Quique Aviles presents his latest theater production, Tongue: Sin Pelos en La Lengua, Two Saturday's only at the Gala Hispanic Theater in DC.
A fixture in the DC community for over 30 years, I heard about Quique Aviles long before I had the opportunity to meet him. He’s one of those characters that makes such a difference in people’s lives and is so respected around the community that his reputation really does precede him.
So who is Quique Aviles? The short response is he’s a Salvadorean performance artist, writer, poet, teacher, and activist. After graduating from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1985, he co-founded the LatiNegro Theater Collective, which brought its socially conscious theatre to schools, jails, and community centers. Since then, he’s specialized in continuing to bring reality, truth, and first-person experience to the unlikeliest of settings. His poetry and commentary have been featured on NPR, local public radio, and in several anthologies, including How I Learned English and Al Pie de la Casa Blanca. He has written and performed 10 one-man shows dealing with issues of race and identity, including Latinhood, Chaos Standing, Caminata, The Children of Latinia, and most recently Los Treinta, which celebrates the 30+-year presence of Salvadoreans in DC.
Quique took a break from performing and has been noticeably absent from the stage for the past three years. In his latest performance, Tongue: Sin Pelos en La Lengua, directed by long time friend B Stanley, Quique merges his love for standup (which he shares was inspired by Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce among others) with his love for theatre to bring you what he succinctly described as, "Some sh*t that really needs to be said.”
In Tongue, Quique philosophizes on humankinds’ greatest invention – language. It’s part monologue, part rant, part poetry, and definitely full comedy, where he explores the contradictions and various ways that we manipulate language for our convenience. When asked what inspired this piece, Quique shares, “I wanted to try something different. I’ve never done standup so I wanted to delve into that. But I also wanted to engage the audience in how we all deal with language.” Quique mixes personal experiences with those of the people and community around him, so much so that he states, “A lot of Tongue was inspired by DC itself.”
The piece reflects on Quique’s 30+ years as a resident of the city, navigating Black English and White English, proper English and street English, the language of the gentrified and gentrifier, of the banker and the hustler. “From the very beginning we are taught that there is good language and bad language. And that gets decided by educated people. Good language comes with degrees, and bad language comes from ‘motherf*ckers’ like us,” shares Quique.
Production Coordinator, Sheila Mirza and Quique Aviles are like two peas in a pod working seamlessly together to bring you Tongue: Sin Pelos en la Lengua.
Sin Pelos en la Lengua is the culmination of a two-year process that brought together a multi-ethnic, multi-racial team. Quique’s main collaborator is Sheila Mirza, a Pakistani-American activist, poet, and performing artist originally from Queens, NY. “The whole concept of the show is to show how we all get pulled into the variances of language, how we have to learn the proper lingo depending on who you are talking to. If you don’t know how to talk the talk you’re not getting into that circle,” shares Sheila.
It’s clear that the duo work very well together, Quique provides the life stories and humor, while Sheila contributes to the piece by conducting interviews with participants and handling the logistics of getting the production together.
The piece gets very personal and autobiographical for Quique, “I talk about the various lingos I’ve had to learn in the various settings I’ve been in, from learning how to communicate in a non-profit doing social work, to learning how to communicate with drug dealers when I was using drugs, to learning what language to use when I was a recovering addict in rehab. It’s all drawn from personal experience. But I also throw it back to the audience and ask questions.”
Although the piece has its deep moments, Quique gets his point across using humor as well. “I want this performance to be a party. We’ll have a DJ set up to set the mood both before and after the show, we’ll have a cash bar, and we want everyone to come and just have some fun at the theatre.”
After the online article was printed in the March edition of Kesta Magazine, it was announced that local DJ Mezkla will be in charge of setting the night on fire with his eclectic mix of international underground booty-shakin’ music.
Quique Aviles pictured during a shoot to prepare for Tongue: Sin Pelos en La Lengua
The party will definitely continue from the lobby into the theatre based on Quique’s description of the piece. In Tongue, Quique has taken on a portrayal of various characters inspired by both fiction and real-life. “One example of humor and language in the piece is a portion that dramatizes Ghandi in the middle of his hunger strike. You have various characters that visit Ghandi to try and convince him to eat using their own language and lingo, you have a Cuban, a Spaniard, a Salvadorean, and a Mexican among others,” shares Quique with a laugh. As I listen to Quique flawlessly demonstrating each accent, I already know this part of the show will be hilarious.
Both Quique and Sheila Mirza conducted multiple interviews with linguists, and characters throughout the DC area, as well as, around the world, some of whom lent their voices for what will be an audio/visual portion of Tongue-Sin Pelos en La Lengua. Quique shared that this should be interesting since it’s the first time he’s relied on technology to emphasize the impact of his message.
While we were on the topic, I asked Quique how technology plays a part in language, “I do touch on the depletion of language through technology in the piece. We don’t read books anymore, we get everything online, and we’re continuously watching videos so our verbal skills are limited. Now everyone texts, so it’s all abbreviations. I talk about my work with the kids and how limited their language skills are. Language is a muscle, you need to practice it or you lose it. I talk about all of it.”
Quique has a great interest in today’s youth. “When I was younger I decided not to go to college, and I talk about how now I look back and see how much of a mistake that was. You know if I had just gotten a degree, I could demand things but since I didn’t I reflect on what an impact that has had in my life,” he shares.
In addition to his solo work, Quique is the founder and current director of Paso Nuevo, GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Youth Theater Program. Paso Nuevo gathers kids ages 12-18 from the DMV area and, "instructs them on how incorporate aspects of acting as a tool for enhancing self-esteem, developing language and communication skills, strengthening cultural identity, increasing academic and vocational skill sets, and promoting literacy in both English and Spanish."
This is a topic that we briefly touched upon when Quique stated that, "Language is a choice, and it's like a muscle that needs to be exercised. If you stop using it, you lose it," he shared when referring to speaking Spanish himself. After 30 years living in the DMV area, speaking both English and Spanish has been a choice and something he continues to work at.
In Paso Nuevo, Quique sees alot of himself. This is why he teaches the kids to put together an entire production from performance, acting, and writing to stage managing. The kids work 20 hours a week for 6 weeks until they are able to perform their creation at the GALA Hispanic Theatre itself.
One of the group’s instructors is Alina Collins Maldonado, who will be performing a special one-woman show titled “Bag Lady Blues” as an opening act for Quique’s show.
In Bag Lady Blues, Alina tells her own story addressing issues of identity, addiction, body image, and sexuality that young women face today. “I find a freedom in performing, it’s a way to write and tell my own story. When you’re on stage you get to unpack and shed what you put on in order to conform. It’s so freeing to let all that baggage out,” shares Alina.
Alina's one-woman show is much shorter than Quique's only 15 minutes and is an excerpt of a much larger piece she has been working on throughout the years. Alina is a professional DC actor, solo performer, and teaching artist. She has been seen in productions at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Source Festival, and Capital Fringe Festival.
Tongue: Sin Pelos en la Lengua by Quique Aviles and Bag Lady Blues by Alina Collins Maldonado will be presented on Saturday, March 29th and April 5th at 8 pm at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th street. For more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/505519019562464/