UTEP Professor’s NY, El Paso Work Keeps Her Sharp
Last Updated on October 27, 2021 at 9:00 AM
Originally published October 27, 2021
By Daniel Perez
UTEP Marketing and Communications
This is a busy and exciting time for Georgina Hernández Escobar, assistant professor of instruction with The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Her latest efforts debuted in New York and El Paso within days of each other.
“Alebrijes,” a bilingual Day of the Dead play that she wrote and directs, debuts at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2021, at UTEP’s Chihuahuan Desert Gardens Amphitheater near the Undergraduate Learning Center. Those free performances come on the heels of “Little Duende,” a coming-of-age fantasy-adventure story that was part of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s (NAMT) 33rd annual Festival of New Musicals conducted Oct. 21-22 at The Mezzanine Theatre at ART/New York Theatres.
Escobar took the workload in stride. The native of Juárez, Mexico, called it the life of a practicing artist. She stressed that it was important for educators to practice their disciplines to maintain a competitive and relevant edge in training future professionals.
The New York-based playwright, who has worked at UTEP since 2019, logged many miles in preparation for the two shows. She would rehearse in New York and return to UTEP for classes and rehearsals as well as to lead artistic workshops Sunday afternoons in October at UTEP’s Fox Fine Arts Breezeway. At these workshops, community members would create papier maché creatures and masks and paint them in glowing colors. Some of the creations would be “Alebrijes” stage props.
“I just hope UTEP keeps supporting its faculty artists for doing this type of work, which is imperative to our discipline, our training and our growth,” Escobar said. “My professional writing career is separate to the University, but what I gain from it is something I can share with our students.”
Escobar worked on this reimagined fable of the life and near-death of award-winning Mexican artist Pedro Linares, the original creator of the distinctive papier mache sculptures called alebrijes. He died in 1992 at age 85. The mostly family-friendly story follows Linares and three spirits in a celebration of the fantastical Mexican folk art as the artist tries to deal with La Muerte (Death) to bring his brother back to life.
The message behind this 90-minute comedy, which includes traditional music, is that art can transcend mortality. Linares’ journey takes him back to his Mexico City home in 1936 where he discovers the special relationships he had with his animals. Escobar created the story in collaboration with Milagro, a Portland, Oregon, theater group.
Xavier Felix, who earned his BFA in theatre performance from UTEP in 2021, plays Linares. The actor is a Master of Education student who expects to graduate in 2022. The rest of the cast consists of three students and two alumni from UTEP’s Department of Theatre and Dance, and a high school recruit.
Felix said he has worked with Escobar for more than two years and considers her a great mentor.
“She has taught me so much about being an actor, writer, director and artist overall,” Felix said. “Georgina has served as a tremendous role model for what it means to have courage, humility and collaborative values. Her willingness to inspire, as well as be inspired by others serves as undeniable evidence for her professionalism and wisdom.”
Each performance culminates in a community altar-building experience where audience members may light a candle and speak the names of their dearly departed. The producers dedicated every performance to UTEP President Emerita Diana Natalicio, who died Sept. 24, 2021, at age 82. She led the University for 31 years until her retirement in 2019.
The Department of Theatre and Dance organized its own Day of the Dead memorial – Noche de Ofrendas – as a fundraiser to recoup lost ticket sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since early October, the department has accepted donations along with photos of deceased loved ones for a display that will be up from Oct. 27 through Nov. 2, 2021, in the lobby of the Wise Family Theatre in the Fox Fine Arts Center. The month-long activity will culminate with a brief ceremony at 6 p.m. Nov. 2, at the display. Escobar will offer a brief presentation about the Day of the Dead at 7 p.m. at the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens Amphitheater. A performance of “Alebrijes” will follow.
While in preparation for “Alebrijes,” Escobar also focused on “Little Duende,” or “Little Elf,” a musical she helped create in association with composer and lyricist Robi Hager for the NAMT. The UTEP theater department’s playwright in residence said she and Hager began to work on the project in early 2019. Escobar’s job as the book writer was to build the musical’s plot and character development. Both said the NAMT selection was an honor.
The NAMT is one of the country’s top new musical theater festivals, and a great opportunity for writers to meet producers and highlight their work to a national network. Writers hope to garner support that will allow them to further their project’s production goals. The UTEP professor said the festival was a great way to celebrate an artist’s work and to gauge its potential.
Escobar, who earned her bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies from UTEP in 2006 and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico five years later, said the musical blended a beautiful score with a dark and twisted mythological narrative that amplifies the social message about the complexities of immigrants as individuals. She said they aimed for a “Coco” meets “Pan’s Labyrinth.”