Saturday, November 18, 2017

Sandra Delgado: Improving Gender Equity In The Arts

Meet Sandra Delgado and the longest love letter ever written to the City of Chicago!1

Sandra’s letter is a two part gift to Chicago that includes a play and a documentary film both entitled,“La Havana Madrid”. The passionate voice behind Sandra’s letter is filled with a love for salsa dancing and song, as well as a desire to share the largely undocumented history of Caribbean Latino immigrants who moved to Chicago in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Set to open in April 2017, Sandra’s first full-length production is ambitious even for a seasoned professional. The work is three years in the making and supported by community grants and buoyed by Sandra’s talent and rising stardom. Sandra’s acting bio in Chicago’s top venues (the Goodman, Victory Gardens, and Steppenwolf) is well documented, where notable theater critics like Chris Jones called Sandra one of Chicago’s top ten theater performers in 2014.

The undeniably talented Sandra has followed a fast trajectory upwards and her creative reach beyond the theater world has included frequent appearances in popular television shows like Chicago Fire, Empire and Mind Games, as well as the online show, Convergence. (To see resume of performances, visit:

But this new role for Sandra as a writer and producer builds a rich history and discussion about the forces that have shaped Chicago. The play has biographical roots that celebrate this history and also Sandra’s family story. Her parents immigrated to the United States in 1965, settling in the Lakeview area of Chicago along the north side. So when Sandra’s father told her about the vibrant music club (La Havana Madrid) that their Latino community used to frequent, she knew she had to write the play.

Photo by Joel Maisonet

By turning “La Havana Madrid” into a documentary-style theater experience resembling her parents’ cabaret-style club, we are transported back in time and immersed in lively music, a dance floor and bar, and a stage set for a live band.

I can see it now: people tapping their feet and twisting their bodies to the rhythm of the salsa music as Sandra’s sings in her role as La Havana Madrid – a mystical woman who is the band singer who conjures up stories of club goers and staff.

Sandra’s commitment to sharing the experiences of immigrants provides a platform for the Latino experience and for the broader community to enjoy its rich history, music, and dance. It also celebrates the shared power of our collective interests and differences.

This is something Sandra knows well, having grown up surrounded by diverse influences in music and dance. As a child, she participated in Colombian folklore singing and dance clubs that shaped her appreciation of other cultures and inclusivity.

When asked about the immigrant experience, Sandra is quick to recognize the adversity and courage of her parents and other immigrants who were brave enough to leave their family and relocate to a new country. Sandra calls them heroes and an inspiration.

Because the stories of people from Colombia, Cuba, and Puerto Rico are an essential part of Sandra’s project, Sandra decided the collected filming and editing of her interviews for the play should be retooled into a documentary series also called “La Habana.” This ensures the stories are archived for future generations to learn and enjoy.

Not a bad thing when you consider the social prejudices that still exist in our world, and the wonderful dance moves that might improve my burgeoning waist. Having visited Little Havana, a neighborhood in Miami, Florida, I experienced my own 30 minutes of dance fame at the Ball and Chain Nightclub. My hubby and I were positively geriatric compared to the young, svelte, sweaty bodies dancing around us and over top of us even (people actually jumped up onto the bar). While this is as close as I’ll get to a “Dancing With the Stars” moment, I loved the cultural immersion and decided our world could use a little more salsa and a lot less talk.

Photo by Joel Maisonet

Sandra plans to continue pushing her creative talents in new ways, one of which is her shared non-profit theater company with husband and fellow thespian, Anthony Moseley. As co-founders of Collaboraction, they create original plays that push artistic boundaries and explore critical social issues in diverse Chicagoan communities. Peacebook, a festival of theatre, dance and spoken word about peace, was a grassroots community effort to bridge racial divides and find solutions to address the violence in Chicago. This creative approach created the kind of dialogue missing in our communities so its smash success was no surprise in 2016. Collaboraction’s upcoming production of Gender Breakdown considers gender parity in the theater industry and promises to be another much-needed conversation.

Sandra is personally connected to the issues in Gender Breakdown, particularly stereotyping and sexual discrimination. They are a reality in the theater world but she acknowledges the industry has improved. For Sandra, the only way to truly break the cycle is for women to be content creators. In her words, “We need to be producers, writers, and directors if we want to change the way we see the world.”

Thanks to her creative talent and determination to share the beauty of her culture and rich history, the world will have “La Havana Madrid”. It opens on April 14th at Steppenwolf Theater and runs until May 21st. I’ll be in the audience tapping my feet to the live music by Carpacho y Su Súper Combo, the band leader, and waiting with great anticipation for Sandra’s next project. Hope to see you there!

  1. Banner Photo by Joel Maisonet

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