Madrid St. Angelo started a theatre. Now he’s busking to fill the seats.
Photograph: Saverio Truglia
Madrid St. Angelo goes underground in the Washington Street CTA station.
Don’t expect a song and dance when Urban Theater Company takes to the el platforms in July. The actors will simply appear at a station, announce themselves, and launch into their lines from The Sun Always Shines for the Cool, a gritty play by the hardscrabble Puerto Rican writer Miguel Piñero, who died from cirrhosis in 1988 at age 41. “Piñero was in the streets, acting out scenes with his buddies or reading his poetry,” says Madrid St. Angelo, the show’s director and a cofounder of UTC, which aims to showcase Latino work. “This is the perfect opportunity for a new theatre company to get in people’s faces.”
St. Angelo, who is 40, helped found Urban Theater Company two years ago with local stage vets Ivan Vega and Marilyn Camacho. “We wanted to create more opportunities for Latino actors,” says St. Angelo. “We also wanted to season the work in a different manner, make it a little more aggressive, more involved in social service with real outreach to minority communities”-thus the el project, which UTC hopes will recruit atypical theatre audiences, and the occasional performance in Spanish.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn (his father was Italian, his mother Spanish), St. Angelo came of age in Manhattan in the 1980s. He traces his penchant for performance and activism to time volunteering with ACT UP, a social protest movement dedicated to addressing the AIDS crisis, whose leaders included the playwright Larry Kramer.
“I discovered that there was a way to frame social issues in a theatrical manner and take them to the street,” says St. Angelo, who organized protests in Colorado in the 1990s (and spent some time in jail as a result), when the state was looking to legislate against gay rights.
Now, on Monday nights, he dons a dress at the Wicker Park bar Innjoy and does a little consciousness-raising. “I’m the ugliest drag queen you’ve ever seen,” he says. “I’m not all dolled up. But that’s the point. I use my time there to talk politics, or raise money for breast cancer or AIDS.” For St. Angelo, theatre and politics are all of a piece. No doubt Piñero would approve.