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Meet The Ugliest Woman You’ll Never See In Amphibian’s Latest Play


by Gila Espinoza 9 Jul 2020 6:30 AM

Every day on Art&Seek, we’re talking to people who have tips on art in the time of social distancing.  Share yours with us on Facebook, Instagram, or @artandseek on Twitter. Click above to hear Kathleen Culebro, artistic director with Amphibian Stage share her tip with KERA’s Nilufer Arsala. 

“Julia Pastrana” is available for streaming July 16-30.

The title for Amphibian Stage’s upcoming production doesn’t easily roll off the tip of your tongue – “The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World.”

Felicia Bertch. Photo by Evan Michael Woods.

As the long title informs us, the story is based on the real-life story of Julia Pastrana, an indigenous Mexican woman born in 1834.

Pastrana was a very accomplished person who spoke multiple languages, sang, and danced.

Despite her many accomplishments,  she was best known for  the way she looked. Pastrana was born with a condition that made her short, with a protruding jaw, and excessive hair growth all over her body.

Pastrana traveled the world with circuses and sideshows and was promoted among other things, as “the ugliest woman in the world” by her husband/manager. Even after her death, she continued to be exhibited. There is a lot more to Julia’s story and it was not until decades later that her story truly came to an end.

Amphibian Stage last produced the Shaun Prendergast play in 2012 when the company moved into their then-new building on South Main in downtown Fort Worth. Lots of detail went into the sound effects and sound design for the “must feel theater” production.

“The True History of the Tragic Life & Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World,” 2012 production.

Artistic Director Kathleen Culebro said the play was written to be performed in the dark.  This allows for live sound effects and frees the actors to run around the audience. It also means the audience never gets to see Julia and can only relate to  Julia’s voice. So sound plays a pivotal role in the show.

During this time of social distancing, when you can’t physically be in the theater, it seems like a pretty good idea to do a play where your attention is on what you hear and not on what you see.

With an added focus on sound quality, the latest production was recorded in high-definition Dolby Atmos surround sound, a format used in big cinemas, to create a totally immersive listening experience.

“Because it’s an audio experience,” said Culebro, “we recommend that you dim the lights and put on your best headphone and really take advantage of that surround sound experience.”

Amphibian Stage Is Back 

“Julia Pastrana” is not the only digital offering Amphibian has at this time. They have moved their De-Cruit workshops for trauma-affected veterans online.  Culebro said now anybody from around the world can participate in the workshops. The classes were developed by a veteran and combine Shakespeare with scientifically proven therapies to help participants manage the effects of PTSD.

And at the end of July, Amphibian Stage is also heading back to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth for their National Theatre Live screenings.  The series kicks off with “Cyrano,” July 29-August 1, starring James McAvoy (X-Men, Atonement).

Got a tip? Email Gila Espinoza at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @espinoza_kera.

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