripts from a local theater company in my hometown, Eureka Springs, I wrote a piece based on my translations of Castellanos’ “Kinsey Report”, tragicomic exploration of the varieties of female sexual frustration. I hoped that I was fulfilling Castellanos’ advice to feminists to use humor as a strategy instead of “the flaming sword of indignation or the trembling voice of sorrow” and to show how patriarchal customs are “ridiculous, obsolete, and corny.” She said a feminist comic would never run out of material!

Castellanos used laughter as a means of healing. “Laughter is the quickest way to liberate ourselves from oppression and it creates distance between us and that which has imprisoned us.” I wanted to take this healing focus a step further by writing a full two-hour musical showcasing some of Castellanos’ most moving and iconic poems.

I decided to use “tree of life” imagery featuring the chakra system because of its similarities to Castellanos’ depictions of the ceiba, sacred tree of the Maya, which describes her search for connection. This tree is the underlying structure that guides the creation of character, plot, and healing imagery throughout the musical.

The chakras proceed up the body, each with a theme. The first chakra’s issue is survival. Most of the work samples I have included relate to survival, as they explore Castellanos’ impending death. In each chakra, there is an imbalance between a male and female character that will be healed towards the end of the musical. For example, the character of Calavera Catrina, the wife of Death, will become Death’s equal and hold her own scythe in the final scene of the musical. Exploration of the next chakra, sexuality, takes place in Hell and will feature another male/female conflict, this time about sexual preferences

The beautiful flame that was Rosario Castellanos was extinguished in a freak household accident involving a lamp while she was in Israel, working as an ambassador at the young age of 49. The musical “Rosario” begins the night before her accident and answers the question, where do feminists go when they die. Heaven? Hell? Or somewhere else?

I tell Castellanos’ story using my translations of her poetry, articles, doctoral thesis, and newspaper articles, combined with my own writing. When translating Castellanos’ poetry into song, I try to be very conscious of the rhythm of her words. Most of the lyrics will work equally well in Spanish and English. I hope to eventually perform this work both in English- and Spanish-speaking places.

Castellanos’ unique contributions to feminism are all but unknown in the United States and fast disappearing from bookshelves in Mexico. I hope that this musical will help to fix that and also bring healing laughter to its audience.

Presented here for your consideration are 5 scenes from the musical in progress, “Rosario”.

Searching for Mario

Artist: Alisa Amor

Title: Searching for Mario (Scene 1 part 1)

Completed: July, 2021

Running time: 3:43

Download Script here: Searching for Mario Script

Please listen with headphones.

Summary: Rosario dreams she is a child, searching for Mario, her recently deceased little brother, in the large Castellanos’ family tomb where he is buried. 

Context: This scene begins an exploration of survival and guilt that will continue for half of the first act until Castellanos’ death.  The death of Castellanos’ brother and the reaction of her parents form an important plot point which will return throughout the musical.

The Speech

Artist: Alisa Amor

Title: The Speech (Scene 1 part 2)

Completed May 26, 2021

Running Time: 10:16

Download Script Here: The Speech

Please listen with headphones. 

Summary: In a second dream sequence, Rosario, now an adult, finds herself almost naked on stage and struggling to give an important feminist speech. She is startled to find that Death himself is in the audience. He has come, not to listen, but to re-possess her bones. This piece introduces Castellanos as an important Mexican feminist and foreshadows her impending death.

Context: Like the rest of these work samples, this is a work in progress. This scene is loosely based on Castellanos poem “Recital.”  

Valium 10

Artist: Alisa Amor

Title: Valium 10 (Scene 2 beginning)

Completed June 19 2021

Running Time: 5:26

Download Script Here: Valium 10

Please listen with headphones. 

Summary: Rosario wakes up in a panic alone in her apartment in Tel Aviv. How will she comfort herself after her horrible nightmare?

Context: I wanted to fit a lot of information about Castellanos into this piece. The audience learns about her daily life as a teacher, ambassador, author, and mother. We feel her sadness and see how she copes by staying busy and taking valium.The lyrics are a combination of my translation of “Valium 10”, one of Castellanos’ most famous poems, and my words used to adapt the poem to this scene.  I look forward to adding violins and other orchestral instruments to bring out its emotion in the future.

The Cockroach and the Key

Artist: Alisa Amor

Title: The Cockroach and the Key (Scene 2 continued)

Completed: July 4, 2021

Running Time: 14:36

Download Script Here: The Cockroach and the Key

Please listen with headphones. 

Summary: The theme of the key, from the first dream sequence, returns. We learn how the key became a symbol of Castellanos’ guilt and how she misses her Nana. We see the depths of her despair as she considers the multiple losses in her life.

Context: The second half of this scene features parts of Castellanos famous poem “Monolog in the cell” which I have translated and slightly altered to fit this climactic moment. 

The music in this scene is written in the style of Latin American progressive rock. Finding the right musicians to bring out its fire will be essential. Orchestrations will be added at a later date. 

Agony Outside the Wall

Artist: Alisa Amor

Title: Agony Outside the Wall

Completed February, 2021

Running Time: 3:24

Download Script Here: Agony Outside the Wall

Please listen with headphones. 

Summary: Rosario has already gone to both Hell and Heaven and could stay in neither. Now, a patriarchal God has sent her to earth to work on her issues with men. She finds herself on a busy city street where some construction workers are building a wall. They sexually harass her but she is able to turn the power dynamic on its head.

Context: This scene takes place in the second half of the first act. It is based on my translation of Rosario’s famous poem, “Agony outside the wall.” This poem is usually interpreted in a serious and angry way; I have created a new vision for it, bringing out its hidden sexuality and humor.