Welcome Elmer Martinez!
Collaborative Arts Coordinator, Moonbox Productions
We at Moonbox are SUPER excited about the newest member of our staff, Elmer Martinez! Elmer is joining us as Collaborative Arts Coordinator, a brand new position created with the idea of establishing site-specific theater that is immersive and draws upon community collaborations and intersectional art. Elmer has an electrifying eclectic background that includes Hip-Hop dance, spoken word, community building, visual and theater arts. As Collective Arts Coordinator, Elmer will be hands-on in identifying and creating projects that go beyond the definition of what we know “traditional” theater to be. Here’s a little chat with Elmer that gives you some insight into who he is, his background, interest and his thoughts of an ever transforming theater landscape.
First, what’s your name and a little background about you?
“Hey my name is Elmer Martinez! In the world of street dance and Hip-Hop some of my best friends call me Elmstreet. When I’m not working on producing different art I spend most of my time intaking documentaries- playing video games to relax and unplug or in the kitchen finding new combinations of flavors. I generally am the type of person who can get a kick out of doing anything as long as there’s music in the background. I suppose that’s where it starts for me-the music. Music was brought to me by the people I cherish most, my nuclear family. I always joke, “you know how there’s always a baby sleeping in the coats of all the partygoers- I was that baby.” My earliest memories are being with my mom and grandma at a friends or family members house with LOUD live drumming along to salsa, bachata and merengue music. Looking back I understand now how the vibrations of those Dominican and Puerto Rican house party drummers is a template for the cadences of work I do today. What has always excited me as a result is spending time celebrating with people because these community functions were filled with love – it was the cookout. In a sense- being around passionate people made me passionate about people.”
What is your connection to theater and how did you get started?
“In west philadelphia born and raised…wait…wrong origin story. (LOLOL, Nice!!!)
Fresh Prince References aside – I started singing in Catholic church when I was in elementary school. My journey as a choral singer took me to a point where in the 8th grade my sister- a highschool sophomore – invited me to sing in the cast for, “The Music Man” which was the spring production that year (2011). Seeing that the Lowell High department needed more bases and tenors I joined up and would go from middle school to rehearsals with the older kids and my big sister Abi. That same summer I started taking Break dancing and improvisational acting classes through a free summer program called “The Compass Program”. That’s where I fell in love with Hip-Hop culture, spoken word poetry and Theater all at once. After spending four years in Show choir, dance, marching band and eventually running and designing lighting and sound for productions, I was ready for theater school. At school I focused on Lighting Design with a major in Theater studies BFA and a minor in Dance. Alongside the work I was doing educationally in the institutions that trained me I found deep and steady mentorships among my communities and chosen families. I mostly live now in the world of Dance theater. While I love diversifying my work and doing all kinds of projects, dance keeps me the happiest.”
Tell us a little about your connection to community organizing and why community is important to you?
“Community organizing and I have been going steady since the 3rd grade when I joined student council and never looked back! I was always heavily involved in school groups, church youth groups leadership and leading the monthly school assemblies as a kid. The first time I MC’d a show was my 8th grade talent show by which time I had become class president. In high school I started learning about hip-hop philosophy and how the circle represents community. How every community member in the circle feeds energy that never ends and passes through each of us to the next. The next lesson was how when you get in the middle of the circle of community and articulate your feelings on that platform you are in conversation with yourself but also with the community (dance, rap or otherwise). The next person comes in and either embraces your expression and builds off of it, goes another direction entirely /changes the mood or combats it in a process of competition that pushes you to upgrade your skill and test your limits. In Lowell, by the time I was a senior I was president of my graduating class, and had built a reputation on the stage, at the local slam poetry open mic and in the hip-hop community as one of the most proactive up and coming practitioners of my generation. These were the years I learned how to get people together in one room to celebrate. By this time I was rolling with my crew, “Strive For Change Lifestyle” a local artist collective led and founded by my friend Vattana Thatch. V collected the most exciting local talent he could find across the Merrimack valley ranging in disciplines but all coming back as dancers. Before we knew it we were an organization of 20 plus 16-24 year olds throwing our own events, performing as a dance crew, dropping videos and artists profiles and T-Shirts! We were determined to make something of ourselves from the little bit we had. SFC became not just my community and brand-it became a legacy and way of thinking that bonded all of us for life and gave birth to some amazing cultural moments in the City of Lowell. We were just kids but we managed to become a creative force with a new generation coming after our core members moved on to different parts of our careers.
Truly being from Lowell was an education in how to navigate deep intersectional diversity and how to be open to a world that is truly multidimensional. This was due to the demographic being a textile of peoples from every continent.”
You are a dancer, lighting designer, and visual artist… How do you envision all of those things coming together with Moonbox?
“I feel that the key thing in most processes is communication. Being multilingual in creative disciplines is a part of my practice that I feel makes it so even if I don’t know something right away- I probably know how to find out or know someone who does know. Also, being a multi disciplinary creative means I get to be a chameleon and travel to all sorts of communities to build and break bread. I’ve spent time in a lot of clicks and clusters over the years that I really feel will fit into a vision where I can create more community friendships comfortably in my new role.”
Considering Moonbox’s mission of inclusive programming, how do your skills and passions fit with this mission?
“I feel deeply that my background in organizing from within a cypher centric, that is – community centric philosophy is going to be key in bringing our projects to life. In my experience it’s about breaking barriers by breaking bread. We have to get back to that. When you grow up doing multiple disciplines in art or in whatever field folks always ask, “What’s your plan? What are you choosing?”. I’ve found a profound relationship with the ultimate realization that above all practices my practice is one of service – a mission I started on as a very young man and have seen manifest itself into a beautiful and humbling young career the last decade. So I choose people above dance, design, poetry etc…at the end of the day it matters to me more how we all feel walking away from the process that it does to me, capitalizing on the aspects of the process which lend themselves to be based on art as a commodity. The intentionality will determine the directionality of the work. I see the mission of Moonbox and my own as it pertains to inclusive programming to be in line.”
What inspires and intrigues you about Moonbox?
“Hate to be predictable but the people. Over the last few months as a collaborator and before that as a Shadowboxer in the internship program I’ve met such a level headed group of folks I can really see becoming friends with in a deeper sense through the work we bring moving forward. Everyone seems to be able to just be and create and be trusted with that responsibility with a balance of communal support. I feel empowered by the group and I like the transparency with which we can all speak. No code switch necessary. And that’s huge- especially in a white theater town like Boston.I feel like with the attitude at moonbox being so independent and brave we can contribute to some major changes in the way theater and art is perceived in Massachusetts.”
How do you see your skills being an asset to Moonbox’s continued growth?
My biggest skill is that I’m a dreamer that believes his own dreams enough to pick up the phone and say, “hey, you don’t know me but I’m so and so.How can we make this art possible.” I’ve also always been good about making friends and forming connections that transcend the professional space.I feel that these sorts of relationships are vital to collaborative spaces and initiatives. I’m bringing with me an eager, young and vibrant network of diverse talent and producers from around the world across disciplines.I want to play my role in bolstering my generation into the next level building platforms with people who are here and ready for their star to shine.I fully intend to find opportunities to allow the voices of my generation to contribute to the processes we develop while focusing on respecting our ancestors.
What brings you joy?
“ I’m also happy when I’m in a sea of people in the middle of the dance floor and I close my eyes and it’s still just me and the music. I can go anywhere in the world and find that space. In those moments I take precious breaths and finally let the stress fall from my shoulders and there is a sort of meditative bliss I can only associate with the feeling of praying and understanding you are being heard. There is communion for me on the dance floor. The comfort of that brings me joy.The catharsis of that brings me joy. Full release-and then I dance.”
And there you have it folks! Joy in creating, Joy in community building, Joy in being present in the process and Joy in being! Our collective futures in creating theater in, of and for the community is limitless. We are so delighted to have Elmer on board to share his creativity as we continue our intentional forward momentum in creating theatrical spaces that are equitable to and for all.
Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Producing Artistic Director