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Odalys Nanin Creates Space for Latina Theater in MACHA

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Saturday May 7, 2016

Playwright and actor Odalys Nanin was about to open her play "Skin of Honey" in 2006, when Thad Taylor, founder of the world-famous Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood, passed away. With the fate of the landmark theater in jeopardy, Nanin scrambled to gather the funds to purchase and preserve the theater. After years of working to restore the space, Nanin opened it as the MACHA (Mujeres Advancing Culture, History and Art) Theatre. It now serves as California's epicenter of Latina LGBT theater.

"I had always wanted to have my own space, so I put my wish out into the universe, and then this opened up," said Nanin. "A lot of people wanted to turn the Globe into a furniture store or a parking lot, but I really fought for it to remain a theater, not only because of its long history, but because it was such a good location for this space. It really became my passion."

Beginning in 2007, Nanin worked on remodeling the space, rescuing some 1942 vintage theater seats headed for scrap metal, creating a new lobby, renovating the backstage area, adding insulation, creating Garbo's VIP Screening Room with a red carpet, adding a marquis and starting a cabaret and comedy night. She applied for a beer and wine license; several years later, she received it, and created Machine Wine Bar/Café.

"Now everyone feels very much at home, and I want people to feel that way -- like they are coming home," said Nanin. "The most recent thing I've done is to bring Club Hugo's into MACHA Theatre; you can order appetizers from the restaurant, and we'll bring them over for you to eat right in the lobby!"

As an artist, Nanin's bona fides are solid: she has written 10 plays, two of which -- "Garbo's Secret Lover" and "Marilyn: My Secret" -- garnered back-to-back LA Weekly's Pick of the Week; written and produced two short films; and received three Drama-Logue Awards, the Maverick Award, and the Pat Parker Arts Award.

"When I get awards like these, it makes it all mean something," she said. "Because I'm not just doing it for me; it's to share it with the public, my audience. I'm honored when anyone takes hours of their time to come see my play."

Nanin recently starred with AJ Cook and Shemar Moore in "Criminal Minds," was named one of Out magazine's 100 in 2007, and is a role model in theater for young girls. And while having her own theater has given her a place to produce her own works, it has also afforded other playwrights with the same opportunity.

"The reason I formed MACHA Theatre was that there were no venues for Latina theater, period. Plays about women remained in the shadows," said Nanin. "So being named on the Out 100 List was amazing, because that was the year I renovated this entire place and opened 'Skin of Honey.'"

Her plays deal with stories of powerful women, including Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, as well as the stories of those living in the shadows, like the romance between 17th-century Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Countess Maria Luisa de Paredes, Vicereine of Mexico.

Nanin said that some of the women she wrote about were very powerful but no one knew about them -- like "The Lieutenant Nun," the story of Catalina de Erauso. "She was a cloistered nun who escaped and became a soldier, and then a lieutenant in Peru," Nanin explained. "She fought valiantly and at the end confessed she was a woman. But she got a pension from the King of Spain and a blessing from the pope that allowed her to keep wearing men's garb, as it helped her preserve her virginity."

"These are women who were survivors, fighters who each differently stood up to something," said Nanin. "I wrote 'Marilyn: My Secret' because I never believed she committed suicide. I wanted to write a cabaret show about her, but in my research I discovered so much that it became a play. I believe her coach Natasha Lytess was her lover of six years, and a very important person in her life and career; I also feel like she really fell in love with Bobby Kennedy. And Judy Garland was an icon above and beyond; she has always pulled me in."

Currently, Nanin is looking into the life of Frida Kahlo for the play "Frida: Stroke of Passion." As there's no dearth of information about the artist's life, Nanin's play looks at the final two weeks of Kahlo's life.

"I do believe Kahlo committed suicide, or somehow caused her own death, although they say it was from pneumonia," said Nanin. "To me, it's most important to reveal something mystifying, or something no one else has written about. In doing so, I discover the soul of the character and what they are going through."

Nanin has currently written 10 plays, which she calls "all very special to me, like my babies." She would love to see them restaged in other cities, saying, "It's my mission now to share these stories and characters."

Now it looks like those dreams may be coming to fruition. The City of West Hollywood recently gave Nanin a small grant to bring her play "Skin of Honey" back to the stage. A Miami theater is looking to mount a production of "Garbo's Cuban Lover." And the Cuban-born Nanin was recently invited to participate in a Caribbean theater panel in Cuba this May, with other Los Angeles artists.

"I was born in Cuba and left because my dad was given political asylum," said Nanin. "Although I grew up here and consider myself American, to go visit Cuba is an amazing eye-opener for me. I've always wanted to go back as an artist, so I'm very excited this is going to happen."

Nanin was also interviewed by Career Girls as a role model in theater for young girls, saying, "I thought, what a great thing to have when you're 10 years old, to see someone who's done it! When you're that young, your whole life is in front of you, and sometimes you don't know where to go with it. I think it does help to see the trajectory of someone who did it, and I was very honored to be asked. Hopefully, we'll have a new generation of girls in the theater."

And when they're ready to produce those plays, MACHA Theatre will be there to provide the stage. In the meantime, Nanin will keep the space thriving, creating screening festivals, musicals, plays, workshops, cabarets and red carpet events for West Hollywood's thriving LGBT community.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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