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Almost a Woman
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Memoir to Film [imagemap with 8 links]

Memoir to Film | Esmeralda and acting...

Memoir | Script | Film


The Memoir

Esmeralda and acting...
From Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago
from the chapter "What's a Cleopatra dress?"
Vintage Books/A Division of Random House, Inc., New York

My first scene was in act 1, scene 1 of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra. I was paired with Roman-nosed Harvey, who was cast as Julius Caesar to my Cleopatra.

I was thrilled. That summer I'd read mostly biographies. Cleopatra was one of my favorite historical figures, and I'd acquired a lot of information about who she was, what her motivations might have been, what she looked like. As actors, we researched the characters we played, the fictional as well as the historical ones, on the theory that the more we knew about them, the better we could bring them to life on the stage.

I loved the preparation to act. I loved reading the entire play, even if I performed only a short scene from it. I loved figuring out the character beyond what the playwright had written. I loved designing a costume and scrounging at home for materials from which to make it, since the school didn't provide wardrobe except for the performances at the end of the year...

...The drama department taught the Method developed by Stanislavsky in his book An Actor Prepares. Method actors explored their deepest selves for the emotional truth that informed the moment lived on stage.

I refused to venture into my deepest self, to reveal my feelings, to examine my true emotions publicly. If I did, everyone would know I was illegitimate, that I shared a bed with my sister, that we were on welfare. The result was that I was accused by my peers of "indicating," the worst sin a Method actor can commit on stage. To "indicate" meant to pretend to be in the moment by going through the motions rather than to actually live it.

It was humiliating not to be a good enough actress to fool my teachers and fellow students, but I simply couldn't abandon myself to the craft. I didn't have the skills to act while acting. Because the minute I left the dark, crowded apartment where I lived, I was in performance, pretending to be someone I wasn't. I resisted the Method's insistence on truth as I used it to create a simulated reality. One in which I spoke fluent English, felt at home in the harsh streets of New York, absorbed urban American culture without question as I silently grieved the dissolution of the other me, the Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican girl most at home in a dusty, tropical dirt road. I created a character that evolved as the extended improvisation of my fife unfolded, a protagonist as cheerful and carefree as my comic book friends Betty and Veronica, Archie, Reggie, and Jughead.


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The Script

Esmeralda and acting...
Adapted by Esmeralda Santiago from her memoir

Interior Performing Arts High/ School Auditorium, Day
Negi (as Cleopatra) and Harvey (as Caesar) on stage as camera pans right for Negi


Negi: "Make three a fortune for me."

Harvey: "But yet, madam..."

Negi: "I do not like 'but yet.' It does not allay the precedence. Fie upon 'but yet.' 'But yet' is a gaoler to bring forth some monstrous malefactor. Pri..."

Negi stands up and walks to back of stage as Mrs. Parsons follows.

Mrs. Parsons: Esmeralda! Esmeralda!

Close-up Esmeralda as Mrs. Parsons approaches from behind.

Mrs. Parsons: What's the matter? Is something wrong?

Negi: I can't do this.

Negi (in Spanish): Ni de aqui, Ni de alla, ni de ningun sitio.

Mrs. Parsons: Esmeralda, I don't understand.

Negi: I don't belong here. I don't belong there. I don't belong anywhere.

Mrs. Parsons: Of course you belong here. Look how hard you've worked.

Negi: It's impossible to act when I'm already acting.

Mrs. Parsons: I don't know what you mean.

Negi: I walk out of our apartment. I'm the English-speaking Esmeralda Santiago. Actress, dancer, Americanized teenager who looks people in the eye even though it's disrespectful. At home I'm the Spanish-speaking, humble, traditional girl with eyes down. But home is really Puerto Rico. And I jump from one to the other and I come here. I'm not that good an actress to play three roles at a time.

Mrs. Parsons walks forward and puts her hand on Negi's shoulder.

Mrs. Parsons: It's hard. I know that. But you can do it. Look how far you've come already.


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The Film

Esmeralda and acting...
From the film as directed by Betty Kaplan

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