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New student-created musical ‘DayDreamer’ fuses fantasy and Mexican culture

The cast of “DayDreamer” sits around tables in rehearsal. The original student musical will run from May 24 through May 26 at Macgowan Hall. (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

“DayDreamer”

May 24-26

Macgowan Hall

By Maya Vibhakar

May 23, 2024 12:33 p.m.

Filled with magic and Mexican culture, “DayDreamer” burns bright.

The musical, which will be performed as a stage reading at Macgowan Hall from May 24 through May 26, delivers a Mexican-inspired fantasy that tells the story of a teenage protagonist with fire powers who ventures on a quest to find her missing mother and defeat an ancient evil who has stolen the sun. Mario Vega, a graduate student in fine arts in the Department of Theater, Film and Television, said he developed “DayDreamer” with San Diego State University alumnus Eliza Vedar two years ago, and has since been workshopping it to fulfill their vision of an empowering and engaging musical that utilizes both fantasy and cultural elements.

“I really like musicals, and I really like fantasy stories,” Vega said. “I wanted to kind of combine elements of the traditional Disney-esque musical, but then give it flares of the video game and anime aesthetic.”

[Related: Theater Review: Good casting in ‘Girl From the North Country’ saves the show from its cliche plot]

Vega also said he was inspired by the television show “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which integrates Asian culture into a magical, action-packed plot. Like “Avatar,” he said he wanted to develop a musical that had the same focus on fantastical elements, but added aspects of Mexican and Latino culture instead.

By focusing the musical on Mexican characters, Vega said “DayDreamer” also gives BIPOC actors the opportunity to be at the forefront of the story. While the fantasy genre often utilizes a European aesthetic, this musical instead lets Latino actors engage with magical narratives in a way that showcases their own cultural heritage.

“(I had) a desire to see a musical that was both fantastical and also Latino/Latine/Latinx,” Vega said. “Instead of being inspired by medieval things or European things, I was inspired by Mesoamerican elements, Chicano elements, Mexican elements.”

Janelle Soriano, a third-year theater student who plays Candelaria, said Vega approached her about a new musical he was writing after they performed together last year in a production of “In the Heights.” As an artist who prefers connecting with emerging writers and helping to bring new productions to the stage, Soriano said she was eager to join the cast of “DayDreamer.” She also cited the musical’s cultural influences and fantasy aspects as elements that drew her to the story itself.

“Not only is it such a ground-breaking piece of art in the sense that it’s breaking so many traditional tropes of theater, but it’s also something that’s very culturally specific … something I’m really proud to explore in my art,” Soriano said.

Though she takes on the lead role in this stage reading, Soriano said she has been involved in the musical’s workshops since last year, playing different characters and versions. Having experienced the story’s evolution throughout each reading, she said she is thrilled to play Candelaria after seeing firsthand how much the character has changed. Specifically, Soriano pointed to how her character has aged up from 14-years-old to 17-years-old, creating a more mature element of the story that Soriano said she can relate to as a college student working to establish her own identity.

[Related: ‘Taking the helm’: Night of Cultura controls narrative, reflects diverse community]

Isaiah Mateas, a fourth-year theater student and the director of “DayDreamer,” said with the musical still in its workshop stage, the reading functions as a way for the playwright to see how well the story comes together, with the production fully focused on the text instead of including aspects like costumes or set design. As director, Mateas said “DayDreamer” gives him the rare opportunity to direct the actors while also getting immediate input from the visionaries behind the story.

“You get to have a living playwright in the room with you,” Mateas said. “With a stage reading, it is for the playwright – they’re hearing the words, and they’re seeing it on the stage in a way that’s not fully realized.”

Because the stage reading aims to further polish the musical, Mateas said this production has been a far more collaborative process than other shows he has worked on. He explained how he would sit down every rehearsal with Vega, the music directors, producer and stage manager to jointly figure out how to best portray the story. With the sheer number of creatives that have been putting their thoughts into the musical and the talented actors that have been showcasing their vision onstage, Vega said “DayDreamer” is at its best.

“With theater, you write it down, it exists as text, and then people bring it up on its feet, and they bring it to life,” Vega said. “That moment of getting to hear things out loud and getting to see how people elevate something, because I can be like, ‘This play is good, but the actors make it great.’”

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Maya Vibhakar
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