Monday, March 10, 2014

Tucson Interviewed: Esther Blue Almazán

The first formal theatrical stage production in Tucson, Arizona has a story.  Probably.  I actually don’t know what it is.  It’s not that I don’t care--it’s more a matter of skill and competency.  Do you think you can do better?  Go ahead, then.  Try googling “First theatrical stage production in Tucson” and see what kind of results you get.

Oh, really?  No, I wasn't aware of that.  Clearly I did not even bother to perform that search query.  Look, friend, I’m not the theatre beat reporter, okay?  I’m just a man named after a fish trying to do whatever it is that I’m doing.
I caught up with the subject of this interview as she worked the box office for Borderlands Theater’s production of Maria’s Circular Dance and Trash at the Zuzi Theater.  She is a writer, actor, director, co-founder of the Something Something Writers Group, and not 14-years-old.  Tucson Interviewed, this is Esther Blue Almazán interviewed...
Catfish:  We should start and let everyone know for the sake of full disclosure that you and I do know each other

Esther Almazán:  Yes  
C: Outside of the interviewer-interviewee dynamic
EA:  Right, you are my nemesis.  [NOTE: I was not aware at the time of the interview that I was the nemesis of Esther]

C:  Oh, I’ve been promoted.

EA:  [laughs]

C:  That’s cool.  I was going to warn the listeners that I could probably manipulate you into saying anything I want [on account of our personal relationship], but as your nemesis that’s probably not the case.

EA:  Or it is if you’re a really good nemesis.

C:  Ooooh, maybe…

So, Esther...

EA:  Yes.

C:  Blue…?  Almazán...?  Preference?

EA:  Yes.

C:  Okay, Esther Blue Almazán Yes.

EA:  Well, that is my full name:  Esther Blue Almazán.

C:  Ohhh, okay, so ‘Yes’ is not part of your name?  I was thinking Esther Blue Almazán Yes.

EA:  No.

C:  Okay, I’ve got it.

EA:  It’s Esther Blue Almazán No.

[At this point, the interview quickly devolves into a discussion on the plural form of nemesis and just how many of those a hack writer should have]

C:  How long have you been in Tucson?

EA:  [thinks on this, probably an attempt to cover her tracks]  I don’t know.

C:  So, a while?

EA: Well, I go back and forth, so, like, all together?

C:  When was the last time you left Tucson?

EA:  It would have been 2008.

C:  Now I know you’re lying--

EA:  Why?

C:  --because you’ve been to New Orleans since then.  And New York.

EA:  Oh oh oh, you mean just for a trip?

C:  Right.

EA:  I thought you meant to live.

C:  Well, it could have been, but this is what I decided to go with.

EA:  Oh, okay.  Yeah, yeah. So I’ve been in Tucson--then I’ve only been in Tucson since March of last year [2013].

C:  Wow, so a relative newcomer to Southern Arizona, though you’ve spent time here in the past?

EA:  Right.

C:  When did you first come to Tucson?

EA:  I first came to Tucson when I was 11.

C:  11-years-old.

EA:  Yes.

C:  We should point out to the listeners, even though they’re not listeners, that you are only 14-years-old at the moment.

EA:  [laughs]

C:  So about three years ago is when you first came to Tucson.

EA:  No.

C:  No.

EA:  No.

C:  This is going to be a nightmare for me to edit.

EA:  Yeah, so, no… that’s going to be very confusing. I just--I come and go.

C:  You come and go.  Like a--

EA:  I didn’t live in New Orleans.

C:  --karma chameleon?

EA:  Yes.  I was only there for four days.

C:  Oh, okay, so a nomad is how you might describe yourself--

EA:  Yes.

C:  --if you were inaccurately describing yourself?

EA:  Right [Laughs] exactly, if I was who I am in my fantasies.

C:  So you do have fantasies of being nomadic?

EA:  Right.  Yes.  Definitely, like, you know, everyone wants to have that drop of gypsy blood.

C:  But the gypsies aren’t treated well from what I have read. [NOTE: I have not read anything specifically about gypsies]

[At this point in the interview, we veer off topic and discuss the plight of oppressed peoples of the world and reaffirm our commitment to only oppress the unoppressed.]

So you first came to Tucson when you were 11-years-old?

EA:  Yes.

C:  Why Tucson?

EA:  My dad was stationed here at Davis Monthan Air Force Base.  It was kind of like coming home because my family on my mom’s side is from Ajo.

C:  Natural follow-up to “Why Tucson”:  Where Tucson?

EA:  I’m embarrassed to say East Side.

C:  So you are not fond of the east side of Tucson?

EA:  I’m fond of it, it’s just embarrassing.

C:  But why is it embarrassing if you’re fond of it?

EA:  Well you know… East Side.

C:  Are you trying to out me as an East Sider?

EA:  Yeah.  Palo Verde  [NOTE:  Your intrepid reporter spent his high school career, save for six weeks, as a Palo Verde Titan.  He is neither proud nor ashamed of this fact.]

C:  Would you describe yourself as a reluctant East Sider--

EA:  Yes.

C:  --or an ashamed East Sider?

EA:  Oh, yeah, I guess ashamed, because I’m not really reluctant.  I embrace it in private.

C:  How has Tucson changed since you’ve been here?

EA:  There’s this whole new growth, like a tumor, happening in the northwest part of the region.  It’s like...

C:  Like Marana and Oro Valley?

EA:  Right, they’ve become like a whole bunch of those kind of, faux desert-looking houses that all look the same from one neighborhood to the next.

C:  Right, the master planned communities.

EA:  Yes.

C:  They kind of oozed over from California.

EA:  Yes, and they’re all painted in pinkish-sand hues.

C:  But without the use of any sand or mud.

EA:  Right.

C:  Just chicken-wire and stucco.

EA:  Right.  And sheetrock.

C:  I don’t even think there’s sheetrock on the outside.

EA:  Oh.

C:  But I don’t know.  I’m not a construction ...person.

EA:  Me neither.

C:  Well, that’s two of us.  It’s probably why we get along so well.  And why both of our homes are in a state of disarray.

EA:  Right, and we did have that storm back in 2006.

C:  Very good, it was 2006.

EA:  And your roof blew off and my house flooded.

C:  Close enough.  

EA:  What happened?

C:  Just a slight exaggeration.  Well, the whole roof didn’t come off--it just had a hole in it.

EA:  Right.

C:  But your house did flood.

EA:  Yes.

C:  And, uh, was carried off down the street.

EA:  That is a huge exaggeration.

C:  It’s not a huge exaggeration because your house at the time was very tiny and so it was easy for the water to carry it away.

EA:  But it didn’t.

C:  I remember that differently.

EA:  I’m sure you do.

C:  Tell me, Esther, what is your ideal burrito filling?

EA:  Ooh, that is a very good question.

C:  Finally!

EA:  I would say, it would be, beans with pico de gallo salsa and a little bit of cheese.

Filling, though, to me, is only half the burrito.  The tortilla has to be good.  Or I won’t even eat it.  I don’t care how good the filling is.

C:  Volume-wise, the tortilla is actually far less than half--

EA:  It doesn't matter--

C:  --of the burrito.

EA:  --if it’s a crappy tortilla, I won’t eat it.  

C:  What’s the worst tortilla you’ve ever had?

EA:  The worst?  Probably something out of the supermarket.

C:  Oh boy...

EA:  You know those kind that smell like feet and they look like they’re not cooked yet.

C:  Are the ones you’re talking about the kind you’re supposed to take home and finish cooking?

EA:  No, no, I love those, actually.  

C:  Because you can get those in grocery stores, too.

EA:  Yes, and at Costco, and I love them.

C:  So not those?

EA:  No, those are actually awesome and I don’t know why I love them.  I didn't want to, but I brought the Costco ones home and they are wonderful.

C:  It’s a forbidden love affair.

EA:  Yeah, but they taste good.

C:  Like with you and the East Side?

EA:  Right.  Yeah.  I love the East Side.  I’m fond of it.

C:  You just don’t want to be there.

EA:  Right.  

C:  So it’s like being married to somebody that you supposedly love, but never going home [to that person]?

EA:  Right!  

C:  Makes perfect sense.

EA:  Yes.

C:  If the East Side wanted to have children, what would you say?

EA:  I would say go ahead.  It kind of has.  Look at Civano and--

C:  Follow-up: the East Side sits you down--manages to bring you home for an afternoon, has a very nice meal planned for you, candles, all of that--the East Side says, “Esther, I want to have children with you.”  What do you say?

EA:  I say, “I’m done with kids.  I have the perfect child and no need to--”

C:  So no plans to adopt in the future?

EA:  No.

C:  Speaking of future plans, what is your favorite street to drive down?

EA:  Broadway at the holidays.  Or Speedway when it turns into Gates Pass.  It’s gorgeous, right?

C:  It’s gorgeous until you hit somebody, then the appeal kind of wears off.  

Not that I--

EA:  Yeah, I’ve never done that.

C:  Neither have I. [NOTE: not an admission of guilt]

What’s your least favorite street to drive down?

EA:  Oh, uh...

C:  Now this can be for strictly aesthetic reasons or personal reasons.  Maybe a certain street has, uh, negative connotations--maybe you hit somebody while driving down a long, winding road--or just the actual physical condition of the street itself.

EA:  No, I get it.  It’s just that there’s so many.

You know, I can’t even think of one.

C:  There are just so many.

EA:  Yeah.

C:  Ideally you would maneuver around Tucson in some kind of heli- or gyrocopter to distance yourself from the streets?

EA:  No, I love Tucson in general, but there are some kind of warehouse-y streets I don’t  like--

C:  Right.

EA:  --because they’re ugly.

C:  A different kind of ugly.

EA:  You know what I used to hate--Oh!  You know where [I hate to drive]?  There’s this part of Palo Verde, south of Benson Highway, right there.  Although I love Benson Highway, how it’s like a timewarp and you go through it.  There are all these ancient places with ancient signs for old motels that don’t exist anymore.  It’s haunted.

C:  The entire street?

EA:  Just that section of it.

C:  Oh, okay.

What is your favorite local musical act?

EA:  That would be Ted Ramírez.  

C:  I believe I read he’s the official troubadour of Tucson?

EA:  He is the official troubadour of Tucson.  There’s also a statue of him by the courthouse.  It commemorates when the Mormon battalion came into Tucson and the statue is of his ancestor who was the Spanish merchant who greeted them.  I think.  Anyway, he’s amazing.

C:  How long has he been the official troubadour of Tucson?

EA:  Oh my God, that’s a good question. [NOTE: According to Wikipedia, he was officially proclaimed the troubadour of the city  in December 2001]

C:  And how does one become the official troubadour?  Is there an election or...?

EA:  No, you’re just appointed by the mayor, I believe.  Mayor and city council, maybe?  [NOTE: Wikipedia does indeed state that it was the mayor and city council who appointed the title, but it does not state if the both parties are required in order to do so]

C:  Hmm.  What if there was a challenger to his throne?

EA:  That’s a good question.  It’s never come up.

C:  Interesting.

EA:  Yeah, he goes unchallenged and undefeated.

C:  So it’s a troubadouric dictatorship, essentially?

EA:  Exactly, mm-hmm.  Yeah.  

C:  Maybe Tucson’s not as liberal as we thought.

EA:  Yeah, no.

C:  Not when it comes to troubadours.

EA:  Especially when it comes to troubadourism.

C:  Excellent.

Now we've reached the portion of the interview where we discuss the University of Arizona.

EA:  Okay.

C:  So, the question is: Can you tell me something about the U of A?

EA:  [lengthy silence]

C:  That is correct.

EA:  [laughs]  I know a whole bunch of things, but I can’t think of anything right this second.

C:  It’s okay.  It’s not like you knew this was coming.

Reader question. This comes to us from Drew.  He asks, “Do the Inside Actors Studio end questions.”  

It’s possible that his question was cut off prematurely.

EA:  [laughs]  What about them?

C:  So do they?

EA:  Do they end questions?

C:  Do the Inside Actors Studio end questions?

EA:  There’s got to be more to that.  Those end questions that they ask.  What’s your favorite smell?  What’s your favorite sound?

C:  Yes or no?

EA:  Yes.  They end questions.

C:  Oh, wait.  It’s actually not a question, the way it’s phrased.  There’s no question mark.  I believe it’s an order to do the Inside the Actors Studio end questions.

EA:  Oh, to do them.

C:  Right, but I asked for reader questions not reader commands--

EA:  Oh, right.

C:  --so I read it as a question.

EA:  So that person should have asked all of those questions--

C:  Right, because I don’t… I don’t know those questions off the top of my head

EA:  Yeah, I don’t either.  I know there’s something about smells and sounds.

C:  There’s probably something about ...the U of A.

EA:  [laughs] I would lose the contest on Actors Studio.

C:  You wouldn't win a car.

EA:  I would not.  The students would boo me and I would be ashamed.

C:  Would you be able to return to East Tucson in shame?

EA:  Yes. Yeah, I mean, I would match.

C:  What do you think of people who live, I don’t know, say, east of Swan?

EA:  I love them--

C:  The worst people in the world?

EA:  Oh, God no!  My aunt lives there.  My uncle, who’s the official troubadour of Tucson, lives there.  Important people live there.  

C:  I’m sorry--

EA:  Catfish Baruni, the playwright, lives there.

C:  --this is a bombshell.  You are making an accusation that the official troubadour of Tucson lives on the east side?

EA:  Yes.  His children went to Palo Verde [Magnet High School]

C:  How is he still in office?  How does he recover from a scandal like this?

EA:  No, see, what’s happened with the east side is that it now has cachet.  When I lived there as a youngster, it didn’t.  Now it does, and it’s kind of the northwest of Tucson that is now what the southeast side of Tucson was then.

C:  Do you prefer saguaros with arms or without?

EA:  Oh, with!  The more the better.

C:  What if they’re the rotting-off kind of arms?

EA:  Yeah, awesome.  You can see their skeletons.  That is so cool.

C:  So you enjoy saguaro skeletons?

EA:  Yes, oh yes.  My favorite part.

C:  You would prefer if all saguaros were just skeletons perhaps?

EA:  Oh, no no no.  So sad.

C:  So you do feel?  You do have emotions?

EA:  Yes.

C:  Okay.  Just trying to suss out my nemesis.

EA:  Yes.  

C:  I may rearrange that so it appears as question number one.

When a monsoon thunderstorm strikes, what do you prefer to be doing?

EA:  Standing outside under a ramada.  I think.

C:  Okay.

EA:  Is that the right answer?

C:  I’ll give you half-credit for it.

EA:  Okay.

C:  Can you tell me one of Tucson’s nicknames?

EA:  “The Old Pueblo.”  “The Sunshine Factory.”

C:  “The Sunshine Factory”?

EA:  Yes.  

C:  Is that actually one of them or did you just make it up?

EA:  Yes.

C:  Oh, okay.  The next question is, can you give Tucson a new nickname?

EA:  [as Esther thinks, the sound of a train can be heard in the distance]

C:  It’s too bad “Sunshine Factory” is already taken because that would have been a good one.

EA:  [talks to someone off camera, asking for suggestions, but comes up short]  How about “Theatre Valley”?

C:  “Theatre Valley”?

EA:  Yes.

C:  Okay.

You don’t seem too enthusiastic about that.

EA:  No, I’m totally enthusiastic about it.

C:  Okay, so, it’s in the news so I have to ask about it.  Do you think that “1062” was a good number to give to the ‘Pray-to-discriminate’ state senate bill?  Isn't there a more sinister number that could have been used?  [NOTE:  This interview was conducted prior to the bill being vetoed by Arizona governor, Jan “Quick Draw” Brewer]

EA:  You mean like “10-666”?

C:  Or “999” sounds evil.

EA:  999 sounds evil?

C:  I’m pretty sure I heard Hitler say it.

EA:  Oh, oh. Got it, got it.  No, I think they have to go in order, so, you know.  I don’t think they can make the numbers aesthetically pleasing.

C:  Or unaesthetically pleasing to match the dastardliness of the bill.

So we’re here at the Historic Y--that’s what they call it, right?  Just the “Historic Y”?

EA:  Yes.

C:  It can’t have always been called the “Historic Y,” though, I assume.  “Construction started today on the Historic Y...”

EA:  [laughs] That’s funny.

C:  You’re working here as the…?

EA:  I’m the box office.

C:  ...chump?

EA:  Chump.

C:  You’re working as the box office chump for a production.

EA:  Yes, a Borderlands Theater production of Maria’s Circular Dance and Trash.

C:  Maria’s Circular Dance and Trash?

EA:  They’re two shows.

C:  Maria’s Circular Dance and then …Trash?

EA:  Yes, you see the first show and then go out for intermission, you get some water, you go to the bathroom, you go back in and watch Trash.  They’re both excellent.  

C:  For how much longer are those shows running?

EA:  Until Sunday [March 2nd]

C:  This Sunday?

EA:  Yes.

C:  So by the time this gets put up, it will--so there’s really no reason to even talk about this to plug it?

EA:  Yeah, right.  That sucks.  But we can plug Borderlands.  Borderlands is awesome.

C:  We can, we can plug Borderlands.  Do you have any idea what their next production will be?  

EA:  I do, it is going to be Burning Patience, which is about Pablo Neruda.  It’s directed by the fabulous Barclay Goldsmith and will run from April 3rd through the 13th at Zuzi’s Theater at the Historic Y.

C:  Now, as I mentioned, we’re at the Historic Y.  The Historic Y, for parking purposes, has a Lot A, a Lot B, and they even have an ancillary Lot D.  Why is there no Lot C?  

EA:  I didn't even know about A, B, and D, so you got me there.  

C:  Apparently someone hasn't been on the website today.

EA:  No, I, uh, just parked on the street.

C:  Now it’s the time of the interview where we do the Lightning Round.  I do not yet have the pompous, wordy introduction for the Lightning Round that will eventually happen.  Or the introduction may just be me talking about not having the pompous introduction ready for the Lightning Round.

EA:  Okay.

C:  But, the Lightning Round.

EA:  Got it.

C:  Are you ready for the Lightning Round?

EA:  Yes.

C:  Excellent, that’s correct.

Eegee’s french fries: ranch or two ranches?

EA:  No ranch, ketchup.  Gross!  [NOTE: It was at this moment that I realized why she and I are nemeses]

C:  Spring Fling or Pima County Fair?

EA:  Pima County Fair.

C:  Sixth Avenue or Sixth Street?

EA:  Avenue.

C:  Yard sales on a Sunday morning, or the Swap Meet on a Saturday night?

EA:  I guess ...yard sales.

C:  Which is more annoying: people who misspell “Tucson” or people from Phoenix?

EA:  People who misspell “Tucson” [NOTE: Esther wants to make it perfectly clear that she did not answer with “people from Phoenix,” as she has no problem with people from Phoenix, just Phoenix itself]

C:  Preferred gem show purchase: “authentic” arrowheads or anything turquoise?

EA:  Anything turquoise.

C:  Sabino Canyon or Mt. Lemmon?

EA:  Mt. Lemmon.

C:  Gary Shandling or Craig T. Nelson?

EA:  Linda Ronstadt.

C:  That was not one of the--

EA:  Craig T. Nelson.  I hate Gary Shandling.

C:  You understand that Craig T. Nelson is a conservative?

EA:  Okay, neither.

C:  You can’t...

EA:  Dammit.

C:  So, Craig T. Nelson.

EA:  Oh God…  Why can’t I just change it to--I don’t like either.

C:  You have to pick.  Those are the rules of the Lightning Round.

EA:  Craig T. Nelson is an actor I enjoy watching.

C:  But he didn't make The Larry Sanders Show, so...

EA:  Which was also stupid.

C:  I don’t know if I’ll even give you a chance to answer the last question.

EA:  Alright, sorry.

C:  Finish this sentence: “Tucson is…”

EA:  Where I want to live.

C:  Except the East Side.

EA:  No, I would live on the East Side.  I did live on the East Side.  I’ve lived all over the East Side.  

C:  But never again.

EA:  Yeah, I would.

C:  That makes you previous hatred of the East Side seem--

EA:  I’m thinking about the Northeast Side.  It’s too gorgeous, right?

C:  Right, they've got that Safeway at Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway.

EA:  Yeah, I was thinking about the Safeway [laughs]

C:  It’s really gorgeous

EA:  The first thing that came to my mind was the Safeway.  No, it’s beautiful, like up against the Catalinas.  It’s so pretty.

C:  Esther...

EA:  Yes?

C:  Thank you for joining me.  

EA:  You’re welcome.  Thank you for...

C:  I hope you’ll come back sometime to the couch inside the lobby of the Historic Y
Things I learned during this interview:
  • Rubbing my hands on my pants is a lot louder than I ever suspected it was and will be picked up by a voice recorder
  • Hearing myself laugh on tape is awful
    • It wasn't actually tape
    • It was acetate
  • And some other thing

Tune in next time for another conversation with one of Tucson’s many voices.  If you have a question for one of those voices, or would like to be one of those voices, please send it to tucson dot interviewed at gmail dot com.

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