Gregg Barrios, the San Antonio playwright, poet, journalist, and occasional Observer contributor, is taking his new play, I-DJ, to New York City, where it will kick off the FRIGID New York Festival later today. I-DJ is one of the first original San Antonio plays to run in a commercial New York City theater venue, and Barrios is duly excited. “It’s quite an honor to have my work at this year’s FRIGID New York. Of the thirty companies selected, most are from New York City, a few are from Canada, but we’re the only one west of the Mississippi,” Barrios says. “That speaks volumes in my playbill.”
The seedling of the idea that would become I-DJ was planted when Barrios worked as an arts journalist during the early 1980s in Los Angeles, where he covered the city’s recording industry, including Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M Records. In I-DJ, A&M artists constitute the soundtrack for the life of gay Mexican-American DJ Amado Guerrero Paz, aka Warren Peace, whose story traverses both the Vietnam War and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. “He tells his story through the music that emerged from Alpert’s A&M Record label,” Barrios says. “The Carpenters, Chris Montez, Joan Baez, The Police, Peter Allen, and briefly, the Sex Pistols. The music is a character that comments, disagrees, and soothes Warren as he tells his story.”
In the original version of the play at San Antonio’s Overtime Theater, Warren, played by Rick Sanchez, tells his tale against a backdrop of music, film clips and a wall plastered with graffiti by San Antonio artist Supher. As B.V. Olguin describes the play in the San Antonio Current, “Call it a cross-cultural, multimedia dog pile.”
Though some elements of the dog pile didn’t make it to New York (Supher’s graffiti wall, for one), the play should find a warm welcome at FRIGID; the festival’s mission is to offer participants total artistic freedom and to provide venues for work regardless of content, form or style. “FRIGID New York prides itself as an open and uncensored festival,” Barrios says. “We had the creative freedom that many other curated festivals shy away from. It also is a smaller [festival] with only 30 productions, so you don’t get lost in the crowd of shows. And best of all, FRIGID gives us 100 percent of our box office.”
First, I-DJ had to raise the funds to get there, and Barrios says he’s thankful for the support of I-DJ’s home stage, the Overtime Theater, and the wider San Antonio theater community. “The response from the local community has been overwhelming. Four theater groups—the Overtime, the Playhouse, the Woodlawn Theater and San Antonio College—have contributed with in-kind services, fundraising and cast and crew,” Barrios says.
“The best part about going to do this particular show,” Barrios says, “is that it tells a Mexican-American story. That’s a real rarity in New York theater, and even locally. It isn’t often that Mexican-American actors have the opportunity to do Latino parts. The play also speaks to the underserved LGBT community,” Barrios says. Plus, “The fact that our local team will get to see how a play is produced in NYC is a rare opportunity for them to get a taste of what working actors who come to NYC in search of a career in theater have to endure, and perhaps weigh their options when pursuing their own dream. That experience alone is priceless.”
The FRIGID Festival runs through March 9, and features five performances of I-DJ at the Under St. Marks Theater.