Blue Collar Artist
November 21, 2019 • 3 minute read
by Anthony Torres
Director Anne Bogart once said, “You cannot hide; your growth as an artist is not separate from your growth as a human being: it is all visible.” This would best describe the life and work of actor, writer, and director Teo Castellanos. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Carol City neighborhood of Miami, Castellanos represents both places with great pride. And, unlike most artists, if you’re not familiar with his name, he’s cool with that. As a self-identified “blue-collar artist,” his accomplishments speak for themselves. His award-winning solo show NE 2nd Avenue toured extensively for a decade and won the 2003 Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. It centered on what he knows best – the struggles and resilience of diverse people in his community. With NE 2nd Avenue he explored underlying issues of racism and social injustice, acknowledging the differences among us and ultimately discovering the common threads that bind us together.
He founded the Dance/Theater Company Teo Castellanos D-Projects in 2003 and has toured solo and company works throughout the U.S., Europe, South America, China and the Caribbean. Scratch & Burn was an investigation of human nature and our incessant need to battle for supremacy and dominance. It was also a response to the invasion of Iraq. Fat Boy was a non-linear story based on American consumerism and waste juxtaposed with world hunger and poverty. His most recent solo show, Third Trinity, was directed by Oscar winner and MacArthur Grant recipient Tarell Alvin McCraney, whom Castellanos has had a working relationship and friendship with for over 20 years. Third Trinity depicted his family and the tragedies he and his brothers faced together. For Castellanos, performance has always been about more than entertainment. It is a social responsibility. And personal growth is just as important as creative growth within this process. Whether it is mentoring youth through his previous work with Brave New Voices and Miami’s Piano Slam, or volunteer work at the Dade County Jail, his life has been a dedication to serving others.
His devised theatre making process and ensemble work gives ownership to his collaborators where, “all offered ideas are valued and therefore the artist feels ownership over the piece.” He continues this approach with his latest project, as Artistic Director and Dramaturg with Combat Hippies, a devised theater company of Puerto Rican veterans. AMAL is a spoken word/theater piece that delves into the impact of war on both combatants and noncombatants of color, and shares the experiences of veteran’s adjustment to life after war, as well as that of civilians from war-torn countries. The piece also explores the search for meaning, purpose, and identity through enlisting in the military and Puerto Rico’s cultural and military heritage. This includes the U.S. military’s bombings of two Puerto Rican towns in 1950, which marked the first time in history that the United States government bombed its own citizens.
The performance is in a theater-in-the-round setting, with the two lead performers encircling a percussionist in the symbolic representation of a hurricane. Original music production (beats per minute) is set to the five categories of hurricanes (miles per hour). This symbolizes both the chaos of war and its aftermath, as well as a tribute to the people of Puerto Rico, who were devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. It premiered in 2019 and has toured to numerous cities across the U.S. This includes placing a spotlight on the strife and struggles of Puerto Ricans. This project has provided a new opportunity for personal and professional growth. And as Castellanos believes, “we are continuously growing, in every other way. If we are not growing, then we are stagnant. I can’t see any other way to create, than trying something new.”