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the Long Center, from Inside the Ring

Tag Archives: Texas

Austin-based theater company Crank Collective presents Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas April 3, 4, and 5 at the Long Center Rollins Studio Theatre.

cabezadevaca550_439The first in a series of two Texas History operettas, Cabeza de Vaca is a musical tribute to the extraordinary journey of the 16th century Spanish Explorer who shipwrecked on Galveston island in 1527 and struggled to survive in a Native American land. Director John Cecil recounts Crank Collective’s journey in bringing this exciting work to the stage:

Galveston, Texas. 1527:  Four men wash ashore and are enslaved by a local group of Karankawas.   Despite beatings, battles and a diet of cactus and deer dung, the four Spaniards survive to eventually become traders.   A mysterious ability to heal and raise the dead elevates the men to shamans, and they begin a six-year escape on foot into Mexico, followed by thousands of devotees.  Sounds like the perfect story for a Crank Collective show.

I first heard about Cabeza de Vaca when teaching Texas history to 7th graders (quickly scanning the margins of the teacher’s edition).   I later read a translation of de Vaca’s narrative and got to see the amazing movie by Nicolás Echevarría.  When Crank Collective decided to do a Texas History Operetta series, this story seemed too rich, and too strange, not to put on stage.   But how to do it?  How to transform a 2000-mile, six-year journey into a one-hour musical show at the Long Center?

We adapted the text into a play, keeping close to the quasi-anthropological of the original account.  With the band, we developed music with Spanish elements, but including sound effects of the sea and wind, and inventing music for the now-extinct Karankawa tribe.  For costumes, we naturally wanted to avoid the nude-but-for-12-inch-nipple-piercings that de Vaca describes so we came up with some formal, deliberately out-of-context costume styles.

In the original reading of the de Vaca text, the actors first sounded a bit stuffy, like they were doing fake Shakespeare or in a church play.  It was funny, but not the way we wanted.  In rehearsals, however, the actors managed to master and loosen up the script, interacting and improvising to create a believably exotic clash between two vanishing empires. Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas is now an unusual, engrossing, and very entertaining show.

– John Cecil, Director of Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas

For tickets and more information on Crank Collective’s Cabeza de Vaca: Shipwrecked in Texas, at the Long Center, Rollins Studio, April 3, 4 and 5.

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