Blog Interviews

Spotlight On: Solovela

“I want to have a balance of bringing in the tropes, but also modernizing them. I don’t want to just bring in the stereotypes without considering how far we’ve come when it comes to gender roles, what modern relationships look like, etc.”

Diane Jorge is an improviser currently based in Plantation, Fla. She will make her Countdown Improv Festival debut this year at the HCC Mainstage Theatre on Saturday, October 23 with her solo show Solovela. In this spotlight interview, Jorge discusses the genesis of her show, how it plays with some of the most common telenovela tropes, and whether there’s a rivalry between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

We’re really, really excited to have you in the festival this year! Can you describe your show for us? What can audiences expect?

Diane Jorge: Thanks for accepting Solovela into the festival! I’m really, really excited too! Solovela is an improvised solo telenovela. I get quick input from the audience, and I portray all the characters in a narrative that will give the audience passion, desire, love, revenge, betrayal, twists and turns. Tone Tata will be playing along, amping up the scenes with amazing music. There’s also lots of self-inflicted slapping, and I don’t go easy on myself. If anyone can bring me a bag of ice or frozen peas after the show, that would be great! Oh, and props, I won’t say more than that, but it’s really over the top and fun. Also, great cardio, I’ve lost 5 pounds since doing this show regularly. Thanks Solovela!

For those of us unfamiliar with the genre, can you explain what a typical telenovela looks like? What are some of the standard tropes of the format. and what are some ways that you’ve found in your show to play with and riff on those tropes?

DJ: Oh, where do I even begin? Telenovelas are very popular in Latin America. There’s so many different types of telenovelas: traditional poor naive girl meets rich man, teen-driven telenovelas, ones that take place on a ranch, supernatural ones, mystery ones, narco novelas, etc. but no space telenovelas?! I guess slap fights would be hard to do in zero G.

If you’ve never seen a telenovela, first of all, definitely check out the video series Telenovelas are Hell from Funny or Die. The episodes are on YouTube. This is a series of videos that dissects the most iconic of telenovelas. It’s a very funny, Cliff Notes version of a telenovela. But this is how I see it: Imagine a daytime soap and multiply the melodrama by at least 1,000. The basic elements of a telenovela are melodrama and romance. Within that, there’s so many other elements that telenovelas are known for: long lost family, love triangles, star-crossed lovers, rags to riches stories, evil-ass villains, paranormal elements (psychics, ghosts), someone in the hospital with amnesia, incredible slap fights, praying to the Virgin Mary, leaving babies at orphanages with nuns and SO MUCH MORE. Let me put it to you this way: I have a two-page list of tropes that my friend Diana put together. If I list them all, this would make for a VERY long read.

In terms of the elements I play and riff on, I really love the over-the-top acting and the melodrama. I love playing big characters. I love to turn everyday situations into the worst thing that could ever happen.  So, yes, I will be crying over spilled milk. I also like to defy stereotypes as well. For instance, there is a lot of machismo in telenovelas I saw growing up, and that is something I definitely flip on its head.

What do you like most about genre-based improv? What do you find challenging about it?

DJ: What I love about genre-based improv is the ability to really play with the elements of the genre and make them my own. I have so much fun playing with the telenovela genre. I don’t find this genre restrictive at all. Almost anything goes in telenovelas and I revel in that! I am a proud Latina and daughter of Cuban immigrants. I love that I get to share this piece of Latin culture with all sorts of audiences.

I picked the telenovela genre specifically because these shows are such a part of my life. I have fond memories of sitting down in the living room after dinner to watch novelas with my grandmother and my mom. Every time I do Solovela, it takes me back to that living room with mami y abuela. In retrospect, I probably should have not been watching these as a child, but hey, I learned a lot of important life lessons. Like, always be on the lookout for a long lost twin, and how awesome hair looks blowing in the wind. Also, I am really familiar with the format since I work for a Spanish-language TV network during the day. So novelas are [kind of] my job also.

I have three specific challenges with this specific genre. The first one is choosing what elements I will play with. Like I mentioned, there are so many!  Another challenge with the telenovela genre is that I want to have a balance of bringing in the tropes, but also modernizing them. I don’t want to just bring in the stereotypes without considering how far we’ve come when it comes to gender roles, what modern relationships look like, etc. We’re not perfect, but I think we’ve come a long way from when I was a kid. Finally, I have to pace myself. I am changing characters, I’m running around, I’m over the top. I always want to leave it all on the stage, but I gotta make sure I’m doing that at the end, not in the beginning of the piece.

How did you first take the plunge into solo performance? And have you found that your solo improv work has influenced your ensemble work, or vice versa?

DJ: Short answer: It took a long time for me to take the plunge, and it took a village for me to do it.

Long answer: When I first took improv classes at Just the Funny (JTF) in Miami almost 13 years ago, LD Madera was actually my first improv teacher. I got to see the very beginning of what later became Together/By Myself (performing Saturday night of the festival on the main stage at 6:25 pm, by the way). I was wowed by his solo performances, and it always stayed in the back of my mind. I also saw tons of excellent solo shows during the Del Close Marathon many years ago. In fact, I saw TJ Mannix do his solo piece, and I was in awe of his show and his talent. So, when there was an opportunity to take a workshop with TJ Mannix at the Palm Beach Improv Festival (PBIF), I absolutely jumped on it. He helped me develop what we know as Solovela today. So one day, I signed up for a show at JTF called The Rumble, which gives two teams 20 minutes each to win the audience over. The winner goes on to defend the title the following week. It was so special because I got to perform vs. Together/By Myself in the first Solo Showdown of The Rumble. So, thanks to JTF, LD, TJ Mannix, Anthony Francis, Marisa Cutaia, and anyone that worked on PBIF in 2019!  

Solo improv work has definitely made me appreciate the ensemble work so much more. Since I’ve been doing solo work, I always have to remind myself that there’s going to be someone who will be building the scene with me. To paraphrase something I’ve heard from Tara DeFrancisco and Rance Rizzutto, I have to remember to bring a brick and not a cathedral. When it comes to improv, I’m definitely a pirate (based on Billy Merritt’s classification of improvisers as Pirates, Robots, or Ninjas). Argh matey, me don’t ‘ave t’ be a pirate all the time. Then again, solo work has challenged me when it comes to staying in character, which has helped me so much when I do ensemble shows now.

In turn, the ensemble work reminds me of the importance of relationships between characters and how they feel about each other. When I do solo work, I want to make sure that the characters are grounded in emotion, even when I’m going over the top.

You’re from the Fort Lauderdale area. Not being South Floridians ourselves, we’ve always wondered: Is there a rivalry between Fort Lauderdale and Miami? If not, how do we start one?

DJ: I don’t know if there’s a rivalry per se. I am so conflicted because I was actually born and raised in Miami, but now live close to Ft. Lauderdale. In fact, I still go to Miami all the time to visit family and friends. I also perform down there a lot. Miami is sexy, sultry, and mentioned in rap and reggaeton songs. I’m sorry, but I haven’t heard Fort Lauderdale in a rap song.   

A lot of people in Miami act like Ft. Lauderdale, and Broward county in general, is this far away land. Don’t start beef with Miami people, I just want them to come visit me in Broward once in a while. We have beaches and humidity too! 

Finally, as you mentioned above, you work with our friend Tone Tata, whose father was inducted into the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame in 2019 for some reason. (He won a raffle.) Do you have any guesses as to who will be inducted into the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame this year?

DJ: I love Tone Tata!! I know I call this a solo show, but he’s really another player in Solovela. He is a masterful musical director!  So I’m sure that his dad is totally Hall of Fame material. While I’m at it, attention everyone, I am in the running for the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame 2021. I don’t know how this works, like who I’m supposed to bribe, but vote for me!