Coming to the Capital Fringe Festival: ‘Despertar’ by Jon Jon Johnson

I felt the need to write a show, so I did. I was listening to “The Five Tango Sensations” by Astor Piazzolla at the time, and inspiration struck. The movements of the piece are titled: “Asleep”, “Loving”, “Anxiety”, “Despertar” (To awaken), and “Fear.” I realized there was a play in there and wrote a scene to each one, imagining the pieces as underscore on loop. Then I needed a sixth scene, which defeated the purpose of five, so I dug around more of Piazzolla’s pieces and found a gem of a piece called Moderato Mistico, which inspired the end of the play.

I wanted to explore a relationship whirling out of control, and that negative space between love and hate. I’d ended a relationship about a year prior to starting this piece, and I still had many hang-ups over it. It bugged me nearly every day, so I started to channel that into the writing. There’s this mixture of angst and hope that’s hard to capture, hence the exploration through writing. My biggest hurdle at the moment is accepting that my words are about to be performed. It’s surprisingly scary!

The cast of 'Despertar': From left to right: Elizabeth Hansen, Mikhel Wirtanen, Eric Kruger, and Connor Hogan. Photo Courtesy of Ana Mills.

That being said, I have an excellent cast of four very playful actors. I give them some parameters and just let them explore the work. With some guidelines, they romp around in these destructive relationships in a completely safe environment, which allows them to explore my feelings as well as their own and merge them into the work.

The most exciting aspect of Despertar is that we’ve chosen to infuse the piece with not only the spirit and music of Tango, but the dance as well. We’re by no means hoping to create a new genre of theatre, but are carefully trying to construct a working synthesis between the two in a way that we haven’t seen done before. We think the fusion lends to the language and emotional value of the play by allowing the actors to step into a reality that’s still ground in human emotion while allowing a surreal element to heighten and shape them in a fascinating way. Hopefully it translates well and works effectively.

One of the things I’m particularly proud of in this show is that it shows LGBTQ couples in a normal light. The show is composed of a gay couple and a lesbian couple dealing with the fallout of cheating. They’re not angels, they’re not dealing with AIDS or other large scale tragedies, nor are they the victims of an unfortunate world. They’re cast in what I feel is a completely normal light, showcasing what happens in many relationships, not just heteronormative ones. I don’t expect this to be ‘mind-bending’, by any means. I just want to show them in a situation usually portrayed by two straight couples.

Now, Let’s see, my cast:

Elizabeth Hansen is a woman whom I’ve worked with since college. We share very similar aesthetics and humor, hence leading to the formation of Avalanche Theatre Company. She was in Avalanche’s Fringe show last year, a production of Sarah Kane’s “Crave” where she played “C”. We’ve had each others’ backs for a good while now, and I’m incredibly happy to have her working on a piece that I wrote as it eases the terror greatly.

I met Mikhel Wirtanen in college as well, down at George Mason University. I didn’t know her that well outside of the occasional class, show or party. Recently she came back from San Francisco, and helped me as a Stage Manager/Assistant Director for Crave last year, and became our third and final co-founder for Avalanche. This year, since she fit one of the roles I wrote, so I asked her to play the part

Eric Kruger is, unsurprisingly, yet a third person whom I worked with back at George Mason. I really wanted a cast I could trust. Eric’s been out of acting for a little bit, but this would mark a debut for him both with Avalanche and for Fringe.

I met Connor J. Hogan recently, through friends. He’s been floating around the outskirts of my life for a little bit now, but when I made the call to assign roles for this show, I realized that he’d be very good in this role. I didn’t have time to hold auditions, due to working on another production, but I had seen Connor’s work before with WSC Avant Bard and figured him to be an excellent addition to the cast. He has not disappointed.

Avalanche Theatre Company is looking to premier Despertar at Fringe as a way to not only help our works be seen, but move us in the direction of incorporating as a non-profit theatre organization. Many small companies have gotten their starts at The Capital Fringe Festival, and we hope to add ourselves to that list. We figure, what better way to get us started than with an original work, by a new, local playwright (me!), and at the Festival, where works like this are given a chance to shine. Please check us out and help us push our dream forward. Even if you hate the show, please let me know why so I can learn from it and we can continue growing as theatre professionals and as artists.

Show dates are:

Saturday, July 14th at 2:15pm,
Wednesday, July 18th at 6pm
Sunday, July 22nd at 6:15pm
Wednesday, July 25th at 9:45 pm
Saturday, July 28th at 8:30pm

All performances are at:
Fort Fringe – The Shop
607 New York Avenue nw,
Washington, DC 20001

Tickets can be bought online starting June 18th, or by calling (866) 811-4111, starting June 18th.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here