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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Carmelita Tropicana

New York, NY
United States

Carmelita Tropicana, the Cuban-born writer/performance artist and actress received an Obie award in 1999 for “Sustained Excellence in Performance” and was named “One of the Most Notable Women of 1998” by the Spanish-language daily, El Diario. She and director Ela Troyano won the best short at the Berlin Film Festival in 1994 for their collaboration on Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst is Your Waffen. Most recently, her collaboration with Marga Gomez, Single Wet Female, earned a 2002 nomination for the GLAAD Award in Outstanding Theater. Her latest solo With What Ass Does the Cockroach Sit hit the Off Broadway Intar Theater in 2004. In 2000, Beacon Press published the first comprehensive collection of plays and scripts I, Carmelita Tropicana—Performing Between Cultures, a Lambda Award nominee in theatre. As a veteran performer her work has been presented at venues including the ICA in London, Centre de Cultura Contemporanea in Barcelona, Thalia Theater in Hamburg. In the U.S. she has been seen at Joe’s Pub in New York City, the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, the Brava Theater in San Francisco. She translated as well as starred (in Spanish) in the critically acclaimed Off Broadway solo Late Nite Catechism. Ms. Tropicana has received numerous writing and performance awards from groups including the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Mark Taper Forum’s Latino Initiative. She is represented by Judy Boals.

Feminist Artist Statement

I confess, in the beginning I shunned the word feminism. For years I was in the dark, blinded by a chiarascuro, lost. Until 1982 when I stepped into the WOW Café (Women’s One World) the door flung open and there was light. I stepped into the spotlight and became a thespian feminist. Finally I could see feminism was full of choices: you could be a fashionista or not, shave or be naturally hirsute. It was abundant, colorful and for women of color, fun, funny, sexually transgressive. I suffered an ecstasy greater than that of St. Teresa in the statue by Bernini. I had found my tribe — the feminists; I’d found my calling: Kunst is my waffen — art is my weapon. As an enlightened being I began to make mama and dada art dedicating myself to Kunst.

<p>Memories of the Revolution</p>

Memories of the Revolution

Carmelita Tropicana in male drag as Pingalito Betancourt from “Memories of the Revolution,” co-written and directed by Uzi Parnes. Play with music, film, slides. Photo credit: Dona Ann McAdams.

Cast: Carmelita Tropicana, Annie Iobst, Alison Rooney, Maureen Angelos, Kate Stafford, Peggy Healey, Quinn, Lisa Kron, Diane Jeep Ries, Uzi Parnes.

In “Memories of the Revolution” Carmelita re-enacts her memoirs as the daughter of the Cuban Revolution (pre-Castro) aided by the Tropicanettes and Pingalito Betancourt, a bus conductor, who acts as narrator giving us his own historical, geographical and cultural perspective of Cuba using a restaurant place mat.

Laurie Stone in the “Village Voice” writes about the drag performance in “Memories of the Revolution”:

“Uzi Parnes guides the performers handily, letting the women playing men exult in the pleasures of cross-dressing, while steering them from the kind of approval-hungry camping that makes drag wearying.”

José Esteban Muñoz in his book “Disidentifications, Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics” writes about the use of drag through the character of Pingalito Betancourt:

“Carmelita’s drag performance operates on an axis concerned with more than biological or gender difference. In this instance, the drag is calibrated also to represent and parody identities across class, national, and generational lines. Pingalito’s monologue represents a national character that is recognizable as a Cuban form of male jingoism.”

Memories of the Revolution

Carmelita Tropicana in male drag as Pingalito Betancourt from “Memories of the Revolution,” co-written and directed by Uzi Parnes. Play with music, film, slides. Photo credit: Dona Ann McAdams.

Cast: Carmelita Tropicana, Annie Iobst, Alison Rooney, Maureen Angelos, Kate Stafford, Peggy Healey, Quinn, Lisa Kron, Diane Jeep Ries, Uzi Parnes.

In “Memories of the Revolution” Carmelita re-enacts her memoirs as the daughter of the Cuban Revolution (pre-Castro) aided by the Tropicanettes and Pingalito Betancourt, a bus conductor, who acts as narrator giving us his own historical, geographical and cultural perspective of Cuba using a restaurant place mat.

Laurie Stone in the “Village Voice” writes about the drag performance in “Memories of the Revolution”:

“Uzi Parnes guides the performers handily, letting the women playing men exult in the pleasures of cross-dressing, while steering them from the kind of approval-hungry camping that makes drag wearying.”

José Esteban Muñoz in his book “Disidentifications, Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics” writes about the use of drag through the character of Pingalito Betancourt:

“Carmelita’s drag performance operates on an axis concerned with more than biological or gender difference. In this instance, the drag is calibrated also to represent and parody identities across class, national, and generational lines. Pingalito’s monologue represents a national character that is recognizable as a Cuban form of male jingoism.”

Candela

Carmelita Tropicana in costume designed by Uzi Parnes and Ela Troyano from “Candela.” Co-written with Ela Troyano & Uzi Parnes. Directed by Uzi Parnes. Play with Film, Music, Slides. Dance Theater Workshop 1988.

Photo credit: Miguel Rajmil.

Cast: Carmelita Tropicana, Maureen Angelos, Uzi Parnes, Ela Troyano, Merian Soto, Livia Daza Paris, Jaime Ortega, Pilar Alamo, Ishmael Houston Jones, Rebecca Moore, Annie Iobst, Diane Jeep Ries.

At WOW my persona was born, baptized in the fountain of America’s orange juice in the name of Cuba’s legendary nightclub the Tropicana:

“Hello people you know me. I know you. I don’t need no American Express Card. I am Carmelita Tropicana, Ms. Lower East Side beauty queen, famous nightclub entertainer, superintendent, and performance artiste. I am so happy to be here with you, because ever since I was a little girl I ax my mami in Cuba: when am I gonna be in the Feminist Cyber space of the Brooklyn Museum? And here I am.”

Lillian Manzor-Coats in her article “Too Spik or Too Dyke” for Ollantay’s Theatre magazine writes:

“However, the self-conscious exaggerated gestures, her constant pauses defamiliarize the racialized and gendered stereotype so as to create a distance between Carmelita and the tropical bombshell. This process is quite similar to what Elin diamond has elaborated in her work on ‘gestic feminist criticism.’ Although Diamond focuses only on gender issues, that is, she does not take into account a racialized body, her analysis of how gender is ‘alienated’ via the A-effect (Verfremdungseffekt) it is precisely what Carmelita Tropicana is doing.”

Single Wet Female

Marga Gomez and Carmelita Tropicana Video still from “Single Wet Female.” Written with Marga Gomez, directed by David Schweizer. Play with video. Premiered at Performance Space 122 in NYC in 2002.

Photo Credit: Todd Phillips.

Cast: Marga Gomez, Carmelita Tropicana, Murray Hill.

“Single Wet Female” combines film-noir satire with goofball socio-sexual performance. It is a spoof of the film cult classic “Single White Female.” Marga Gomez plays Margaret, a high femme Caucasian in a blonde wig, and Carmelita is Cammy, the uber butch who awakens her desire for plantains and merengue. The play includes video with drag king Murray Hill in the role of the boyfriend.

Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst is Your Waffen

“Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst is Your Waffen.” Co-written and directed by Ela Troyano. Camouflage costume designed by Uzi Parnes. Film 28:00. 16MM color. Produced by Ela Troyano in Association with Independent Television Services. Premiered on PBS in 1994. Photo Credit: Paula Court.

Cast: Carmelita Tropicana, Annie Iobst, Sophia Ramos, Livia Daza Paris, Maureen Angelos, Henry Gifford, Pamela Sneed.

My sister Ela Troyano and I wanted to write a film based on our family history. Ela Troyano directed “Kunst is Your Waffen” – Art is your weapon, a political satire that dissects cultural stereotypes and mixes genres, the telenovela, experimental film with the American musical.

José Esteban Muñoz in his book “Disidentifications, Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics” writes about the film:

“Ela Troyano’s strategic use of camp allows her film and its characters to reinhabit these stereotypes, both calling attention to the inaccuracy of these representations and ‘fixing’ such representation from the inside by filling in these representational husks with complicated, antiessentialist, emotionally compelling characters.”

With What Ass Does the Cockroach Sit?

“With What Ass Does the Cockroach Sit?” written by Carmelita Tropicana. A solo monologue directed by David Schweizer. Premiered at INTAR Theatre in 2004. Photo Credit: Ela Troyano.

“With What Ass Does the Cockroach Sit?” uses the saga of Elian Gonzalez, a Cuban shipwrecked boy, as a springboard to discuss Cuban politics from within and outside the island. A fantasy tale narrated by Martina, a Cuban cucaracha, and her best friend Catalina, a parrot owned by a singer of the Nueva Vista Social Club.

Margo Jefferson critic for “The New York Times” writes about the use of comedy in “With What Ass Does the Cokroach Sit?” :

“Americans tend to favor realistic comedy. But fantasy is a great weapon… Points of view we take for granted suddenly become absurd in this setting. Familiar words and phrases become unfamiliar, even a bit uncanny.”

Chicas 2000

“Chicas 2000”

Written by Carmelita Tropicana and directed by Uzi Parnes. Play. Premiered at Dixon Place, NYC in 1997. Photo credit: Dona Ann McAdams.

Cast: Carmelita Tropicana, Uzi Parnes, Rebecca Sumner Burgos, Ana Margaret Sanchez.

A sci-fi cloning satire tackling themes of assimilation and censorship. It introduces to an American audience the word “chusma” and a disease called “chusmeria.”

A newscaster’s monologue introduces the plays setting:

“On December 31, 1999, TV shows like these were taken off the air. They were symbolic of the social ills gripping the nation. It was in response to these shows that the FBI, DNA, RA BMU was created, the DNA Remodeling Agency and Behaviour Modification Unit. It’s mission: better the human race through designer genes. Genes responsible for antisocial behavior were coded and classified. Among the deviant genes heading the list: the chusma gene, that which gives rise to a disease known as ‘chusmeria’—shameless, loud, gross, tacky behavior, in short, tasteless with attitude.”

Milk of Amnesia / Leche de Amnesia

“Milk of Amnesia / Leche de Amnesia” Written by Carmelita Tropicana and directed by Ela Troyano. Solo Monologue with slides. Premiered at Performance Space 122 in 1994. Photo Credit: Dona Ann McAdams.

Proust ate a Madeleine cookie and his childhood memories came rushing back; Carmelita ate a pork sandwich and she fell into a CUMMA – a collective unconscious memory appropriation attack.

“Milk of Amnesia” blends the persona of Carmelita with the more personal voice of her creator, who describes the hardships of growing up a transplanted child: “I was born on an island. I came here when I was seven. I didn’t like it here at first. I had to change, acquire a taste for peanut butter and jelly. It was hard. I liked tuna fish and jelly.”

Chon Noriega in his editor’s introduction to the book “I, Carmelita Tropicana – Performing Between Cultures” writes about performance:

“…with ‘Milk of Amnesia’ Troyano has added her own autobiographical voice to her performance. Even so she turns from the personal to the political—in large part by subtly submerging Carmelita and Alina in the closing lines to call for an end to the blockade. More to the point Troyano makes her appeal on the basis of a unity rooted in colonialism which is to say, othering—rather than humanism.”

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