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Ricardo Melendez surrenders … to vibes and visions

Ricardo Melendez Interview by Jen Bush

The 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival has fresh picked and delicious offerings for the discerning artistic palates of enthusiastic theatergoers.  Angel on Eros written by Ricardo Melendez is one of these delights.  In Angel on Eros A gay Hispanic painter immortalizes a young restaurant owner, unleashing more drama than anticipated. 

Ricardo Melendez is a gifted actor, dancer and playwright.  He is one of the founders and artistic directors of TRDance in Norfolk, VA.  TRDance is the most premier dance studio in downtown Norfolk that embraces all who wish to express themselves through dance.  Mr. Melendez possessed the skills and the drive to succeed as an entertainer from a young age.  New York City seemed to agree, and Mr. Melendez became a working performer in one of the greatest artistic cities in the world.  Mr. Melendez kindly took the time to tell us more about his career and this exhilarating piece.

“I am lucky fool! After decades of working in the Arts, I pride myself that I get to spend my days immersed in what I love doing. Whether it’s teaching, coaching, creating, or questioning; I am able to spend my days surrounded by humanity. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I thrived as a young actor. Fate showed me the path of dance as an art form, and I was lucky to ride that wave landing in NYC as a teenager. One job led to another, and I was fortunate to witness and train with pioneers of  modern dance and performed with premiere dance companies.  Wanting to further my education, I returned to NYC as an actor and rejoiced in the excitement of the city. Now, I am in an environment that allows me to create and take my humble offerings far beyond my chosen confines. As an artist, I find joy in sharing myself, my ideas and crazy idiosyncrasies. My success is measured by offerings, not accolades; and I pride in sharing my flawed character in stories that encapsulate our time, our points of view and our behavior towards one another.”

Ricardo Montalban might not have said “Welcome to Fantasy Island” to Mr. Melendez but along with other iconic luminaries in the performing arts industry, he inspired Mr. Melendez to make his fantasies come true.  “I was inspired by actors like Jose Ferrer, Raul Juliá, Ricardo Montalbán; they paved the way for Hispanic actors today. Their passion and knowledge of the craft made them icons to artists like me. Feeling represented and witnessing the examples that others like me could achieve, inspired me. There have been many mentors, Brian Fonseca, David Hochoy; artists that through their example and creativity afforded me the opportunities to succeed. These individuals opened my eyes to the wonders of storytelling and the joy of sharing my talents openly and honestly.  

     The creative process for Mr. Melendez is amorphic and almost cosmic.  He gives up control and surrenders to the imaginative vibes and visions that compel him to create.  “A piece of music, a painting, a feeling, a thought. Whether it is writing, choreographing, drawing… I begin without clear destination; stream of consciousness. I try never to judge the flow; I surrender to my imagination, my intuition. At times I veer from the spark; but at times the lightning is so strong I can’t help but let it strike. Then, I step away. Next day, I read it and let it tell me where IT wants to go. The process repeats until I reach the end, the final thought. Only then do I begin the process of cleaning, sharpening, adding and subtracting. Once satisfied, I usually share it with honest friends whose suggestions are invaluable. It is at this time that the work usually shows me my present state of mind. (SCARYYY!) There have been times in which I put away the new work for a long time preventing my present mood to hurt the story. And then someone will say something, or I will hear a piece of music; some outside stimulus will bring the work back to mind; that’s the time for me to pick it back up.” 

“I (secretly) collect people’s reactions to events, or circumstances and try to understand, from an empathetic point of view, the root of the behavior. I feed my characters with these reactions which eventually reveal character. I tend to their journeys as protagonists of their own life and respect the final thought without regard for decorum or morality. Then I share the work; with the understanding that I cannot control how it will be received, but yet certain that the work is honest, therefore beautiful; at least to me.”    

In a post pandemic world, performing artists are thriving again as people are learning to interact on a personal level again.  Fortunately for Mr. Melendez, he found some positives during the lockdown time.  “We are working again! I am an introvert, so for me, quarantine was a time to reflect, to enjoy solitary and family walks, to try to catch up with the still endless list of books I want to read. Masks heightened physical traits, but diminished language. People feared each other, their neighbors, and family members. The intimacy of touch was repressed. How has the world changed? We are relearning to share, to listen; to show up. How has it changed for the gay community? Less Jerk Mate and more Grinder?????”  

Mr. Melendez is hoping that the audience has a positive reaction to the show sparking thoughtful conversations and an ongoing appreciation and support of the gay arts.  “First and foremost, I hope the audience enjoy themselves. I hope they see themselves represented in the story. I wish for the audience to laugh with these characters and listen to their story. I hope for the audience to go home and have an honest talk with their friends and loved ones and perhaps share their views on thoughts or ideas that the play might have sparked. I hope for the audience to smile as they thank the performers for their generous effort. I wish for the audience to continue their support for gay arts and artists because representation is imperative to the wellbeing of our community.” 

Angel on Eros is a fascinating depiction of a rare piece of the LGBTQ landscape.  This play took a journey from an idea to conversations to production.  “There comes a moment in every artist’s journey in which we ask ourselves how did we get here? How many compromises have we made in the pursuit of our passion? How much have we deafened our voices in order to keep working? This play finds the protagonist in that space.  Sometime ago, I shared ideas with a friend ( a straight married friend) whose circumstances, though very different, seemed as constricting. While sitting with friends, in alcohol enhanced conversations, talking about what they gave, what they got, what they gain from various relationships, I was fascinated by the sense of transaction in their personal interactions. I set out to write a play that explores the mindset that chants: “We all pay to play and play to win”.  Perhaps a very somber look at human interactions which, voided of romantic ideals, sums up our “encounters” into a transaction of give and get.  

As I shared the early drafts with friends, both gay and straight, the opinions and desired outcomes for the characters were truly polarized. I knew then I had found a story that challenges our ideas of interpersonal play. Further drafts attempted to crystalize the conflicts and create an arc for each character based on the ideas of wins and losses. Beyond moral standards, the play speaks about our need to succeed regardless of who becomes the obstacle, the collateral victim. The play also explores the self-discoveries we make along the journey.”  

“Angel on Eros is a LGBTQ+ story because the playwright is part of that community, but I believe it transcends labels because it speaks about the strife of our flawed humanity regardless of our sexual orientation.” 

Irish eyes will be smiling upon Angel on Eros because the next stop is Dublin. For Mr. Melendez there are more festivals, more projects, more dancing, more teaching, and full-on embracing f of the artistic life that fuels his passion for living.  “Fortunately, after the Fresh Fruit Festival, we travel to Ireland to performed at the International Dublin Gay Theater Festival. After that, a well-earned time in my little Island of Puerto Rico. Then back on the road to various Fringe and Gay Theater Festivals. A few more projects in the burner, a script waiting to be revisited, students, classes, lectures… the Life!” 

Angel on Eros

Part of the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival

April 28 @ 6:30 p.m., April 29 @ 3:30 p.m., April 30 @ 7:30 p.m.

 The Wild Project, 195 E 3rd St, New York City

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