Boricua Renaissance Woman: Interview with Actress and Singer Marilyn Camacho

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Marilyn Camacho seems to do it all: sing, rap, act, create and run a Latino theater company and film think tank in the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. In this exclusive interview with La Respuesta, Marilyn shares her life, passions, and future projects.

XLB: If someone asked you, “Describe who is Marilyn Camacho in just three words?”, What would they be?

MC: Bold, Enigma, Heart.

XLB: You grew up in a large Boricua family in Chicago’s South Side. Do you think there’s a different Puerto Rican experience “Down South” than on the North Side?

MC: I think so. I grew up in Pilsen, primarily around the Mexican culture, so yes my experience isn’t the same as if I had been growing up in Humboldt Park with my people. My first reality of the Puerto Rican culture and for years my only, was what I learned from my parents, aunts and uncles who mostly all lived in Pilsen as well.

XLB: When did you first know you wanted to be an actress and work in theater?

MC: I went to a performing arts high school, Curie on the South Side and I was a drama major. I remember the very first play I saw while I was there was a production about the opera singer, Maria Callas. I sat in the front row at Drury Lane with my classmates and the actress who played her simply took my breath away – she was amazing. At one point in the play she broke the fourth wall and talked directly to the audience. I remember she pointed at me and I was completely mortified. It was then, that moment, that’s when I knew I wanted to do this. That was power. To be able to take me from a place of complete and utter mesmeration to absolute terror was mind blowing.

XLB: What is Urban Theater Company (UTC)? How did you and your team develop the concept and when did it start?

MC: UTC was formed back in 2006. I originally started the company with another actress (of whom only lasted in the partnership for less than a year). However it was her that introduced me to my current partner Ivan Vega, who also knew and brought in Madrid St. Angelo. When I started the company it was because as a Puerto Rican actress, I felt there weren’t many Latino theatres that were telling the stories of Latinos from the Caribbean and with more of an edge. I wanted a place to play and create with other artists that felt like they also didn’t have a home. Nine years later, we have produced works from many Latino and Non-Latino playwrights, we have evolved into a multicultural company rooted in the Latino and Puerto Rican community producing urban inspired works. We are proud to call Humboldt Park/ Paseo Boricua our home.

XLB: What inspires your productions? Why resurrect plays written by Boricuas, Latina/os, and other people of color, such as Miguel Piñero and Suzan Lori-Parks? What kind of messages are you trying to send your audience and communities in Chicago?

MC: Well in the beginning Ivan was the one who brought Miguel Piñero’s SHORT EYES, to the table. We read it, loved it and fell in love with his writing on top of the fact that the characters and stories he wrote were exciting and he delved into the Latino/ Puerto Rican experience in New York that we felt we could also relate to here in Chicago. Also his work wasn’t being produced in Chicago at the time. We ended up obtaining the rights to all three of his major plays and dedicated our first season to him.

We choose playwrights that usually tell a unique story that fall in line with our mission. We also like to produce works that haven’t been produced in Chicago at all, forging great relationships with playwrights. The messages are always different. At the end of the day, if someone has walked out of our show because it was too intense (which has happened several times), cried, laughed, or even expressed gratitude towards us producing that story, then, we’ve done our job.

XLB: Why did UTC decide to move to Paseo Boricua? How has the community receive you all so far? What are some of UTC’s future goals?

MC: Well when we started, we were at the Ruíz Belvis Cultural Center when they used to be in Bucktown on Milwaukee, so the connection with the center and the Puerto Rican community was always there. When they sold, we moved into the Batey [Urbano] on Paseo [Boricua] and we were there for several years before we had to move again and now we are back. Its where we feel we belong.

Since being back we’ve completed two productions written both by Puerto Rican playwrights, FIRST CLASS by Candido Tirado and DEVIL LAND by Desi Moreno Penson. I think the community is still getting warmed up to the fact that there is a professional Latino theater company right in their community and its easily accessible. However, people are coming, even to our stage readings we have had full houses. Also, with the support of the PRCC [Puerto Rican Cultural Center] and José López [its executive director], our presence has become a lot stronger, and we believe it will continue to grow.

XLB: You are also a rapper, singer and songwriter under the moniker “Ruby Yo!”. Where did the name come from and why also pursue music?

MC: I had another name I went by, which will remain undisclosed cause it was super wack! [laughs] Under the mentorship of a very well known underground rapper friend of mine, he suggested I change my name because [the previous one] jjust didn’t fit my persona. So at a studio session with a producer girl friend of mine, I was racking my brain trying to figure out a name. She blurted out “rubia” – her not knowing Spanish, she thought it meant Red – since that is one of my favorite colors and I always wore red lipstick. I liked it because in Latino culture, a rubia is what I naturally am, fair-skinned, light blonde/ brown hair, hazel eyes and as a child I was always referred to as la rubia of my family by my aunts and uncles. So I decided it fit but had to change the spelling. MTV Yo! Raps was one of my favorite shows as kid, so in reference to my 80′s baby hip-hop background and rap style, Ruby Yo! was born. Aside from acting and doing theater, I ALWAYS did music, whether it was singing or songwriting, it was always there.

XLB: As you know, Hip-Hop also got Boricua origins, especially in breakdancing and graffiti. Will you bring back some of that old skool Rican flavor in your music? What will set you apart from the other, emerging Lady MCs?

MC: I know the roots and appreciate them and have included elements of old school hip-hop references in some of my songs and I will continue to pay homage. I think what sets me apart is my versatility. I don’t only make hip-hop music, I’ve also done dubstep, pop rock, spanish rock, r&b, and now I’m moving more into EDM/Trap/House. And I sing, I was a singer before I even started rapping so you never know what to expect from me and thats always the fun part.

XLB: What else should we know about you and your work?

MC: I’m starting to delve into the film realm and last November started The Chicago Latino Film Tank, a Latino film and media group of individuals that meet once a month to discuss film projects, network, read scripts, and help each other to create content made by us. I’m really trying to build a film community amongst the Latinos in Chicago that want to act in, write, direct, and produce for film and television. We have to support one another and most meetings take place at UTC’s space on Paseo [Boricua] every last Sunday of the month. I’m also working on new music, so I will start performing again very soon to promote the new album and I’m completing my webseries, Ruby’s World Yo!, this summer. It’s an exciting time.

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Xavi Burgos Peña

Xavi Burgos Peña is co-founder of La Respuesta magazine. He is a Boricua/ Dominicano of the Diaspora who has lived his life between New York City and Chicago. His professional experience is mostly in the area of community-building, including youth development, social marketing, and organizing against gentrification. His journalism credits include being editor and chief designer for Que Ondee Sola magazine, columnist for La Voz del Paseo Boricua newspaper, contributor to Gozamos magazine, and guest writer for Claridad newspaper in Puerto Rico. Contact: xavi@larespuestamedia.com 

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