The Sun Serpent is the result of a two-year devising process that began in January 2009, followed by three weeklong devising sessions with the Associate Artists of Childsplay and a nationally renowned artistic team assembled from New York, Seattle, California, and Chicago. From a one-page synopsis and concept created by José Cruz Gonzalez, I led The Sun Serpent artistic team through a physical theatre devising process that resulted in eleven drafts of the script.
This historical poetic story of the conquest of Mexico seen through the eyes of a young boy, Anáhuac, who struggles to save his world from the conquistador, Hernán Cortés, was of great interest to me as a director. While this history left a trail of darkness and destruction, this story is ultimately about hope and the struggle to find the courage to persist against all odds.
Embedded within the macro history of the conquest is the intimate story of a boy and his brother who are forced to take sides—one brother joining the conquest against the Aztecs and the other fighting to preserve the memory of his ancestors and culture that was being brutally erased.
Having three actors play over 30 roles offered the challenge and opportunity to explore difficult historical subject matter through the use of masks, physicality, and multi-media. The unique challenge of staging such an epic tale is to create a magical theatrical universe where the children are transported into another world that is unfamiliar to them.
This journey of struggle and transition, while historically and culturally specific, is also a universal one that resonates across historical and geographical boundaries—our aim was to make it accessible to a young audience. This adventure story is not only entertaining but portrays the strength of the human spirit.
The project was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Original script by José Cruz González
Directed by Rachel Bowditch
Produced by Childsplay
Original Score by Daniel Valdez
Projection design by Adam Larsen
Set design by Carey Wong
Costume design by Connie Furr
Lighting design by Tim Monson
Original masks by Zarco Guerrero
Andréa Morales de Castellano
Mixed Blood Cast
Andréa Morales de Castellano
Northwest Children's Theatre Cast
“Under the deft direction of Rachel Bowditch, and with a company of three splendid actors, “Sun Serpent” unfolds as a highly theatrical historical pageant. It is replete with multimedia spectacle, evocative masks and winning performances by Adrian Hernandez, Andres Alcala and Andrea Morales. These three actors ably play dozens of roles in a story that is told in English, Spanish and the Aztec tongue of Nahuatl (Mixed Blood uses surtitles).”
--Rohan Preston (2014), “Mixed Blood’s ‘Sun Serpent’ is a theatrical pageant of Pathos,” March 3, 2014.
“I didn’t look at the program before The Sun Serpent began on Saturday, March 8 at Mixed Blood Theatre, but at the end I could have sworn there were at least six people in the cast. It turned out that only three actors received the audience’s fervent praise at curtain call: Andrés Alcalå, Adrian Hernandez and Andréa Morales.
Over the course of the show, the actors speak in three different languages representing the Spaniards, Aztec, and other native peoples. Subtitles aid those of us not so well versed in the languages and add a whole other dimension of the distance between cultures and creates an incredible sense of uniqueness about the production. The illusion of three people representing entire armies is helped by truly outstanding costuming. Masks, headdresses, cloaks, talismans, weapons and armor all help tell the story of two brothers who see Cortés’ ships land and are pulled in two different directions by the god-like strangers. […] The technical aspects stand out in my mind as amazing—physically it spans the whole width of the theater, varying in depth thanks to ceiling high panels that are either transparent or opaque, depending on which of the many, frequently changing settings are projected on them. The aforementioned costumes and the use of different kinds of music with the different languages spoken are impressive. It’s truly absorbing, and an excellent lesson in Latino culture and history.”
--Lisa Olson, (2014), “Sun Serpent Enchants and Educates at Mixed Blood Theatre,” Twin Cities Daily Planet, March 11, 2014.
“It captivates a young audience by telling its story through a multi-media approach. Sun Serpent isn’t just a play; it’s an art piece, a combination of different immersive approaches. Kids don’t learn in just one way—they learn visually, musically, and emotionally—and the director [Rachel Bowditch] of The Sun Serpent obviously knows that. Here, she’s layered a traditional fable with multimedia art forms. The story unfolds through beautiful costumes, masks, and hordes of ever-changing characters. Traditional music plays in the background, while projected images dance across the set. It’s hypnotic; at some points feeling like a dream.”
How do you tell a story of genocide to 8-year-olds? How do you not just communicate the facts of the horrific slaughter of an entire race, but truly impart the importance and meaning of it without frightening or alienating them, either with the historic weight or the gruesome details. [...] This production hits the appropriate notes and avoids all the pitfalls. It captivates a young audience by telling its story through a multi-media approach.
The Sun Serpent is, first and foremost, a story of loss. It’s the story of Anáhuac’s lost childhood—his loss of family and friends, his dream of becoming a Sky Dancer. He sees friends and strangers alike lost to disease and violence. He even loses his ancient religion and culture. The story, told by only three actors, starts small, but expands; by the end, it’s the loss of an ancient civilization. Everything is lost except memory.
That’s what’s so powerful about this play.
--Gillian Foley, “Review of Northwest Children’s Theatre’s Sun Serpent,” September 2015.
“When you walk into the mainstage area for Mixed Blood Theatre’s new production The Sun Serpent, you might be immediately struck by the simple, yet elaborate set design. It looks like a jungle. It sounds like a jungle, and if you hadn’t just walked in from the Minnesota tundra, it might even feel like a jungle. But that’s not why the set design is so magical. As the play begins, the scene, through projections on screens, is transformed into a sun-drenched village in Mexico. From there it changes to the seashore, and then to an underwater fishing expedition, and then to the royal court many miles inland. There are probably close to 50 scene changes in this short 75-minute play. They are rapid, and beautiful. Each one is filled with vibrant colors depicting a specific time and place in the play. And each change helps to complete the operatic styling of the show. Each color and projection helps take you a step closer to the world being examined in this play. Carey Wong, the scenic designer, and his entire team, deserve full credit for taking the space inside an old firehouse and transforming it into a pre-conquered Mexico. Without Wong’s creative set, and the vision of Rachel Bowditch, the director, this show would not have been so successful.”
--Tamar Neumann, “The Sun Serpent,” Aisle Say Twin Cities, March 3, 2014.