ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and runs through May 29. This year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
The shows this year will include “La Reina Yolanda,” a one-woman show written and performed by Leesa Castaneda, a veteran actress in the Orlando theater scene. She’s one of the founders of the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, or GOAT.
“La Reina Yolanda” will chronicle one woman’s life, from her childhood to her eventual battle with Alzheimer’s. As Leesa noted, “Sometimes the greatest journeys are the ones in our own mind.”
The play will focus on Yolanda, a fierce Latina whose life becomes beset by tragedy and hardship. To cope, she leans on her sharp mind — which becomes considerably more difficult as her mind becomes ravaged by Alzheimer’s.
Yolanda faces some agonizing choices: the fight for her mind, sense of self and the family she’s fought hard to protect.
Freeline Media reached out to Leesa to talk about the play, which was directed by her husband, veteran director and actor Paul Castaneda.
Freeline Media: Tell us about the origins of “La Reina Yolanda,” and how this show was created.
Leesa: The show is the story of my mother’s life from childhood to old age, dealing with all the ups and downs including living with Alzheimer’s since she was in her 60’s. I started recollecting all of her many tales after my father passed away in 2014. She came to stay with me for a week. I spent that time with her, virtually a baby, taking care of her as she had done for me as a child. I started writing the stories down to cope with the emotional toll her disease had on all of us. It was a difficult but much needed process and out of that my solo show ‘La Reina Yolanda’ was born.
FM: Alzheimer’s is a subject that scares some people. It’s the kind of thing they prefer not to think about. How does that factor into creating a show where this issue is one of the central themes?
Leesa: I think the fact that it deals with a difficult subject like Alzheimer’s makes it even more important a story to tell. The fact that we don’t want to deal with it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Every life has value and a story to tell. We should listen more and take note of those stories. Passing them down in any way, but especially through a creative medium like a play, is a way to make sure they are remembered and imprinted on those that are left behind. A way to remember a life that truly had an impact on so many.
FM: What are the challenges of creating a one-person show — and the benefits as well?
Leesa: One-woman meaning, I am on my own. Ha! “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers” — meaning that I have relied heavily on a great ensemble to tell the story in most shows I have done, whether a musical or straight play. However, I do know my strength lies in drama and in monologues, so this presents a challenge to be alone, but also helps me spread my wings in an area that I feel I excel in.
FM: Fringe is known for a lot of zany productions. How does this one fit in with the usual Fringe fare?
Leesa: People want a variety at Fringe. Yes, zany productions are important and a chance for laughs and having fun. But dramatic productions have their place, too. People want to be entertained, but also to learn, to think, to be moved. I think we all crave a balance even in our entertainment.
FM: Lastly, what’s new at GOAT these days?
Leesa: Well, we have some things coming in 2017/2018 but they are still in the works. I guess you will have to wait and be surprised!
The Leesa Castaneda production of “La Reina Yolanda” will have performances in the White Venue during Fringe. Show times will be:
* Wednesday, May 17 at 9:30 p.m.
* Saturday, May 20 at 5:30 p.m.
* Monday, May 22 at 5:30 p.m.
* Wednesday, May 24 at 5:30 p.m.
* Friday, May 26 at 7 p.m.
* Saturday, May 27 at 4 p.m.
* Sunday, May 28 at 6 p.m.
Log on to the Orlando Fringe website at Orlando Fringe for tickets.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Koby’s New Home”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.