By Triantafillia Memisaki/TheRevista Magazine

Photography by Diana Toshiko

This month The Revista Magazine is proud to present an extraordinary artist who has astonished audiences with her writing and acting alike. Karen Anzoategui is one of those people who decided to make the most of her multicultural background and use it to add a unique zest to her characters. Her talent has transformed her life journey into superior art that people of every age and descent can appreciate. For those who want to know more about this up and coming performer, we’ve put together the following interview. Enjoy!

So, Karen, which came first, the desire for a one-woman show or this specific story needing to be told?

I wrote my first solo show in my Theatre 101 class at Rio Hondo College. After seeing John Leguizamo’s Freak, it felt natural. I saw a mirror in John, like I found a cousin within the solo performance world. His family is Colombian and mine is Argentine, so I felt an immediate connection.  Also, it validated what I was doing already by being able to [physically] embody friends and family, as well as the use of voice to sound like them. It gave me creative inspiration [to see] that you can tell your story the way you want to, and that success in that is not always found in conventional storytelling.

As I grew up, I was confronted with all these stereotypes that people would place on me because I am Argentine.  If I tell them I am from Paraguay, they look at me funny and try to place a map in the air in front of my face.  It’s quite interesting and amusing to introduce myself to strangers and possible friendships.  When the question “where are you from” is asked, I get a different reaction each time I answer.  I answer differently each time to see what the reaction [might] be. Since my upbringing was so unique, the answer changes each time.  I learned that saying I was born in Argentina best suits how I feel.  If I say I’m American, people do not fully gage my identity.

I think this has shaped me today in my interactions with people and why I am drawn to comedy.  People’s reactions are pure humor at times.  There were times that someone’s reaction elicited an emotional response and made me take a look at myself and ask, “Why is this reaction causing this stir within me?”

These are seeds of storytelling.  Since I do not see my story anywhere else, I need an outlet. So, I do it myself.

[Ser: L.A. vs. B.A.] is the story of beginnings, self-discovery and awareness in so many levels.  My character as Karen discovers love, loss, truth and inspiration as I claim my queer identity. The play is told through the politics of a soccer game. My family, home and love get to play against each other to see who comes out champion. The play is an experience that I have the ability to give. I carry that energy throughout the whole show, like juggling a fireball that needs to last to the end of a dance. I move that ball of energy by connecting to it and knowing how to keep it lit for an hour and twenty minutes.

I also need to tell this story because there are people out there that will judge me based on what they see, and then think [what] they see is all I can be. I want to show you much more of myself.  I am going to show you depth, character, strength, ambition, love, connection, pain and humor, sexiness. I have a lot more to go.  This is just the beginning.

Photography by Diana Toshiko

How and why did you decide to make Ser: L.A. vs. B.A. into a solo performance instead of using separate actors for each role?

I do not see enough of my humor on TV.  I’m talking about that South American humor, the use of “sarcasm” mixed with gestures and volume that was not always viewed as normal [on TV] when I grew up.

I aim for my story to be as universal as it is specific.  I want everyone to be in my audience so we can have dialogue, an exchange. You will connect with me and see that we are really not that different from each other. We can laugh at the same things. That is a beautiful thing and such great energy [to have] in one room that I would like to see reflected in life.

I feel that when some people talk about Latinos they speak only of Mexicans or sometimes they speak of Central Americans.  In Los Angeles, the culture is predominantly Mexican: workers, the poor, middle class and their families.   My friends are a lot of these people.  But if my story is not told, I am forgotten, labeled as Mexican or Central American and well, everyone has their own story that is unique to them.  Telling one’s story is a claim to be heard.  That is why I named my show Ser, the title it carried until 2010 when it became Ser: L.A. vs. B.A.: Los Angeles vs. Buenos Aires. It’s a fútbol-match-style of storytelling. I also use the cultural/soccer rivalry within the game to expand on the daily clashes with Mexicans or other Latinos.

Because people try to put me in a box (I’m sure you know what I mean), I looked to my predecessors, and saw the key.  I saw myself in John LeguizamoLuis Alfaro, and Lilly Tomlin. I had to do something with my gifts and show the world my goods. By doing this solo show and focusing on the writing (of course), the actor in me was waiting with baited breath for the moment to unleash herself onto that stage and play.  Without having power trips, insecure directors and haters stopping me, I did it.  I claimed and called forth the ability to write a show, with all of my soul and what came out was poetry.

I had to pour myself into my writing because every good actor knows that is where the magic is.  You don’t have to do a thing but just show up if you have a good script.  That’s what I wanted and what I aimed for.

Photography by Diana Toshiko

Do you think you would have still become a director/actor/comedian if you hadn’t moved from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles? How did that shape you as a person?

Travelling so much when I was younger allowed me to be secure knowing I wasn’t crazy when others would look at me weird for being who I was. I think that if you don’t travel when you are younger it will take you longer to realize that you are right the whole time.  Just keep trusting your instincts.

Traveling made me see my quirks and personality traits. I saw that my fibers were part of the fabric that makes the quilt that is my family.  I get it from somewhere, right?

Traveling back and forth allowed me to sense my ancestors.  I knew I was tied to this earth, somehow rooted deep within it, and had to allow myself, as a gape-mouthed child, to drink up Argentina just as I drank up my mixed upbringing in Huntington Park.  My dad has some native roots in Paraguay so I accepted from early on that I was different. I looked at my dad and my light skinned mom and it was normal, I didn’t judge by color of skin, rather raised by all shades, in my own L.A. and B.A.

Has this process [of creating SER] changed you as a person and/or an artist? How?

I was raised hearing all these dialects when I grew up in Huntington Park (HP).  My godmother was Cuban so I learned a lot about Cuba and Fidel Castro, from her point of view. I spoke Spanish but then I picked up on the Cuban accent and that was where my love for accent and dialects [was born].  I would hear my Madrina’s friend, who spoke as fast as a Caribbean parrot and I stared at her mouth, her gestures, and [listened to] her speech. She spoke so fast! I wanted to speak fast so badly! I was 4 years old at the time.  When I was taken to the public pool, I would tell the kids “Hablo Español, ingles y Cubano!” I was proud.  Then I mastered the Argentine accent.  When I would go to Argentina my accent deepened and I would naturally retain the vernacular.

Being an actor/writer was bound to happen. I used art as a way to survive since I experienced a lot of abuse from my father when I was child and throughout childhood.  I needed to play and be a kid when the nasty reality of an addicted gambler took over my father’s personality and he became a monster.  His machismo shut me up so many times, that my speech would be affected and I would stutter each time he walked into the room. Incidentally, this is manifested in my show solo as one of the characters, my brother Tom, who is a mute in the play.  In reality, my brother is really not a mute, but as Tom, the character represents that stutter, the impediment etched on my vocal chords by my father’s transformation into a monster.

All that suppression needs to come out. I am naturally a sensitive person because I am an artist. Instead of using or turning to vices, I turned to creativity.  I did not want to be like my father and be addicted to anything.

I have had so many ups and downs as an artist [throughout] this process. There have been audience members that share their experiences. This allows me to see and realize that my story needs to be told…[that] people are connecting to what I am saying.

Another thing that shaped me was working as an HIV service provider. It has influenced my writing ever since I started working with the HIV community in 2005. I was able to connect with people by helping them get the resources they need. I learned that there are so many barriers for people infected with HIV [in addition to poverty, racism and immigration]. I learned a lot of skills in communicating with people and how to effectively empathize with others and propel them forward, if they were open to it.

Being exposed to that type of work allowed me to empathize and go on the journey with my clients. When would come into my mobile office I would listen. I would watch their mouths, gestures, and thoughts as they’d map it out in front of my face…I allow that piece of them to be a part of me when I embody characters, which is what I do.

Photography by Diana Toshiko

Can you describe to us the feelings you’re going through while you’re playing one character and then switch to a totally different character?

I give it my all when going from one character to another in my play. I seek to give a voice to the characters that need to be heard.  It is an energy that I allow to shift within me when I do each character.

What would you say you enjoy the most about solo performances? 

What I enjoy the most is the connection with the audience.  Their energy helps carry me throughout the show. The best example of this is when I did my solo in November at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood, CA.  The audience became part of the show when they defended me from this drunk, angry man in the audience. They actually aggressively told him to “shut up!”  I am honored that an audience in Los Angeles would do that for me.  People usually ignore this and pretend it’s not happening but they were put to the test and they kicked him out! I didn’t kick him out, they did. How awesome!  I felt taken care of and I wanted to give them all a hug. The crowd was loud after that, too! Their supportive energy felt like a caress on the face.  It was really a beautiful moment.

[Another surprising moment in that same show was] when they screamed for my other character, James Brown. They screamed like girls in the 50’s. I officially had my Elvis moment. I was honored.

Why did you write your dad as James Brown?

By making him James Brown, I was able to tell the story the way I wanted to tell the story. My dad is such a machista that, to this day, he denies that he abused my mother and refuses to take responsibilities for his actions.  It’s easier to tell the story through a “puppet” (James Brown) than the actual story.  It also allows me to play with music as lyrics and part of dialogue and make it fun. Playing with James Brown as the character of my father allowed me to find rhythm in the play.

Photography by Diana Toshiko

What did you find most challenging about the whole creative process?

I have to produce everything I do.  That costs money. So I’m glad I have a job but things would be easier on my body, mind and soul if I started receiving grants or had another producer/supporter that would financially help – JUST LIKE EVERY ARTIST, right?  I work full time, I’m in debt and I manage to do my stand-up, write, perform, work with others on cool projects and keep creating.  I love it, but imagine how much more I could accomplish with help? I hope to get to that level next and that is where New York comes in.

Reg EGaines has been such a great support in the finalist selection process for the DUTF and with my most recent productions of Ser.  He pushes me forward to feel that next level.  He is such an inspirational and moving artist.  He is an important messenger.

I’m ready for my show in NY!  I can’t wait to experience the NY audience since I feel such a connection to NY when I am there.  And to be the only artist from California [in the festival]…the West Coast, even…No pressure right? All play.

Your resume is enormous! How did you manage to fit so much into such a short amount of time?

I just did it. I had to. I work in HIV [services]. I needed to get a job because I was in school loan debt. I caved into the 9-5 enslavement.

Seven years ago, I looked at my boss, who was an actor, writer, director, mom, wife, producer, coordinator, and beautiful soul…I was in shock that she was able to manage all of it.  I knew then that there was more that I [could] handle. She proved to me that you can make it happen and be happy.

So I did. I got better at managing my life, my debt and also at being creative. I was always driven. I had a strong instinct about work I wanted to do and create and [did] not let anything stop me because of this strong mindset and determination.  I worked as an HIV counselor and housing specialist and I was still creative…My clients themselves pushed me to work harder. I can’t live with myself if I give bad service, since a lot of times you can affect the clients’ health if you do not your job right.  Then I go home, let the daytime issues go, and focus on writing. The need for me to have a creative outlet is so strong, that the hard drive within me frees up space and I plug away.

I have learned that no matter what comes in my way, I will always succeed.  If the tape messes up while recording the show, if I feel like crap before going on, if a lover breaks up with me and calls me names before I go on stage, if I don’t eat for a whole day, if I drink too much coffee, if my tech goes wrong, if the lights go out, if there is a heckler in the crowd and if there are haters around, my show goes on and shines and gets better, so I go with it and don’t question the why’s and how’s and what’s.  I do.  I might feel bad afterwards, but opportunity arises from all of it and the show moves on, so nothing can stop it. I am unstoppable.  That is empowering and when I feel anything less, I remember this.

We would like to thank Karen Anzoategui for her time and for all the laughs and tears her performances have given and will continue to give us. Don’t miss her electrifying solo show “Ser: L.A. vs. B.A.” in New York City as part of the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival March 24th, 2012 at Here Arts Center in SOHO.


For more information about this fine artist and her shows:


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