It's great getting to catch up with Latin singer and Venezuelan theatre star Migguel Anggelo as we discuss his new show Another Son of Venezuela, directed by OBIE award winner David Drake. Another Son of Venezuela explores the very personal immigration themes of love, loss, family, and national pride as well as the challenges of claiming an authentic identity in the "land of the free."
Migguel's immigration journey is quite fascinating. I learned a lot of about his struggles, successes, and what really motivates Migguel to go after what he wants. Another Son of Venezuela will play Joe's Pub on Tuesday, December 1 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!
1. First of all, it's great to catch up with you! When we first spoke this past April, you were releasing your new album, La Casa Azul. Now that the album has been out for a few months, what has it been like to see the response to it? Oh, it’s been wonderful! Of course, I love all the songs on the album, but it’s been really fascinating to see which songs people gravitate to. It’s been making its way around the world music radio circuit, and depending on the market, various songs bubble to the top. I love that there are so many songs that people are responding to!
2. Now, you are about to premiere your new show Another Son of Venezuela at Joe's Pub, which explores the very personal immigration themes of love, loss, family, and national pride as well as the challenges of claiming an authentic identity in the "land of the free." With everything that just happened in Paris and has been happening in other places around the world, it seems like this is a great time to debut this show. How do you feel your story fits in with all that has been happening in the world? What is going on in Paris is simply heartbreaking, just tragic. But you know what? In my country of Venezuela, this kind of violence goes on every weekend. My mother was robbed at gunpoint in the garage of her own house this past weekend. There are around 22,000 people that are killed each year in robberies alone. It’s a beautiful place with an incredible amount of crime and corruption.
My show is not as overtly political as all that. It’s poetic and about my heritage and memories, but at the core of who I am, I left Venezuela to feel safe, and that always informs my work.
3. With the state of the world as it is, is there anything in this story you feel you might adjust or wish you would possibly add in? We are blurring the lines between live music and more traditional theater, ultimately working towards a more theatrical piece. I want to explore the search for home and safety more fully against the background of the political situation in my country. I am really passionate about my hostility towards dictatorships and corruption. I have a song on my CD about this, "Munecas Cobardes" (Craven Dolls), but pushing this in a more complete way is in the future.
4. When did you first come to America? What was the immigration process like for you then? What do you wish you knew then that you know now? It’s been a very long journey. I am still waiting for my interview for my green card, but I have been in this country for almost 12 years! I have always been here legally on an 01 visa (artist visa). The 01 is the visa that is given for "extraordinary abilities," but I am never quite extraordinary enough. These days, only a Grammy, Oscar, or Tony award proves you are "extraordinary."
For years I have lived on the edge, panicked that my visa would not be renewed every one to three years. I simply could not go back to Venezuela. While I miss my family and friends desperately, I just can’t live within that kind of danger.
It’s all very confusing and there are many people that take advantage of folks who don’t speak English well, who don’t understand the very confusing system and methods in which you must move to get your green card. I must have had four or five attorneys over the years to help me. I would start with the right one if I did it all over again.
5. As an immigrant, what is it truly like to seek and live out the American dream? Is the reality of it like what you imagined it would be like? The thing that is amazing about this country is that you absolutely can work really, really hard and accomplish your dreams. Coming from a place like Venezuela that is so corrupt, it’s very, very hard to get ahead. But this country recognizes hard work, talent, courage, hustle -- I feel VERY fortunate to be here.
I have only lived in New York City for two years, arriving here from Miami where I lived for about 10 years. I would say, now that I live in New York, I am very happy. I am in an environment that understands me, accepts me, and the reality of the American dream in New York is what I had hoped. What do they say, "If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere . . ."
6. Another Son of Venezuela explores the themes of love, loss, family, and national pride. Without telling something from the show, who or what has been your greatest love so far? What has been your greatest loss? What has been your favorite family moment? What are you most prideful about growing up in Venezuela? I love my mother. She is my best friend and the person I am closest to. When I think about the good in Venezuela, it is my mother. She is with me wherever I go, even though she is not physically with me, and she is what I am most proud about my country.
Leaving my beautiful mountains and my family and friends is perhaps my greatest loss. I feel much happier in the United States, but there will always be a big hole in me for leaving such an important part of who I am behind. This, too, informs my work.
7. As someone who's had a successful career in the arts, both in your homeland of Venezuela and now here in America, what has been the biggest difference between pursuing a career in the arts in Venezuela and here in America? It’s not really that different to be an artist in both countries. The only difference is that I started on the stage at age 13 as "Pinocchio" in a Broadway touring production of the musical in South America, so I was very lucky to be scooped up into my dream early on. When I got to the United States, though, I started at zero. From the very beginning, brick by brick, I am bringing the dream back to life. I have been very lucky to have had some great supporters and encouragement here, and I am driven to keep creating.
8. What has been your biggest struggle as an immigrant working in the arts? What has been your most rewarding moment? English as a second language is tough. I speak with a heavy accent. I have to work really hard to make sure people understand me! I turn that challenge into an asset, though, and make fun of it, and I am also not afraid to make mistakes. I make a ton of them!
Last summer, I was very honored to be selected by Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater to attend a residency program at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia along with a group of four other artists teams. This was an incredibly validating experience for me and my team, and the first time in America that I felt I was doing something that people understood. What an incredible experience.
9. I love that you are still working with David Drake as your director! He did a show in 2002 called Son of Drakula, in which he chronicled his genealogical quest to unearth the roots of his legal birth name David Drakula. Did you and David talk about this at all? If so, how do you feel having this experience in David's repertoire, helps tell your story of immigration? I just love David Drake. We have not spent a lot of time on Son of Drakula, but I find that David’s experiences and points of view are so lucid and poetic across the board, and frankly, while not an immigrant himself, we all struggle with what it means to belong, what is means to feel safe, and what it means to find community – I love that he can attest to the universality of these feelings. That is our goal, to make work that everyone feels regardless of where they are from.
"I’ve always been obsessed with music. My father, a chef, was constantly singing and listening to music while tending to his own craft in the kitchen, while my mother, a ballet dancer, always danced around the house to Spanish boleros or classical music."
For someone whose early life was filled with such a range of artistic influences, Migguel Anggelo could have limited himself to one of the many talents that came naturally to him, acting, dancing, singing, writing, and painting among them. Instead, he chose to do it all.
Born in Venezuela, Migguel Anggelo first fell in love with the theater as a child playing "Pinocchio," a character that battles with fact and fiction. It was then that he discovered the integral role of fantasy in storytelling, and began to imagine real and imagined characters that could illustrate the many facets of his own experience.
He trained for a dozen years in classical ballet and studied opera in the Conservatory of Music in Cologne, Germany. He loves the drama and discipline of opera and the explosive whimsy of pop. He counts Luciano Pavarotti and Freddy Mercury as two of his biggest influences and, with his multi-octave voice, pays homage to them by jumping easily from operatic aria to rock anthem.
He has performed on many of the world’s greatest stages, including Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas, Venezuela; Teatro Insurgentes in Mexico City; Teatro de Bellas Artes in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Teatro Nacional in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic; Teatro Jorge Eliezer Gaytan in Bogota, Colombia; Teatro Lola Membrives and Teatro Gran Rex in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Burgen Zentrum Theater in Cologne, Germany.
For anyone meeting Anggelo for the first time, the question is not: what does he do, but rather: what doesn’t he do?
He writes poetry and lyrics that walk a fine line between confession and invitation. He performs live shows with elaborate orchestration and staging that feel like a rock show one moment and an operatic dream the next. He dances with the ease of a child whose parents never told him to sit still. He creates sculptural portraits of people—historic and contemporary—in the form of chairs made from all kinds of unlikely materials, from matches to yarn. He paints images using simple and innocent gestures, leaving one to wonder what the true story is. Migguel Anggelo is a story teller.
In one song, he explores the complexities of love as an old cello falls in love with a harp. In another, he illustrates the power of delusion through the story of a homeless woman who has one-sided conversations with the White House. Most recently he has transformed himself into the fabled Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, the subject of his album, The Blue House.
Anggelo’s evolving body of work reminds us that the way a story is told is as important as the actual story itself. Summoning all of his gifts—song, poetry, drawing, physical gesture—Migguel Anggelo creates theatrical metaphors that blur the boundaries between performance art and popular music. For Anggelo, this is just the beginning.