As Zorro began to became a reality, we were really excited to discover Zorro Dramaturg Taylor Hitaffer’s blog on the masked avenger. What a treasuretrove of information! We were again excited to talk to Taylor and hear all about her experience.
1. How did you get involved with Zorro and working with Eleanor? Have you worked with Eleanor before?
This is the first time that I’ve had the privilege of working with Eleanor, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity! She is an extremely talented and gracious woman, and I admire what she has accomplished as a director. When I heard that Constellation was putting on ZORRO, it seemed like a production that I had to be involved with. Even though I wasn’t a Zorro aficionado by any means, Zorro has always existed in the periphery of my upbringing. My grandmother used to watch the Disney TV series, as did my mother and aunt. We even had a mini-Australian shepherd named Zorro! So I took a leap of faith, and sent Eleanor an email. I introduced myself, explained how excited I was about the play, and humbly offered my services. After meeting with Eleanor at CUA, I was completely swept away by her enthusiasm and vision. I remember literally saying to myself “oh, please let me have the chance to work with this incredible person!”
2. Tell us a little bit about yourself – what other projects have you worked on…are you also a writer…
I’m the dramaturg! This usually means something different for each new situation. My job for ZORRO is to assist the production by bringing historical context to the script. This helps inform the choices being made by the actors as they try to make sense of the world of the play, while at the same time expounding upon the material’s significance. It was my intention to make the transition into Alta California’s history as accessible as possible, while also respecting the story that McCulley wrote in response to his own tumultuous time period. It’s been a very gratifying experience! Before this I served as dramaturg for The Inkwell, working with playwrights as they workshop their plays-in-progress. I participated in their Page-to-Stage showcase at the Kennedy Center back in September. And a few seasons back I was the dramaturg for the DC premiere of IN DARFUR at Theater J.
3. Were you a fan of the Zorro enterprise? Do you have a favorite Zorro of history?
I think that every generation has a Zorro, sort of like every generation has a James Bond. I enjoyed the 1998 Antonio Banderas/Anthony Hopkins film, and when I revisited the movie during my research, I liked how the writers also incorporated a bit of Joaquin Murieta into the Zorro legend. In the early 1850’s Murieta was a real life bandido who may have been inspiration for the creation of Zorro. Murieta is a legend in his own right; they say when he was captured, the authorities put his decapitated head in a pickle jar, and would display it in a museum of frontier relics in San Francisco. The head was allegedly lost during the 1906 earthquake. I’ve been meaning to watch Zorro, The Gay Blade because that was my grandmother’s favorite. And I’m dying to watch Zorro’s Black Whip, with a female Zorro!
4. You really did a huge amount of research and created a comprehensive document for the world of Zorro! What did you find that particularly surprised you?
I was so intrigued by California’s early history. A part of it is beautiful and romantic, but you also see this other side of Alta California that is really quite scary. It’s been an interesting take on colonialism in America. But I was particularly fascinated by the Californios, who grew into this population of native-born, Spanish-speaking descendants from the first Spanish colonies. After Mexico ceded California to America 1848, the displaced Californios faded from history entirely. You don’t often get to see that side of the American “melting pot.” It made me wonder what other fledgling cultures we have lost to Manifest Destiny.
5. How did you and Eleanor approach the work of creating this new story? Where was the project when you became involved?
The play was already in its third or fourth draft by the time I showed up. Eleanor conceived the idea of creating a stage version of The Curse of Capistrano, which was the original pulp series that Zorro made his first appearance in 1919. She took the dialog from the pulp and turned it into the first draft. Then she partnered up with Janet Allard and they created a wholly new adaptation together. I first became involved during a weekend workshop at CUA. The script was read aloud by some of the actors, and we all had a wonderfully constructive table discussion about how to structurally and thematically progress the script towards its next draft. We are very fortunate to have such an intelligent and compassionate group of artists who care so deeply about this production.
6. What’s next?
Swashbuckling, I think. Lots of it.