Teo Castellanos has been an innovative force in theater, film and television in South Florida since the 1990s. Consciously taking on relevant and sometimes challenging topics, Castellanos, once again, provokes and heartily entertains audiences with “F. Punk Junkies,” commissioned by Miami Light Project. Performed at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse Monday, Oct. 3 through Saturday, Oct. 8, the new work embraces compelling ancestral stories as enacted by a cast of Black and Latinx women of today. There is dance, there is spoken word and there is raging 80s punk rock music.
Wearing numerous hats, Castellanos considers himself an actor, a writer, a director, an innovator, and sometimes a producer. This has revealed itself in the plethora of state and national awards and honors he has received and most importantly, in the work he has created, the television and films he’s been a part of and the extensive tours he’s taken throughout the U.S., Europe, South America, China, and the Caribbean.
His work resonates with audiences.
Founder of the dance/theater company “Teo Castellanos D-Projects” in 2003 and artistic director of the devised theater company, “Combat Hippies,” Castellanos admits, "If you’re going to make things happen, if you’re going to forge your own path, you have to wear many hats."
With “F. Punk Junkies,” Castellanos is honoring the stories and the traditional forms of storytelling that have been a part of ancestral heritage for thousands and thousands of years.
Generally, he has worked with men, and mostly, men of color. In the case of “F. Punk Junkies,” Castellanos has chosen to work with an all-female cast.
“It’s my way of paying homage to our matriarchs,” he says.
The stories themselves are not female-centric, but they are definitely Afrocentric and are from the Afro diaspora. The stories are from Orisha narratives and Black and Puerto Rican folk tales. Orisha, meaning "supernatural entities" are often used in rituals to gain spiritual strength, enlightenment, or assistance in daily challenges.
Puerto Rican born and Miami raised, Castellanos says, "The Orishas from the Yoruba religion are part of my DNA. I carry it with me, it’s undeniable. The Orishas show up in all my work."
The stories may be thousands of years old, but they remain as relevant and as impactful today as they ever were.
“As we tell stories,” he says, “there are all sorts of socio-political questions and messages that surface. And the piece is driven by 1980s Black punk music. It’s important to recognize that rock music or any derivative of that, which was originally a derivative of the Blues, is also Black music. I love the music and the bands, but there is also a statement that is being made through the music.”
Through the telling of stories, Castellanos brings the questions and statements to the forefront in “F. Punk Junkies.”
The cast, most of whom are over 40, was hand-picked by Castellanos. He says this is the first time he is not working totally with younger actors and he’s thrilled by the outpouring of maturity that the women offer.
“These are powerful women that I highly respect and bow down to,” he says. “I believe these women have become even more entrenched in their narratives as adults, as educators, as professors. They affect hundreds if not thousands of students.”
Knowing most of the women for many years, he knew what each one would bring to the piece and almost more importantly, knew how the all-female ensemble would "vibe" together.
As with so many productions, discussions and rehearsals were started prior to the pandemic and continued through zoom. Castellanos didn’t feel the zoom rehearsals were productive, so he started working individually with cast members in a safe, healthy environment. That is where the real progress was made.
Artistic Director of Olujimi Dance Theatre and Associate Professor/Coordinator of Dance at Miami Dade College, Michelle Grant-Murray is co-choreographer and a performer in “F. Punk Junkies.” She says that this is "a most exciting production!"
Grant-Murray has never worked on a piece for three years. Being given the time to thoroughly grow with the character and develop the work, she says, has been a beautiful process.
“Having that one-on-one time to really deconstruct the character was great. To give the character landscape, to uncover who the character is, dive into the story and uncover how we are all connected, “ she muses. “When you’re with a group you don’t often have the time to really dig and answer all the questions -- and take off the layers.”
Also, as a dancer/choreographer, while Grant-Murray had memorized brief lines before, becoming an actor and embracing spoken word for an entire theater show was a new experience.
“I found myself having to go back to 4th grade, to the foundation of my learning and how I memorized - to get this new skill in my body,” she laughed. “Putting on the character, putting on the character in the dance work, the intersection of where we are, talking about Orisha spaces, the future. So much shifted inside of the learning, it really shifted.”
An interesting aspect of creating the production is that even though the stories are basically from and of the female characters, Castellanos molded them to become ‘theater’ for this work. As a result, the actors had to dig even deeper inside themselves to create rich personas.
Grant-Murray says, “Teo pushed us to places we didn’t even know existed.”
Always working in the moment and adapting to ever changing situations, Castellanos originally wanted to use older, more mature bodies of non-Eurocentric traditional dancers. When one cast member had to drop out, he was replaced with a younger woman. Using two younger women working with the older members created a dynamically interesting and cohesive group, and also allowed the younger actors opportunities to learn from the experienced.
The mix of actors, similar to Grant-Murray, is more familiar with dance, and some have no stage experience whatsoever. Having successfully worked with and trained non-actors in the creation of new work in the past, Castellanos took the time to train the performers in acting skills. He is amazed with the manifestation that the each member provides. Along with Grant-Murray is cast member, Keshia Abraham, who also serves as dramaturge, Miami native, Inez Barlatier, performing artist and researcher, Niurca Marquez, dancer Maria "Mercy” Lopez, and co-choreographer, Augusto Soledade.
Castellanos concludes with, “I always write in hopes to plant seeds through living a new experience and perhaps to open minds. This piece would not be the same were it not for the knowledge and wisdom that these women bring into the room. It would never be the same.”
Miami Light Project Presents Teo Castellanos D-Projects: “F. Punk Junkies”
at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th Street, Miami. Preview performances are 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3, 2022 through Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, $25. Performances: Thursday, Oct. 6 through Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022 at 8 p.m. $40,
students & seniors $30. Info and tickets at miamilightproject.com.