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For the Love of Theater, an Interview with Director Modesto Flako Jimenez

Photo Credit Ariel Wei

Modesto “Flako” Jimenez, is one of those artists who bleeds and breathes art. He is passionate about the work he does and in creating and producing art that sparks difficult conversations within the community.

I met him about 3 years ago, and have worked with him in various events.  He is a firecracker, full of ideas with a deep sense of what community is all about and of being a catalyst for change.

Today, we chat about his love for theater and the upcoming production of Nick Finn’s “The Last Hipster in Brooklyn” in which I am sharing producer roles with his company Oye Group.

WA: Tell us about Modesto, where were you born, what do you do?

MFJ:  I was born in the Dominican Republic, I came to America when I was 9 and I make theater for a living, that’s all I do, I love this shit! I teach it, I write it, I direct it,  I produce it, I live it.

WA: You are a multifaceted artist, was theater something that was important to you on your journey as an artist? Did you get to see any shows growing up that was really formative for you?

MFJ: I got to see “Rent”, that show woke me up a lot, as to how we treat each other, and not letting each other be,  “Proof”, “Jane Eyre”, “Lion King” which was lit, watching them get off the stage and taking over the aisles showed me that I can bring the production anywhere, that it doesn’t have to be on stage only. That was a really good awakening experience of how I can play with theater.

I’ve been doing theater since I got off the plane, so it is always been something I knew I was going to do.

WA: What inspires you to do what you do?

MFJ: I don’t like having bosses and since I was a little kid I always liked to make people smile and I know that you can do that while being on stage. I like to put people on, knowing and making sure that people can put on their art and that inspires me because I get to see my friends happy while sharing their work. Simple.

WA: What prompt you to be involved with the direction and production of the Last Hipster in Brooklyn?

MFJ: Nick brought me the script and I was like ” God Damm! You want to talk about gentrification, love, all this shit at once? And you don’t have any answers?  yeah okay, I fux with you! You don’t try to act like you got all the answers. You just trying to address things we need to talk about and that is beautiful, so let’s go, let’s get it!

WA:  If you could describe in one word why this story is important, what would that be?

MFJ: Embracing.

WA: The play returns for one-night-only, November 24, 2018, what can the audience expect at this show?

MFJ: Well, we’ve been working on it for three years and I’ve seen Nicky grow throughout the show so much, not only his stage presence but also his artistry, from the first meeting of us just reading the script through him adapting the script. All the video elements we have added and him workshopping the piece by presenting it on various festivals from showcasing just 10 minutes of the play, then a whole poem to featuring it in New Jersey, I feel is time to bring it back to Bushwick.

We have incorporated a lot of experimental elements that I like to use while doing theater and that I know the audience will appreciate.

WA: What is the process for you to find new work?

MFJ: It used to be my cab, now is talking to people about their work and going to see new work that is still in developing stages. I am also going back to attending open mics and listening to new poetry. I’ve had a good year and a half that I stepped away from it because I’ve been trying to run Oye Group, can’t be doing everything!

WA: What qualities do you seek in an actor you work with?

MFJ: For the artist to be able to understand that it takes a collaborative effort and it is not one person.
Once they understand that, we can create magic. Is not much, just that, being a human being, being able to fail and move forward, embracing not knowing shit and then things work and the magic happens.

WA: Tell us about Oye Group, why was important for you to create this?

MFJ: I needed to create something for people to be able to put on their work no matter at what level of professionalism they’re at, even if they’ve never been on stage before. Some people I know, are brilliant but they don’t have a stage. I wanted to be able to facilitate places for people to write, perform, do it all, from the thinking moments to the moments on stage.

WA: What is the value of independent theater companies and smaller theater companies?

MFJ: I’m still trying to figure it out. this is a crazy grants game and everyone is trying to pay their rent from the artist to the institutions. The one positive I see with small theaters is they let you play and explore more than the big places…

WA: What is the best piece of advice you received about being an artist?

MFJ: Grind. Forget the accolades. Grind put in the work! Nothing else matters, your art will speak for itself.  If you’re putting that good work, everything comes. Just put in that good work and fuck what people say!

WA: Why do you think it’s important to be an artist today in the world we live in right now?

MFJ: Put in the work that actually speaks about the times, what’s happening around you. Do work that challenges you,  humanity. Shake shit up.

WA: What’s next for Modesto and Oye Group?

MFJ: We’re putting up “Taxilandia”, it’s happening, it’s coming, can’t share dates yet, it be that way sometimes. Of course, the Oye Group Festivals and November 24, 2018, The Last Hispter in Brooklyn, cop your tickets!  (Click here)

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photo credit: Katarina Hybenova

Modesto Flako Jimenez is a Dominican-born, Bushwick-raised theater maker, producer, and educator. HOLA Best Ensemble Award Winner for 2015. ATI Best Actor Award Winner for 2016. HOLA Outstanding Solo Performer for 2017, NY Times and Wall Street Journal profiled. Flako is best known for original productions and three signature festivals – Ghetto Hors D’Oeuvres, One Catches Light, and Oye! Avant Garde Night! – produced with his company Oye Group. Flako has appeared on TEDxBushwick, Early Shaker Spirituals (Wooster Group), Last Night At The Palladium (Bushwick Starr/3LD), Yoleros (Bushwick Starr/IATI theater), Conversations Pt.1: How To Make It Black In America (JACK). Take Me Home (3LD/ Incubator Arts Project), Richard Maxwell’s Samara (Soho Rep.), Kaneza Schaal’s Jack &. (BAM/On The Boards). Modesto received the 2016 Princess Grace Award Honorarium in Theater. In 2018 he became the first Dominican-American Lead Artist in The Public Theater Under The Radar Festival with his show Oye For My Dear Brooklyn.

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About wendyang

Wendy Angulo is a New York City born Latina, raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Wendy is a mother, writer, lawyer and the founder of Wendy Angulo Productions, an organization whose goal is to support, encourage, and promote poetry and visual arts in the borough of Queens. Wendy, re-discovered her love for writing in the summer of 2011 after attending a spoken word event in Queens. She then joined the New York City Latina Writers Group where she has been an active member and has taken on the role as the organization’s Program Director. Wendy is an essayist who is currently working on her Memoir. She has read her work at several venues throughout New York City, including Nuyorican’s Poets Cafe, East Harlem Cafe, Sankofa Sisterhood, Camaradas and has been published in the online journal Mom Egg Review; she is a 2016 VONA alum and the sole creator/curator and producer of Canvas of Words, an art and poetry showcase that birthed of Wendy’s desire to bring the arts back to her beloved borough of Queens. Wendy continues to scout for new talent and build new connections to perpetuate the arts and strengthen the literary community.

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