Performing arts organizations have had to get creative in whole new ways to stay afloat during a pandemic that has kept live audiences home since last March. Among the strategies adopted locally is one that would be familiar to our great-grandparents — the audioplay — using the modern technology of the podcast. Seattle Shakespeare Company, which is dedicated to making classical theater more accessible, has developed a new, on-demand serial audioplay.
The bilingual series “house of sueños,“ which updated weekly through Feb. 17, will remain available for listening through March 17 on Seattle Shakespeare Company’s “Rough Magic” podcast. Incorporating elements from “Hamlet,” the autobiographical story by Meme García deals with intergenerational trauma, mental health and the Central American immigrant experience.
García, who uses they/them pronouns, was an undergraduate at Seattle University when they first conceived “house of sueños” as a short solo show incorporating elements from a dozen Shakespeare plays. Since then, they have completely reworked the play multiple times, narrowing the Shakespearean focus to “Hamlet” and expanding the cast.
After the pandemic closed theaters, Seattle Shakespeare Company reached out to García about filming “house of sueños.”
“Here’s an artist that we’ve watched evolve and grow over time, finding their voice through writing as well,” said Jeff Fickes, communication director for Seattle Shakespeare Company. “There’s this interesting intersection of Shakespeare and their life story, as well as the fit of us exploring bilingual theater.” (The company has been touring bilingual productions of Shakespeare’s plays for several years.)
García interned with Seattle Shakespeare Company in 2014 and has performed with the company regularly since. However, “house of sueños” is their first involvement in the company’s bilingual productions. (Garcia will perform Romeo in the company’s “Romeo y Julieta” film adaptation currently in production for release April 5.)
García, now based in Ashland, Oregon, began to plan video production for “house of sueños” last summer. When smoke from wildfires made filming impossible, the idea to use it for the “Rough Magic” podcast emerged. García rewrote the story once again, this time as an audioplay.
Although García no longer performs in “house of sueños,” the story is still deeply personal. Their father read “Hamlet” to them in Spanish when García was a child. Their first acting role, in summer camp at age 12, was Hamlet.
“ ‘Hamlet’ has been a play that has haunted me my entire life. It’s the play of his [Shakespeare’s] that I see myself the most in,” said García. The connection between a self-described queer, trans, Latinx immigrant from El Salvador and a Danish prince may not be immediately apparent. But García thinks most “Hamlet” productions miss the point.
“ ‘Hamlet’ is a play that I think is, at its heart, about mental health, what it takes to love somebody with mental health challenges, the collateral damage from it,” said García.
“House of sueños” digs into the trauma both in “Hamlet” and in García’s own life. Episode descriptions include the content warning, “character experiences of mental health challenges, suicide, suicide loss, PTSD and multigenerational trauma.” Each episode concludes with a list of mental health resources. In a special midstory episode, García interviews Marlene Kenney, a therapist specializing in suicide loss.
“House of sueños” flips between English and Spanish without translations. García wanted to re-create the experience of a newly immigrated person who doesn’t understand a lot of what they hear, and to normalize immersion in languages that are not one’s own.
“When Spanish is being spoken, if you don’t know what it says, just listen to it. So often when you see Shakespeare, you don’t really know what is being said and that’s OK. When you listen to a reggaeton song, you really don’t know what they’re saying but you can still jam to it,” said García.
Seattle Shakespeare Company has produced bilingual touring productions of “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Twelfth Night,” “Macbeth” and “Hamlet.” They will release a bilingual audio version of “Hamlet” on March 3 as a complement to “house of sueños.”