This week Playbill catches up with Eric Ulloa, who is currently playing Juan Perón in Bucks County Playhouse's reimagined version of the Tony-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Evita at the New Hope, Pennsylvania, venue through October 30. Directed by Will Pomerantz with choreography by Marcos Santana, the all-Latin cast also features Gabriella Enriquez as Eva Perón, Pablo Torres as Che, Devin Cortez as Magaldi, and Maria Bilbao as The Mistress.
Ulloa made his Broadway debut in On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and was seen Off-Broadway in Seven Deadly Sins. The actor is the playwright of 26 Pebbles, librettist of the musical Passing Through, and the co-creator/writer of Nickelodeon's Meet the Alpha Beats. He is also the screenwriter of the upcoming films The Nana Project and Mikey's Army.
What is your typical day like now?
Well, as of writing this, my days are spent onstage for ten hours in a very, very warm, wool colonel uniform as we're in the middle of tech. Haha. Once we open this weekend, I'll go back to a split-up day, balancing writing projects/meetings during the morning and then running to the gym before our shows in the afternoons and evenings. In fact, one of the projects is for you all at Playbill, as I'm writing the script for Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Amber Ruffin in your Curtain Up! Finale Concert.
This production is billed as a reimagined Evita. Can you discuss some of what audiences can expect?
So, this production is set in a basement-like tango bar ten years after Evita's death. At that time in Argentina, Perón had not only been overthrown and cast into exile, but Perónism (and mention of them) was banned. A small group of Perón supporters come together in an act of defiance on the anniversary of her death to tell the story, and in doing so, open themselves up to the vulnerability in knowing that the Peróns were complicated and flawed.
It's easily the clearest Evita I've ever seen, as Will Pomerantz and Marcos Santana have a genius sense of theatricality and utilize an onstage cast of 14 (and two swings) to become every single part of the story. No one ever leaves the stage in this production. I'd also be remiss in not saying that Marcos' choreography is (chef's kiss).
Producers and the creative team have cast all Latin artists. What does that mean to you?
It means everything. Imagine the Latin high school or college theatre kid scrolling through Playbill (as I so often did) and seeing a cast list with the last names Enriquez, Alves, Rivera, etc. It tells that kid, "Hey, there's a place in this theatrical world for you, come join us!" Theatre is not a profession that most Latin parents encourage, as it's never been presented as a viable or sustainable option, because there's so little for us (more on that later). The fact that even in our small NYC-based Latin theatrical community, I didn't know 95% of this remarkable cast before the first rehearsal means that there is serious talent out there, and it's being underutilized.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
Absolutely. I call Act One, the promise and excitement of populism, and Act Two, the realities of it. The Peróns rely heavily on the cult of personality, something that we're seeing alive and well in America today. (Don't even get me started on the rally scenes and everyone tying on the same color bandanas.) There's also the heartbreak of the forgotten worker and how leaders often sell them a bill of goods that's never fulfilled.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Alright, you have only yourself to blame for asking. Haha. Let's do better on all fronts and not just make it a performative offering so that the powers that be seem "with it." It's about not just painting "Black Lives Matter" on a street, but also investing in the infrastructure and realities that actually make lives equitable and just for minorities. Honestly, I feel like the not-for-profit and regional theatres have embraced these new policies best, whereas Broadway is still relying on marketing their performative progressive acts and not fully doing the work they can be doing.
And, I'm not saying that the work isn't being done, but if anyone has the power and money to change it all for the better, it's commercial Broadway theatre. For example, and I'll speak as a Latin writer and actor on this front, where are the Latin creatives on Broadway? The same two or three Latin creatives can't be your checkmark on filling the Latin quota when we are almost 20% of the population in the United States. Where are the rest of the stories that deserve to be told via Latin creators? Opportunities can't just be given to the same handful of people only. Spread it out.
Why was On Your Feet! the last time we were represented in a story on Broadway? That was five years ago. When it comes to Latin representation, the entertainment industry (and this is fact-based, not just an opinion) fails miserably, and Broadway has the lowest of all the numbers. I challenge whoever wants to do better for our community to reach out to me, as I am more than happy to have these one-on-one conversations always.
Now, to internalize this within our Latin community, there are steps we can take as well. We need to promote and elevate one another and not just ourselves and our own work. Celebrate each other's successes on social media, attend one another's shows, invest fiscally in projects and creatives within our community, etc. This is how we make ourselves a visible and loud force to be reckoned with. I'll never understand minorities who only look out for themselves, when banding together as a community is a hell of a lot stronger.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
That I need to allow myself the grace of taking a break. I wake up in the morning, and my first instinct is to create. While that drive is something I'm very grateful for, I've also learned that it doesn't allow me to take life in fully. I can pick up a book and read for fun and not just for research on an upcoming writing project. I can watch a movie or TV show and not linger on the kinds of shows I wanna create. I can take a simple breath in and breath out.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
I do. I have two films I wrote coming out at the end of this year/next year. The first is a short film, Mikey's Army, which is directed by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and stars Mark Aguirre, Krystina Alabado, Shuga Cain, Claybourne Elder, Jennifer Sanchez, and Timmy Thompson. It tells the story of 16-year-old Mikey Alvarez, who finds himself at a pivotal moment where he must decide whether or not to be open and honest about what he is feeling inside. Not feeling quite ready for such a moment, Mikey unwittingly conjures courage from a trio of guides who appear in an explosion of glitter and glitz. Can a drag queen, an international pop star, and an action film heartthrob tackle a mission this big and give Mikey the confidence he needs? It should arrive in LGBTQ film festivals across the country starting in winter.
The second is my first feature film, The Nana Project, which stars Academy Award and Tony Award winner Mercedes Ruehl, Modern Family's Nolan Gould, Emmy winner Morgan Fairchild, and many other remarkable actors. The mockumentary-style film is set primarily in Timeless Acres Retirement Home and follows feisty chess master Helen “Nana” Lewis and her estranged grandsons, Andrew and Cody. With the support of Nana’s resident friends, the family embarks on a road trip to support her rise to state championships. That one should arrive at some point in 2023.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
There are so many, but in this time of cutting arts funding and banning books and limiting what we can talk about in schools, I say everyone just needs to invest in teachers. Invest in the teachers who determine who and what our next generation of artists will be and do. They are our saving grace.