A stirring new music-filled work by Academy Award nominee José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) and Grammy winner Héctor Buitrago

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Goodman Theatre begins the new year with a new music-and-movement-filled play: Another Word for Beauty, a world premiere by Academy Award nominee José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) inspired by an annual beauty pageant at El Buen Pastor womens prison in Colombia.

Directed by Steve Cosson and featuring seven original songs by Grammy Award winner Héctor Buitrago, the show was developed through a co-commission between the Goodman and Cosson’s New York-based theater company The Civilians. The artists traveled to Bogotá to interview the prisoners prior to the pageant, creating a fictionalized but based on true events look at the lives of these women—including their flaws and failures, but also humanity and potential—and the annual event intended by their jailers to motivate and rehabilitate them. A predominantly Latina ensemble cast of 11 brings these women to life: Stephanie Andrea Barron (Yolanda), Helen Cespedes (Xiomara), Monique Gabriela Curnen (Marilin/Magnolia), Dan Domingues (Danny/Maurico/Arturo), Danaya Esperanza (Luzmery), Zoë Sophia Garcia (Nora), Marisol Miranda (Carmen/Tatiana/Elisinda), Yunuen Pardo (Jeimi), Socorro Santiago (Ciliana), Heather Velazquez (Maikelyn/Eva) and Carmen Zilles (Isabelle).

Another Word for Beauty runs January 16 – February 21 in the Albert Theatre. Opening night is Monday, January 25. Tickets ($25 – $75; subject to change) are on sale now at GoodmanTheatre.org, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).

“José Rivera’s raucous, moving and exhilarating new play takes us to a world where the concept of ‘beauty’ may seem unlikely—and reveals images of beauty, physical and otherwise, that none of us has ever imagined,” said Artistic Director Robert Falls. “We welcome José back to the Goodman, where his plays have appeared over the past two decades, and are thrilled to work, for the first time, with director Steve Cosson and The Civilians—a remarkable company that creates provocative theatrical art out of real-life events. It’s exciting to also welcome Grammy Award-winning musician Héctor Buitrago, who is as known for his work with the groundbreaking band Aterciopelados as he is for arts activism. His infectious score adds to the indelible portrait Another Word for Beauty offers.”

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For a few days every year, El Buen Pastor’s female inmates—offenders from all sectors of Colombian society, from murderers to streetwalkers to political dissidents—compete for the title of “Señorita Simpatía” in an annual beauty pageant honoring the Virgin of Mercy. Most days, the inmates endure the dangers and indignities that accompany incarceration; during the pageant event, however, El Buen Pastor becomes a place of celebration, transformation and hope, with the prospect of victory a bright moment in lives otherwise marked by poverty, brutality, marginalization and destruction. While the pageant’s parade of glamorous gowns, exotic headdresses and rhythmic dances provides a distraction from daily suffering, its real impact on each woman is more than skin deep.

“Several years ago, the Goodman took a leap of faith and teamed up with my company, The Civilians, to make José’s play possible,” said Director Steve Cosson. “Working with Colombian theater artists, we met and interviewed extraordinary women at El Buen Pastor, and the pageant itself was one of the most alive, vibrant and competitive performances I’ve ever witnessed. I’m thrilled to bring that energy to the stage here in Chicago and to realize José’s deeply human play with this remarkable cast and design team.”

Renowned Latin American rock band Aterciopelados front man Héctor Buitrago became involved very early in the development process of Another Word for Beauty after meeting Cosson through a mutual friend in Bogotá. “I tried to capture the feelings I had when I visited the jail,” said Buitrago, whose original compositions will be performed live nightly by four musicians (Ruben Gonzalez, Mike Przygoda, Diego Salcedo and Javier Saume). “The pageant is a really happy moment for the women, but when everything ends, and it’s time to go back to reality—the feeling is so strong. In that pageant, they find a very happy moment of freedom and beauty.”

In his 25 years in the music industry, Buitrago has toured the globe, released many critically acclaimed albums and has become an ambassador for Colombia’s burgeoning music scene. Aterciopelados is considered one of the most successful bands to break out from Colombia. Parallel to his musical pursuits, Buitrago has also spearheaded many ecological and social initiatives in Colombia such as Cantoalagua, which focuses on the protection of water sources. Buitrago united his two passions—music and the environment—with his solo musical project ConEctor. The project was met with international acclaim and is considered a pioneering work in Colombia’s musical evolution. His albums La Pipa De La Paz, Caribe Atómico, Rio, ConEctor I &II and Niños Cristal are a reflection of his calling to preserve his land, his roots and the environment, and to empower his people to effect change in the world.

Buitrago’s music will further come to life through the performers’ dances. Choreographer Maija Garcia extracts movement from actors who embody the trauma, desires and dreams of their characters. Garcia weaves traditional Afro-Latin and contemporary dance throughout the play where music, dance and pageantry represent unifying forces in a country (or context) defined by discordance.

The World of El Buen Pastor Prison on Stage

El Buen Pastor might seem an unlikely location for a beauty pageant, but the broader culture in Colombia—recently described as a “beauty pageant-obsessed South American nation” by Associated Press—places a high value on these glitzy events, and many young girls dream of winning such a contest. Design elements create three unique worlds within the show: the prison, the pageant within the prison and a third, more theatrical world of the play in which the lines are sometimes blurred. Set Designer Andrew Boyce captures the authentic details of the source material while still making elements practical for live theater. Costume Designer Emily Rebholz’s costumes replicate the colorful paper costumes made by the prisoners, using found and available items in El Buen Pastor, with durable material to sustain nightly performances. The design team also includes Robert Wierzel (Lighting Designer), Mike Tutaj (Projection Designer) and Michael Bodeen and Rob Milburn (Sound Designers). Briana Fahey is the Production Stage Manager.

The largest women’s prison in Colombia, El Buen Pastor houses female perpetrators of many different crimes; while it is designed to accommodate 1,250 inmates, it often holds more than two thousand. At any given time, nearly one-third of El Buen Pastor’s residents are awaiting trial and therefore have not been convicted of a crime; they live in overcrowded cells, struggling to maintain health and sanitation despite conditions that include lack of access to water. The inmates have little access to exercise or educational opportunities and often go without basic healthcare. A single psychotherapist serves the entire prison. Despite the cramped conditions, mothers are permitted to keep their children with them in prison until the child’s third birthday.

About José Rivera

José Rivera is a recipient of two Obie Awards for playwriting for Marisol and References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, which were both produced by The Public Theater in New York. His plays Cloud Tectonics (Goodman Theatre and Playwrights Horizons), Boleros for the Disenchanted (Goodman Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre), Sueño (Manhattan Class Company), Sonnets for an Old Century (The Barrow Group), School of the Americas (The Public Theater), Massacre (Sing to Your Children) (Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and Goodman Theatre), Brainpeople (ACT, San Francisco), Adoration of the Old Woman (INTAR Theatre) and The House of Ramon Iglesia (Ensemble Studio Theatre), have been produced across the country and around the world. In development are The Last Book of Homer, Scream for the Lost Romantics and The Gamma Forest. Rivera’s screenplay The Motorcycle Diaries was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2005. His screenplay based on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed nationally in the winter of 2013. His film Trade was the first film to premiere at the United Nations. Television projects in the works include an untitled HBO pilot, co-written with and produced by Tom Hanks, as well as a 10-hour series for HBO tentatively titled Latino Roots. Celestina, based on his play Cloud Tectonics, will mark his debut as a feature film director. He is the writer/director of the short film Lizzy and recently completed his first novel, Love Makes the City Crumble. His next film project will be a biography of famed baseball player Roberto Clemente for Legendary Films.

About Goodman Theatre

Called America’s “Best Regional Theatre” by Time magazine, Goodman Theatre has won international recognition for its artists, productions and programs, and is a major cultural, educational and economic pillar in Chicago. Founded in 1925 by William O. Goodman and his family in honor of their son Kenneth (an important figure in Chicago’s cultural renaissance in the early 1900s), Goodman Theatre has garnered hundreds of awards for artistic achievement and community engagement, including: two Pulitzer Prizes, 22 Tony Awards (including “Outstanding Regional Theatre” in 1992), nearly 160 Joseph Jefferson Awards and more. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Robert Falls and Executive Director Roche Schulfer, the Goodman’s artistic priorities include new plays (more than 150 world or American premieres in the past 30 years), reimagined classics (including Falls’ nationally and internationally celebrated productions of Death of a Salesman, Long’s Day’s Journey into Night, King Lear and The Iceman Cometh, many in collaboration with actor Brian Dennehy), culturally specific work, musical theater (26 major productions in 20 years, including 10 world premieres) and international collaborations. Diversity and inclusion have been primary cornerstones of the Goodman’s mission for 30 years; over the past decade, 68% of the Goodman’s 35 world premieres were authored by women and/or playwrights of color, and the Goodman was the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle.” Each year the Goodman’s numerous education and community engagement programs—including the innovative Student Subscription Series, now in its 30th year—serve thousands of students, teachers, life-long learners and special constituencies. In addition, for nearly four decades the annual holiday tradition of A Christmas Carol has led to the creation of a new generation of theatergoers in Chicago.

Goodman Theatre’s leadership includes the distinguished members of the Artistic Collective: Brian Dennehy, Rebecca Gilman, Henry Godinez, Steve Scott, Chuck Smith, Regina Taylor, Henry Wishcamper and Mary Zimmerman. Joan Clifford is Chair of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees, Swati Mehta is Women’s Board President and Gordon C.C. Liao is President of the Scenemakers Board for young professionals.

Visit the Goodman virtually at GoodmanTheatre.org, and on Twitter (@GoodmanTheatre), Facebook and Instagram.

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