Graciela, the future president of the United States, is just hitting puberty. While rifling through her mom’s closet, she comes across a stash of old Tiger Beat mags that heavily feature Erik Estrada. It’s lust at first sight. The ‘80s Latin Lover/Teen Idol becomes Graciela’s first “retrocrush”—and first, ahem, turn on.
So begins Las Ultimas Live!, the latest project by award-winning Houston media artist and filmmaker Stephanie Saint Sanchez. “As women, our guilty pleasures and fan girl crushes are something we don’t ever really think about,” Sanchez remarks. Estrada, she explains, symbolizes all of “the crazy stuff that turns you on. Now, imagine if everybody found out about them. That’s a big deal, right? And it can either be horrific—or extremely funny!”
Sanchez (mostly) chose the latter for Las Ultimas, in which two female super squads pop up in Graciela’s bedroom just as she begins to commit “El Pecado Pecoso” (the hot sin) with Estrada in mind. Graciela’s mortification takes a back seat when the squads, known as Las Ultimas (“The Ultimates”) and Las Chingonas (“The Bad-Asses”), start to battle over her soul—which will ultimately determine the future of the free world.
Who’ll win? No spoiler alert here. Sanchez has left the fate of her story up to the audience. While the beginning of the adventure is already on film, the rest will be performed live Friday, Dec. 11 at Fresh Arts Gallery—where viewers will decide Graciela’s fate. Cameras will be set up to tape what happens. Then, the mash-up of Thursday’s recording and the pre-filmed premise will be on display until January 15th.
“It’s sort of like an experiment because it’s going to develop organically. This way, the audience has to take responsibility for their choices,” Sanchez states. “Las Ultimas explores issues of class, femininity, sexuality, freedom of expression—and, above all, the perceived idea of good and evil. [The squads represent] all the voices that guide our sexuality and what we do. None of them are better than the other…people have a duality in them and can’t commit wholly to being good or bad.”
In Graciela’s case, these voices are made up of Latino icons and stereotypes. For example, in Las Ultimas, we see Frida Kahlo and the Virgin Mary, while in Las Chingonas, we see La Puta (“the whore”) and a pregnant Chola girl. “All six characters in the super squad are characters that have been swimming around in my mind, all my life. Kahlo, la Virgen, la Chola—as Latinas, we see so much of these icons and stereotypes that they seep into our conscience,” Sanchez explains.
Good versus evil? Cultural identification? Sexual exploration? All heavy subjects to take on. But, Sanchez emphasizes, “This is a comedy, don’t forget that. There’s a reason I use comedy [with these topics]. It’s funny, it’s ridiculous—it’s what I like to do. I like to run up to [the audience], tell them a joke, then slap them right away. But then, I like to cradle them and tell them that it’s going to be okay.”
Dec 11–Jan 15. 6. Free. Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter St. 713-868-1839. fresharts.org