Now through April 2018, the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center is presenting a series of performances from artists of all backgrounds, inspired by the tragic shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Titled “Fearless,” the goal of the series is to promote unity and strength in the aftermath of one of the worst mass shootings and hate crimes in United States history.
One of the most unexpected and creative performances comes from singer/songwriter/dancer/performer Migguel Anggelo and his co-writer and director, Obie Award winner, David Drake. In their play titled, “Welcome to La Misa, Baby,” Migguel embodies what it means to be fearless after the tragedy — he reclaims the disco as a safe space for the gay community and highlights just how important this institution continues to be. We had the opportunity to chat with Migguel on what it was like creating the show, what it means to him personally, and the message it sends to the LGBT community going forward.
HipLatina: To start off, I wanted to ask about your background. You have a pretty diverse resume spanning the performing arts—what do you think is different about this upcoming show compared to your past works?
Migguel Anggelo: Well I’ve always performed with a lot of people. Whether I’m singing or when I’m acting in a musical or play there are often 5 to 10 people around me on stage. This is my first time on the stage alone! Ever! I’m doing eight characters in one hour and basically, I’m dead by the end. In two weeks, I’ve lost four pounds, but at least now everyone can see the six pack! (HA!!!) And even though I’m openly gay, I’ve never in my life performed as a woman. In this performance, in particular, I play two women—one is a mother and the other is a drag queen. So, my sister and female friends in Miami have been teaching me how to walk in heels — I didn’t know how hard it was! But overall, it’s been a good challenge, and I hope people like the show.
HL: So how do you pull off all the different personalities? What do you think is key in making the characters distinct enough to stand out and be memorable for the audience?
MA: David Drake has been my director for the last three years. He’s been incredible. For this show, we’ve worked on having very specific voices and a set of movements for each character. Sometimes you see actors do a quick change of wardrobe – like putting on a scarf and then swapping it for a hat, and suddenly they’re supposed to be a different character because of that. But just making a little accessory change, does that make you another character? No, no, no! So, I really focused on making sure the eight characters I play speak differently, walk differently, act completely differently, and dress differently. It’s going to be a very visual experience when people come to see the show.
HL: I also wanted to talk a bit about what you think this play means for the gay community. It’s interesting that you chose a nightclub for the backdrop of this show. The gay disco has long been a place of sanctuary with almost spiritual significance for the LGBT community. Though how do you really connect such distinct spaces and experiences—a night out at the gay nightclub versus a catholic mass?
MA: In the story, the club is called “La Misa” because 100 years ago it actually used to be a church. It became rundown, but people came together and built it back up. The emcee of the show is a drag queen who acts as the priest, building up the “church” and the characters around her. The night club and the church are connected both literally and figuratively.
HL: Some argue that gay bars and clubs are losing importance as social media grows and gay identity and culture becomes more present in the mainstream. The gay disco is no longer the only place to congregate. Do you think that this is becoming the new reality?
MA: Well one of the characters has that exact perception. Carlos is only 18 and it’s his first time in a gay disco. His friend Luis asks him to come because they’re sponsoring a benefit for the victims of the Pulse shooting. When he comes to the disco he’s in awe as to how big the event is and how many people are there. Luis explains that everyone is coming together there to be themselves without fear or danger. So even the younger generation appreciates what the space has to offer.
HL: Another thing that really struck me about the play’s setting—it’s in a nightclub, the sanctuary space that came under attack during the Pulse tragedy. As a part of the “Fearless” series, reclaiming the sanctity of the nightclub really makes a statement about what it means to be fearless in the aftermath. But what did it take for you personally, and what do you think it will take for the LGBT community at large to fully see this as a safe space again?
MA: When I saw what happened in Orlando, I didn’t know those people, but I cried so much because everyone was just there to have fun. Why would someone come and kill them? For me, I think that the gay community needs to stay strong—our love is stronger than whatever hatred has motivated people to put us under attack. Hatred is still out there just because people are different, and it’s ridiculous.
We need to go forward and need to show the world that we’re strong and proud to be gay, proud to be human, and proud to love. We’re allowed to love and we have the power to love everyone. We don’t need to be more afraid just because there are crazy people in the world now. We’re more than them, and we’re going to show them. Especially with this administration, we need to be doing things differently to help unite people. That’s why we still need safe spaces with strong human connections like the disco.
HL: If we are seeing gay spaces attacked literally, with events like the Pulse shooting, and socially with the advent of social media and other ways to come together, what does this mean for the gay community going forward? Is the gay nightclub being replaced, or are gay spaces just evolving?
MA: I remember when I was four years old on Christmas and my twin sister got a Barbie, and I got a car. I asked my mom why Santa hated me so much and gave me a car instead of the Barbie, because I wanted that Barbie too. I knew that I was this way since I was born. I think that the gay disco is still a place for all of us to come together and really interact and understand each other. I think that this is still where we are right now.
When straight people come to a gay club, we don’t question why they’re there. We’re actually happy when someone straight wants to learn about us. But when a gay guy goes to a straight club, he might not always feel as welcome. It’s these critics of the gay community who need to keep evolving and accept us in society. It’s really just about humanity—even if you like a different gender, what does it matter? It’s like asking whether you prefer empanadas with cheese or with chicken. That’s it!
HL: Without revealing too much about the show, what do you hope that the audience takes away from it?
MA: I think the big statement is that hate will never triumph over love. Love is more powerful than any other emotion in the world.
HL: What’s coming up next for you?
MA: I’m going back to Joe’s Pub next year to perform my show “SO CLOSE: Love and Hate,” which I only did last year for the first time. Then in February, I’m going back to Russia on another tour as a cultural attaché on behalf of the State Department. One of our stops is at the famous Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. I’m singing with my friend Britney Coleman who’s a rising Broadway star, and my long-time musical Director Mau Quiros is creating the arrangements. He’ll also be on the piano. We’ll be comparing he American Songbook to the Latin American Songbook, and working with the biggest symphonies in Russia.
HL: So what was it like being in Russia as an openly gay man?
MA: I was so afraid to go last time! And my friends didn’t help to relieve my fears before going. They said I could be killed. But like I said, you can’t live in fear. I could be attacked for being gay right here in the States, too. A lot of what we see in Russia is just what ends up coming through in the media.
There was one show that I was a little bit worried about. I was singing “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music and I was dressed in drag like Julie Andrews. The audience was totally silent, but I just kept on singing. And then at the end, I was surprised by a standing ovation from the crowd. I was like, “oh my god,” it worked! These people lived in a very small town, and I was happy that I could be received so openly and bring them joy.
So don’t let hate win out against love—check out Migguel’s performances October 27 at 7:30 PM and October 29 at 3:00 PM at the Clemente Cultural Center on the Lower East Side in New York City.