Día de los Muertos is a time for celebrating loved ones through food, altars, music and now improv.
Hosted at Austin’s Hideout Theatre, the fully-improvised show “La Vida de los Muertos” has been over a year in the making, directors Cat Drago and J.R. Zambrano said. The show was inspired by Grim Fandango, an adventure video game focused in the Land of the Dead. From the very beginning, the duo knew they wanted an all Latinx cast to share their stories about Día de los Muertos.
“The thing that I have fallen in love with about improvisational theater is that everything is so different and we get to discover new things, but it also really takes into account everyone’s experiences, feelings and backgrounds,” Drago said. “We cast this show showcasing some amazing talents from the Latinx community, and we all have different experiences to pull from.”
Rosemarie Frezza, cast member and UT alumna, has practiced improv for approximately six years. Finally starring in a show with an entirely Latinx cast is exciting, Frezza said.
“The theater has never really had a show that’s been culturally inclusive and so focused on Hispanic culture, so we feel this is really contributing to the community,” Frezza said. “(This cast) feels like familia. They just intrinsically understand something about the way you were raised. It’s an interesting form of innate closeness.”
Though people may consider improvisational theater as a more comedic effort, improv is able to be emotional as well, Zambrano and Drago said. “La Vida de los Muertos” has attracted audiences from various backgrounds. Nearly every show has sold out during its two-month run this year. During the performance, the audience reacted with laughter and tears. Audience member Adrian Villegas said seeing an all-Latinx cast tell their stories was powerful to watch.
“It’s great that it’s a group of Latinos who are taking ownership in a really imaginative way of something from our culture that, in a large way, has been co-opted for a long time,” Villegas said.
Besides the Hideout Theatre, Zambrano and Drago said they have seen a recent push for more inclusivity in other local improv theaters. Local comedy club ColdTowne Theater hosts a show called “LatiNacional” put on by another Latinx group, the Prima Doñas.
“It feels like we’re sort of riding the crest of a wave that’s been coming,” Zambrano said. “There have been people before us making sure that we see both more women and minorities on stages around town, and hopefully, we can pave the way for the next set of folks to follow.”
Drago said the support they’ve felt from the community and show have been humbling. Not only is the whole cast Latinx but the crew is as well. Both Zambrano and Drago say that the improv community’s eager acceptance of “La Vida de los Muertos” has helped the show thrive.
“The joy and the heart that is involved in (Día de los Muertos), this time of celebrating life and death in such a joyful and colorful way, has been incredible,” Drago said. “For us to be able to be the stewards of telling that story has really been such an honor.”