Rose Ordonez travelled a long way to find her light.
Some 2,625 miles.
That’s the distance between Madison and Ordonez’s hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, where the twentysomething works as an assistant to the Austrian ambassador, approving visas and passports and handling fraud detection cases.
On the weekends, Ordonez focuses on her artistic passions. She’s an actor and musical theater performer, and that’s what’s brought her to Wisconsin. This week, she’s been one of the participants in Capital City Theater’s annual “Find Your Light” summer program that trains aspiring students for futures on Broadway.
On Friday (August 4), she’ll get the chance, along with the other students in the advanced program, to perform a number on stage with Broadway star Andrew Keenan-Bolger (“Tuck Everlasting” and ”Newsies”) at the Overture Center for the Arts.
Ordonez just had to tread a much more difficult path to get here.
Those who follow international news are likely aware that Venezuela is currently one of the most violent and unstable countries in the world. Under the authoritarian regime of president Nicolas Maduro, inflation has ballooned 700 percent, the economy is a militarized mess and violent protests have become a daily fact of life. Flaming barricades and clouds of tear gas are regular sights on the streets of Chacao County, a subdivision of Caracas, where Ordonez’s family lives. Recently, Ordonez’s neighbor, a young student, was gravely injured when run over by a tank, a tragedy that served to escalate local protests.
“With all of these things going on in Venezuela, art seems the only tool we have to save ourselves as human beings,” writes Ordonez from her iPhone while still in Venezuela. “Even though it is almost impossible to rehearse, people find ways of protesting through theater, like improvisations, play readings and concerts in public places. Even flash mobs.”
Ordonez met Andy Abrams, Capital City’s co-founder and artistic director, in 2015, when Ordonez was a music theory student at the New York Film Academy and Abrams was her voice instructor. (Venezuela has no universities that offer a degree in musical theater.) While Ordonez wasn’t able to complete the program—tuition was difficult for her family to afford—the two remained friends. When Ordonez returned to New York the following year, she reconnected with Abrams, who told her about "Find Your Light."
“He was so passionate about it that I wanted to take part of it as soon as possible,” Ordonez writes. “One thing I like about him and what I also have seen in ["Find Your Light" instructor] Gail Becker, is that they not only are willing to teach you about music and singing techniques, but they really care about their students,”
Becker and Abrams helped Ordonez arrange her travel and accommodations in Madison.
“Somehow I just don't feel alone, because they've been like a family to me over this week,” Ordonez writes.
Ordonez has always been passionate about musical theater. She was inspired at age 7 by a Venezuelan production of “Otto el Pirate,” a show about a captain that changes places with a pirate to explore the world. Ordonez didn’t have to trade places with anyone to explore the world—she just had to risk her life.
“Musical theater has been my savior,” Ordonez writes. “When trapped and scared in my house, I would find a song that [helped] me express all I'm living in that moment. I cherish the opportunities I've had to be abroad and learn about such a complex performing art, because I've been able to share that knowledge and help rebuild my country while it's been torn apart.”
Ordonez describes her "Find Your Light" experience as “beautiful”—she also uses the word “safe” to describe the learning environment—and has enjoyed getting to know the other students in the program. And obviously, Friday’s concert with Keenan-Bolger will be a huge highlight.
“Dreams do come true,” writes Ordonez. “To be on the same stage performing [with] someone as experienced as him is a blessing.”
It’s a blessing she’ll take back with her to Caracas, where her opportunities to hone her craft will be fewer—and significantly more dangerous. Still, Ordonez remains hopeful.
“I never thought I'd experience any of all these terrible things in Caracas. But I am sure that God won't abandon us. This is a great opportunity for me to learn and give the knowledge I'll acquire for my friends in Venezuela.”
Tickets for Friday’s "Find Your Light" performance with Andrew Keenan-Bolger remain available here.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning Madison-area theater coverage for madisonmagazine.com.