Michelangelo Alasa’ was born in La Habana, Cuba. As an actor worked on National Tours of HAIR, Jesus Christ, Superstar, Godspell, Tommy and performed at Duo for 520 performances in the cult hit musical Born To Rumba which he wrote and directed. His musical, Chez Garbo ran at Duo for 320 performances. His musicals with long time collaborator David Welch include Studio, Salon and Peggy & Jackson (Peggy Guggenheim and Jackson Pollack) which was presented by Joseph Papp at the Public Theatre. He is the twice recipient of the Oscar B. Cintas Playwrighting Award. Other works include Confessions of a Cuban Sex Addict, Adrift, The Ball, The Marilyn Project, We’re Gonna Be Alright, Right To Play and the upcoming Putas on Parade. He is the Executive Director/Artistic Director of DMAC-Duo Multicultural Arts Center. DMAC presents art, dance, theater, film and music on three floors at 62 East 4th St.
AF: Michelangelo, it’s a pleasure speaking with you about your art. I am intrigued as to when your interest within the arts began and how this interest blossomed?
MA: At the age of 8, after a failed suicide attempt, I found art, fashion books and the movies. The doctor my mother took me to get stitched pulled me aside; he saw something in my eyes. The eyes of an abused child are very telling, it is the very thing that draws other abusers to them as well as kind people who see the hurt and reach out to them. This doctor looked me in the eyes and told me that I was a strong little boy and that I would be alright. I believed him. He never asked about why I had cut my wrist, I think if I had told him about the sexual abuse by my dad he would have had to report it to the authorities and my life would have turned out differently instead he asked me what I enjoyed doing after school. I told him I loved drawing and libraries. He encouraged me to just go to a library and pull out books off the shelf and see what it was about art I enjoyed. That doctor saved my life and set me on a path of personal discovery. I found a world of art, fashion books and the movies. On a shelf, I found The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein and read it incessantly. That book was like a blue print for my life, it led me to Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe. One name led to another, dancers, painters, composers, designers. It helped me to create a safe place for myself, a place I could retreat when I felt in danger; a world of beauty, balance, harmony and love. Whenever they attacked me at home, I’d beat them back with wit, style and intelligence and I run back to my safe place. I think anyone who has been abused in any way….has a safe place they escape to. When I set out to develop Confessions of a Cuban Sex Addict as a walk through installation, I wanted to recreate that safe place of my childhood. The minute I wrote the opening lines, “From the age of three until the age of six, I enjoyed a rather delightful sexual relationship with my father, I wish it had not happened as it sexualized me at such an early age…” the work became about my post abuse life until the age of 20. Sometimes I wished he would have just used some realistic sex dolls instead of me. However, they weren’t as common or as realistic as they are now so it probably wouldn’t have done him well. I’m I will have to use one at some point to check out what all the hype is about! There are many websites who stock plenty a life-size sex doll and charge around about £1000 for the product! They must be worth it for that price!
AF: The installation is amazing! Thanks for being so honest. How long have you been working on “Confessions of a Cuban Sex Addict”?
MA: Thank you. Two years ago when I found myself the primary care giver for my ailing mother, I felt trapped, angry and not wanting to take on that responsibility. At the age of 19, my friend Earl Scott had introduced me to John Lennon and the discussion turned to primal therapy and the work of the pioneering Arthur Janov. It intrigued me and a few weeks later, with the help of a good friend we found a clinic in NYC that was doing “scream” therapy. During those sessions, I accessed my memories of my childhood abuse, dealt with them, laid them to rest and began the second journey of my life. A life filled by love, I have been in one relationship for 40 years and by close trusting friends. Almost 40 years later and as my mother was dying, I felt that there was something I needed to revisit and found a couple of therapists who did a form of “scream therapy”. They helped me to work through my feelings toward my mother. During those sessions I realized her role in maintaining the secret of the abuse. At the end of about six months, it was clear to me that a mother who could physically and emotionally abused her child as she had done me could not have been loved herself. I spent the last six months of my mother’s life, loving her. The cycle was complete. She passed away loved by the very son she had so many times tortured. During that period of therapy, I began thinking of my creative work which until now had been theater based. I began creating my “safe place” in my third floor studio at 62 East 4th Street where DMAC, the company I am Artistic Director of is located. I wrote a series of monologues for a cast of characters from my life until the age of 19 and began to explore visually and dramatically with the help of a very talented cast, my life. I began to give private walks of the installation in May 2012 and it opened in August 2012 with a cast. At the end of March 2013, it became apparent to me that this was a very personal self-portrait and that I need to do the complete narration myself. I see Confessions as a three dimensional mural. The piece continues to grow and we reopen our second season on September 16 – December 16 on Monday evenings. The work is free to audiences; all we ask is that they make a reservation in advance as we limit each walk through to 45 people. Tickets are free at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/416829 I continue to use gay social media such a Manhunt, Scruff, Adam, sites which are usually reserved for meeting men, to introduce my work to audiences. Not a day goes by that 2-3 men share with me their own stories of abuse, by a family member or a family friend. Many of whom have never shared their stories with anyone else.
AF: What is DMAC?
MA: DMAC- Duo Multicultural Arts Center 62 East 4th Street under the Artistic Direction of Michelangelo Alasa’, offers exciting programming which includes Theater@DMAC, Film@DMAC which presents the highly successful NYC Downtown Short Film Festival recently recognized as one of the top film festivals in the world; the Music@DMAC series featuring Cabaret and chamber/new music programs and Dance@DMAC which commissions and presents new dance works. On the 3rd floor Art@DMAC is dedicated to new media + digital works.
DMAC is a founding member of Fourth Arts Block (www.fabnyc.org). On December 13, 2005 through the perseverance of former City Council member Margarita Lopez, current City Council member Rosie Mendez, HPD, Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council, the Manhattan Borough President and the Department of Cultural Affairs, DMAC became co-owner of 62 East 4th Street, the building they have been in residence for 20 years. DMAC becomes part of a handful of Latino based organizations nationwide to own their performance space. For more information visit us at www.duotheater.org.
AF: I love the building and the theater is spectacular! What materials and objects did you use in your installation and why?
MA: I begin with an image of a fog filled room dissected by images floating in that fog. This was to be my safe place. I divided the space using white sheers curtains and multiple projectors. The images used are iconic videos of my youth and universally iconic in most instances. The idea is the “film of memory”; the closer you get to a memory the sharper it is. The curtains create the distance from the image (memory). As the work has progressed I have added an anti-chamber which is the “house of terror” filled by sexual paraphernalia and images. The audience then walks through a maze that further develops the underlying themes that have been with me since childhood. Mostly artistic influences that have shaped my consciousness, within these spaces, I narrate the story of my life until the age of 20. We also have a dedicated “confession” wall where audience members are allowed to write messages to me and about the work they have just seen.
AF: Who are some of your influences?
MA: Diaghilev, Cocteau, Ned Rorem’s Paris Diary, Francis Bacon, Cecil Beaton, Francesco Clemente, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Diana Vreeland, Monroe, Streisand, Pollock, Peggy Guggenheim, Chanel, Garbo, Gertrude Stein, Paris, Man Ray, Kiki de Montparnasse, Picasso, Christian Berard, Chanel, Wilfredo Lam, Warhol, Goya, Versailles, Proust, Frida Kahlo, Pedro Almodovar, Jackie Curtis, Allen Ginsburg, William Blake.
AF: What’s your dream project? If you had no constraints and could work on anything you wanted, what would you do?
MA: Confessions is my dream project. It is amazing to me that I have finally found my authentic voice at last. Confessions is part of a trilogy I am working on, Andy@62 about Andy Warhol opens in October 2013 and The Tubs about the Continental Baths and the era of sexual liberation just before HIV struck will be the finale. That will open for Pride 2014. It covers most of my life from the age of three to twenty. After that, the book, the movie and a beach house in Maui.
AF: Looks like you have it all figured out! Can you please tell me a bit more about Andy@62?
MA: In 1969, Andy Warhol rented out the theater my company currently owns at 62 East 4th Street and presented a series of gay porn films under the title, Andy’s Boys to Adore Galore. I attended one of those screenings and was thrust into a world I’d never experienced before. Andy@62 is an exploration of fame, art, life and death. Andy narrates the piece which takes place throughout my three spaces at 62 East 4 St. It is populated by Frida Kahlo, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich and Barbra Streisand.
AF: Sounds like a great night and a great show! Can you also tell me a bit more about The Tubs?
MA: I am in the process of developing a piece that takes place at the Continental Baths, a gay bath house in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel on the upper west side which was opened in 1968 by Steve Ostrow. It featured a disco, a dance floor, sauna rooms, a swimming pool and a cabaret lounge which provided entertainment. Bette Midler’s performances at the “tubs” are legendary; here with the help of Barry Manilow as her piano player she developed her persona of the Divine Miss M. It was the height of the golden age sexual liberation for gay men in NYC, a period which preceded the AIDS epidemic which “unofficially” began on June 5, 1981, when a cluster of men in Los Angeles were found to have Pneumocystis pneumonia. It takes place on the night of one of Bette Midler’s many farewell appearances at the Tubs.
AF: What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
MA: Be aware, seek detail, develop inner strength, always be prepared to start again, and want to be. Lehman Engel, friend and mentor.
AF: Thanks for your time Michelangelo!