In a post-apocalyptic future, a young refugee studies to become the leader of a feminist revolution. Her name is La Madre Valiente. Her acolytes, Las Hijas de La Madre, roam the land to spread her gospel.
On Tuesday, July 30, Las Hijas will perform at notsuoH in hopes of rallying warriors to join their cause.
The show, called Canción Cannibal Cabaret, is the brainchild of poet and performance artist Amalia Ortiz. Ortiz, who will perform in front of a live band, describes the show as part Xicanx punk rock musical, part radio play. The “cannibal” part comes from the fact that La Madre is cannibalizing knowledge from before the fall of civilization.
The inspiration for the show began when Ortiz, who has an MFA in creative writing, applied for an academic translation program. As part of the application process, she was asked to write a series of “poems-after” where she would rewrite someone else's poem in her own style. "It made me think about translation in a very loose way,” she explains.
One of those poems became the song "La Frontera Te Llama," or “The Border is Calling Me,” set to the tune of The Clash’s “London Calling.” Ortiz wrote it after returning to her small Texas hometown after years spent living in San Antonio, Austin, and Los Angeles.
“That was the first song in the collection that I wrote," she says. "I listened to that song I don’t even know how many times, but then it meant something different, having moved back to the area I grew up—the Borderlands, specifically, a few miles away from the Rio Grande. That line meant something different to me: ‘I live by the river.' After that, I decided I wanted to do a collection that was all repurposed songs and poems.”
Another song, “Black Men,” is a take on Jim Carroll’s “People Who’ve Died,” which is itself a poem-after. In Ortiz’s version, she angrily lists the names of black men who’ve been extrajudicially killed by police. "I feel like my whole collection is playing with this idea of people being inspired by an original, and then the original gets forgotten or buried,” she says.
Ortiz was also inspired by non-traditional theater—plays like Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play. In the latter, a group of survivors of a global catastrophe entertains themselves by trying to recite every line from a specific Simpson’s episode. As the years progress, this oral retelling transforms the episode into a kind of religious mythology.
Another inspiration was a production of the play Mother Courage and her Children. In the version Ortiz saw, the play was set during the Mexican Revolution.
“When they translated Mother Courage and Her Children into Spanish, it was Madre Valiente y Sus Hijos. And I don’t know why, but the idea of La Madre Valiente stuck with me,” she says.
“I began the collection and wasn't sure how I was going to tie them together. Then I took a class where we had to write a superhero’s origin story. And for some reason, the story of this future revolutionary came out.”
Ortiz says the play is meant to serve as a call to action for immigrants, people of color, feminists, and those in the LGBTQ+ community.
“As performers, we're spreading her legends, her teachings," Ortiz says. "I think a lot of people assume that I am La Madre Valiente, but in the show, I leave it kind of vague. Are the people that you see on stage, is one of them the Madre? Or did the Madre even exist?”
Tuesday, July 30. Free. notsuoH, 314 Main St. 713 321-0824. More info at notsuoh.com.