Teatro Audaz co-founder and artistic director Laura Garza was already a fan of theater artist Patricia Zamora’s one-woman play Curanderas & Chocolate: Cuentos of a Latina Life when she expressed interest in directing a new version this year.

Then, as so many stories go, the pandemic threw the theater world into chaos. As theater directors around San Antonio began cautiously emerging from total shutdown, one-person plays became the safest option for moving forward.

“It’s a culmination of the perfect timing,” Garza said. “I thought, ‘OK, this is my opportunity, the pandemic is happening, and we need healing.’ I thought this was the perfect time for the show.

“Unfortunately, the perfect bad timing,” she said, laughing at the circumstance.

Garza approached Zamora, and the stage was set for a socially distanced production in Teatro Audaz’s new home within The Public Theater of San Antonio that would be livestreamed directly to San Antonians’ homes from Sept. 30 to Oct. 10.

The curanderas, or faith healers, featured in Zamora’s play derive from a longstanding tradition among Latino and Hispanic cultures throughout Latin America. What Garza saw in Curanderas & Chocolate was “the idea of exploring how we heal individually, how we heal within our own communities, with our families. As a nation, how do we heal?”

Among no less than 15 characters she plays in the 90-minute performance, Zamora transforms into several manifestations of the curandera figure. One is a modern-day curandera who bends tradition to incorporate commercially available essential oils into her practice, another is a Cloud Curandera who reads the skies for portents and signs to interpret current events.

“She’s a very ethereal character that makes some statements about social justice and sees both sides of things,” Zamora said. In this case, she focuses on issues that have always existed, Zamora said, such as systemic racism and the mandated segregation that resulted from it.

The stories derive from Zamora’s own experiences with curanderas since childhood, including a more recent, decidedly pivotal visit. As a single career woman in her thirties, she had achieved everything she had wanted and felt the time was right to find a husband and start a family. Her mother in Premont recommended she visit a curandera in San Antonio, and Zamora said she followed the instructions she was given to the letter.

“Very quickly after that I manifested, I will say, a really fabulous relationship with the man I’ve been married to for about 18 years now,” she said.

That tale introduces the play, which then turns to other such stories of self-actualization. Themes of faith, healing, and self-realization “take on different lives with the different characters,” Zamora said.

Though converting her performance to a streamed event without a live audience is hard for an actor who normally relies on audience reactions, Zamora credited Garza’s direction with helping her to adjust.

Incorporating camera-based technology also gave Garza the opportunity to more fully realize one element of the show, a television infomercial featuring another curandera hawking her candles and other wares. While the normal onstage show would have paused to project a video version of the infomercial, audiences at home will experience it almost as though watching television, in its native format.

Modern Day Curandera. Credit: Courtesy / Helena McNeill

That audience experience is key to Garza’s approach. She is able to gauge what they will see by peering into the screen of the digital camera to watch Zamora during rehearsals, and Zamora’s ability to connect through the screen is evidence of her acting talent, Garza said.

“We want to make it as close to a live theater performance as possible,” Garza said. “We’re hoping that the people will be able to feel what she’s feeling and laugh along with her” as they normally would in a live theater experience, “but with the peace of mind knowing that they’re safe at home.”

Curanderas & Chocolate was a popular draw in its previous manifestations, with full houses each night for three weekends at the Overtime Theater in April 2019, then again for two nights at the Guadalupe Theater in August of last year.

“I’m encouraging everyone to see the show even if they’ve seen it before,” Zamora said, not only because of the new format and new staging but “because there’s some craziness all around us right now in our world, and we need to pause and take those moments for ourselves. And why not take a moment to escape in the world of theater, and think about your own healing, and think about that concept of healing and faith.”

Tickets for the six performances of Curanderas & Chocolate: Cuentos of a Latina Life are available through the Teatro Audaz website.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...