UCF student Ibis Enid Rodríguez has prepared for her roles in last fall’s Seminole State production of The House of Bernarda Alba and in the upcoming Theatre UCF musical adaptation Bernarda Alba for more than 30 years.
The actress recalls when she saw La Casa de Bernarda Alba for the first time, “I fell in love with the play, and with the playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. Thirty-two years studying and reading Lorca and discovering the beauty and passion of his work was the wave that drew me to audition first for the play at Seminole State College, and a month later the musical version at UCF.”
Her passion for Spanish theatre and literature drives her studies at UCF. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in theatre studies and a minor in Spanish. In preparing for her roles in the productions, Rodríguez showed her passion for Hispanic literature and was enthused with the opportunity to research more about the play, the playwright, “the beautiful town of Valderrubio, the story behind it all – I have to confess that I am amazed!”
Starring in the title role in the bilingual productions at Seminole State last fall, Rodríguez learned her lines in both English and Spanish in only one month. It wasn’t learning the lines that was the difficult part, however. “Looking inside the house through Bernarda’s eyes was a challenge. We are so different! Bernarda is dry and emotionally distant. She has no compassion and shows no love unto her daughters because she is consumed and blinded with what they will say, and completely oblivious to the storm that was taking force in her household and the hearts of her daughters. Her daughters desired freedom, love and passion and maybe the tenderness of a caring mother.”
Bernarda Alba tells the tale of a powerful matriarch who imposes a strict rule on her household following her second husband’s funeral: “Not a breath of outside air is going to enter this house. It’s going to feel like we’ve bricked up the doors and windows,” she proclaims. Bernarda’s five daughters, however, struggle with her cold wishes. The girls’ dreams and desires challenge their mother’s harsh rules and the outside world begins to slowly permeate their isolated existence.
“But even through the experience of such cold stiffness I was able to meet Bernarda in the most intimate of her thoughts and the story of her insecurity and vulnerability, which was a unique experience,” Rodríguez says. “I’ve learned much about Bernarda. Yes, so different, but maybe there is a speck of dirt in my soul similar to Bernarda.”
In the Theatre UCF production of the musical Bernarda Alba, Rodríguez plays Maria Josefa, Bernarda Alba’s mother, who suffers from dementia. “Such an intriguing and marvelous character,” Rodríguez says. “I like to think about Maria Josefa not as an eighty-year-old lady with dementia, but the mind of someone that passed beyond what society was dictating in that time.” Bernarda Alba, in contrast, is obsessed with appearances and what others say about her and her family.
Rodríguez has worked in the performing arts for 36 years as a singer, actress, director, producer, designer and writer. She is also the founder of OMANOT Productions, dedicated to developing the gifts and talents of Hispanic artists. Rodríguez wrote and directed the short film Silence Within the Blood which won the Spirit Award in Ola Fest 2011 in partnership with Valencia Motion Pictures, and she has been the lead role in the short films A Traves de ti and Parece que va a Llover.
Francisco Fernández-Rubiera, an assistant professor in Spanish, and Lisa Nalbone, director of the Spanish master’s program have worked with Rodríguez since her arrival at UCF two years ago. Fernández-Rubiera compliments how involved she is with multiple programs at UCF: the Spanish minor, the Spanish Graduate Association (SaGA), Theatre UCF productions and department, in addition to community theatre involvement. Just in the past two semesters, Rodríguez has performed not only with Seminole State College and the downtown Orlando Mad Cow Theatre, but also approached Nalbone about performing at the annual Spanish Graduate Research Colloquium this past February.
“Ibis combines her academic pursuits with performative arts in ways that inspire those around her and promote a deeper interpretation of Spanish literature and culture,” Nalbone says. “To see Ibis perform is to gain appreciation for her talent to bring to life the worlds and words of famed Spanish playwrights. Ibis represents extraordinary spirit, and her vivacity is secondary only to her commitment to promoting the arts through study and performance.”
“I wish that we had more students like Ibis, especially so focused and concentrated on what she wants to do,” says Fernández-Rubiera, further explaining that most students who pursue the minors, majors and certificates in Spanish are interested in teaching, translating, or possibly in Spanish literature, making Rodríguez distinct in more than her personality: She is pursuing the Spanish master’s with a specialized focus.
“That’s Ph.D. material!” Fernández-Rubiera says. “She’s not a typical undergraduate student, she’s very concentrated in the class, she takes everything very seriously, and she’s very professional – I’m very happy to have Ibis.” Fernández-Rubiera remembers the packed house at the Seminole State performance he attended and lauds Rodríguez for promoting bilingual arts events. “There’s definitely an interest, especially now with the amount of people from Puerto Rico that are coming to Orlando … the community is getting bigger and bigger,” he says. “These [bilingual] offerings are great, not only for the programs, but for the institution, and the community.”
The arts interest and community following has not been lost on Rodríguez. “It is a dream come true – two institutions that noticed our Latino roots and gave us the opportunity to be recognized as playwrights and as actors and that we have a wonderful world of stories to tell.” Seminole State picked a bilingual cast and presented La Casa de Bernarda Alba for the first time in English, but also held two productions in Spanish. “I truly believe that this is an awakening to all the beauty that we have in our Latino and Hispanic literature.”
Rodríguez will graduate in May with her bachelor’s degree in theatre studies and a minor in Spanish. A native of Cayey, Puerto Rico, Rodríguez graduated from Valencia College with two associate degrees, one in theatre and one in film, and transferred to UCF. She plans to continue her interdisciplinary journey and pursue a master’s degree in Spanish peninsular and Hispanic theatre literature with the department she has become so involved with at UCF.
She hopes to have as packed a house in the Theatre UCF Main Stage as she did in the Seminole State production. “The support from the Hispanic community and even from those who don’t speak Spanish was wonderful – everyone can enjoy and delight in the story of Bernarda. The songs are amazing, beautiful, and impressive in structure. The costumes, the harmonies, the choreography and the overall story Lorca graces us with – you will marvel at it all!”
Bernarda Alba, based on the play The House of Bernarda Alba, will be presented March 22-31 in the Theatre UCF Main Stage. A post-show reception will be held following the opening-night performance Thursday, March 22 and a post-show talkback following the Saturday, March 24 performance will include M.C. Santana of UCF Women’s & Gender Studies, Lisa Nalbone and Martha García from UCF Department of Modern Languages & Literatures, and School of Performing Arts artistic director Julia Listengarten following the performance on Saturday, March 24. Tickets are available at theatre.ucf.edu or 407-823-1500.