Tess is fresh off of a break from the theater world and if this were a sports movie I would be rising from the stands and slow-clapping her back onto the court. It is a heroic return and in her words, “it feels really good to re-meet a part of you that’s always been a part of you.”
So let’s meet Tess.
Tess Lynn Rodriguez
She, Her, Hers
Sundress with Combat boots
Road Trip Snack of Choice:
Hot Cheetos and pickles
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I believe that it was Kismet that led The Anthropologists to Tess.
In my memory she flew in from the rafters of the very high ceiling in our venue at Providence Fringe. We were a three person team, we had an incredibly short tech time allotment, we had much to do and the universe sent us a gift named Tess. In her words:
“It was so beautiful and perfect. The Anthropologists were touring Artemisia's Intent at The Fringe festival in Providence, RI, where I was briefly living, and that was actually at the very beginning where I was like, I need to go back to my roots. I just emailed the program and was like I want to volunteer, I’ve done theater my whole life and I can do whatever you want me to do. And they put me in that room and I was able to meet you guys. And yeah, that show really blew me away and I felt like it was a, I don’t know, sign from the universe. And you were all women, and that show was so powerful, and visually beautiful and just one woman acting. It was incredible and a perfect show for me, as a person who went away from a lot of things that were my natural way of living, to see in that time.”
Tess leaves out the part where she learned the show, helped design the lighting, and ran it in tandem with our SM, Katie. Have you ever been to a Fringe Festival? This is not usually what you get. You don’t usually get a goddess in the lighting booth. It was destiny. I’m telling you. We were meant to find her.
You don’t usually get a goddess in the lighting booth.
You can imagine our delight when we received a response from Tess for our casting notice of No Pants in Tucson the following year. I asked her what drew her to this project specifically.
“I have a four year old and 2.5 year old, so I’m a new-ish mother and when I became a mother a lot of things changed for me and it made me think about what it means to be a woman in our world where personally I have a hard time because I’ve worked since I was 14 like all throughout college I worked and when I become a mother I was a bartender and an electrician in the city, for party planning. We used to do events at MoMa, so I couldn’t do any of that stuff because I was carrying a baby and I couldn’t bartend because I was carrying a baby and I was like, this never happens to a man, never. It almost doesn’t affect them. And even after I gave birth, the demand of feeding your child and caring for it, I ended up not going back to work. And then I almost immediately got pregnant again. So it was like I became a housewife and it gave me a bit of an identity crisis. And I ended up doing a lot of research and reading articles about how women feel and how we never really have control over our bodies even when we’re doing things that we want to do. It’s like, everything is regulated for us. And there’s nothing that’s equivalent for men. It's really interesting. It seems like something that doesn’t happen anymore or shouldn’t because it’s 2020. But reading these laws and quotes from women in the 1800s that are still relevant right now, it’s sickening.”
I also have two young children and what Tess was articulating is something that I grapple with constantly. We gain so much when we become mothers, of course, but in the wake of that gain we leave parts of ourselves behind that can feel almost impossible to reclaim. When we talk about women’s dress restrictions in the 1800s what we are really talking about is how the societal structures worked to keep women confined to designated spaces. And here we are in the midst of a pandemic and the women are caring for the children and bending over backwards to find slivers of time to do their other work. I am writing this after a long day only now that my children are asleep. This, perhaps, is when the woman’s work happens, once the rest of the world is sleeping.
But back to Tess.
Though an obvious question to find in a “spotlight on the artist” interview, I still wanted to know how Tess found her way into the theater world. A self proclaimed “theater nerd,” she would write and perform plays in her backyard with neighborhood friends or cousins. At parties with her “big, Mexican family,” the adults would cheer on the children encouraging them to provide the entertainment and Tess would happily oblige. She also alludes to some Spice Girls choreography that may or may not be on a VHS somewhere in San Antonio. (Tracking this down is now my mission..) This led her to finding the theater in middle school and again in high school with a wonderful theater teacher who gave her, “all the books and all the inspiration.”
She says, “The theater has been natural to me.”
And even more natural is how Tess fits in with The Anthropologists and our style of devised theater. She studied in London in a Performance Design and Studies course that was based in the devising process. She would receive her prompt on a Monday and by Friday she’d be performing the piece with her team.
“It’s so beautiful because we all think so big."
Tess told me that much like the Anthros, her team would work across disciples adding lights and sound and movement; “I hate being stuck in a box,” Tess mentions, “It’s so beautiful because we all think so big. It can take you so many different places because you’re not just stuck in one area.”
They say art mirrors life, but sometimes in the middle of the art-making you realize that your life had been mirroring the art. No Pants In Tucson, in its most superficial description, is about women’s dress code restrictions, specifically having to do with pant wearing. So I asked Tess if she ever found herself in trouble for something she was wearing.
“In a lot of our discussions and rehearsals it’s made me think back to my life. Machismo culture is a part of being Mexican and it was very much engrained that it would be stupid of me if I left my house to go to the corner store in shorts. I would never do that because I’m sure I tried and my mom would be like, “no, you can do that, you know what’s gonna happen to you.” I have so many memories of my friends in college being like, “I’m going to run to the store real quick” and me being like, you need to put on a hoodie and some jeans!”
Women bearing the burden of responsibility for men’s behavior is a tale as old as time. Stress on the word tale. Even now, so much of how women are expected to dress is in direct relation to how it will affect those around her. Rarely is it about her comfort emotionally or physically. Sometimes you want to run to the bodega on a hot summer night in a pair of shorts and not be hollered at as you walk down the street. Dare I say the problem lies not with the shorts? This is precisely what this show is investigating. How do we trace the line from a woman in the 1800s trying to wear a pair of pants to work on her farm, to a woman in 2020 trying to exist in a society that is still entangled with these archaic wardrobe biases?
At the end of each conversation I ask the same two questions to each collaborator. The first is, “What else do you want me to know, what have I missed?” And the second is, “Is there a question you want to ask me?”
Tess responded, “I’m a Taurus sun. Scorpio Moon. I’m a breast cancer survivor. Yeah, I guess, that’s it.”
And then she asked, “What’s like the music album that changed you or shook you?”
I promise to answer my question in a later post, but for now I will leave you with the last thing Tess said after the official interview was over, just before we hung up the phone.
“Now we’re all stuck inside and everyone’s turning to movies and music and art because that’s what gives you breath and a heartbeat. It’s what makes you go. It’s not money. You can think it’s that, but life is about art and sharing. Because that’s what art is. It’s sharing.”
"...life is about art and sharing. Because that’s what art is. It’s sharing.”
LISTEN TO THE MICRO-PODCAST ON PATREON!
Tess Rodriguez is a member of the devising ensemble for No Pants In Tucson, currently in development and slated for a World Premiere in 2021. Learn more about the project here.