"We wanted to do an improvised telenovela, but we wanted to take ourselves outside of stereotypical roles," says Latinauts producer and performer Lili Lopez. "We didn't want to be maids or pool boys or ..."
"Landscapers," fellow producer/performer Carlos LaRotta suggests.
"Landscapers. Nannies," Lopez continues. "We talked about it [and] asked ourselves how we can take it out of this world. And we took it out of this world."
Specifically, they took the concept off planet Earth entirely and into outerspace, creating the improv show Latinauts, which chronicles the comedic adventures of the Starship Edward James Olmos.
"Yeah, that was it," says LaRotta. "We were trying to find where can we put some Latinos and Latinas where you don't normally see them. "[And] one of the funniest concepts to me is just anything In Space. Like Vampires in Space or whatever. It was a funny concept to us."
The show's formatted more or less like a Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica series, with the cast playing the same characters week to week, but with each night's plot and story improvised based on audience suggestions. The current season of the show, which wraps up this weekend, is subtitled The Wrath of Juan, and has introduced a new, villainous character to the cast. That's also added a new layer to the telenovela half of this sci-fi/telenovela mash up.
"It's a lot of falling in love with someone, or with the villain," says director/performer Ben G. Bazan.
Lopez admits to not being much of a sci-fi expert before starting Latinauts, but she, Bazan, and LaRotta all grew up with telenovelas in the house.
"What did you watch? I watched Luz Clarita," she says.
"Marimar," says Bazan. "My mom and my aunt and my sister all used to watch that."
"When I would go visit my grandmother back in Columbia, she would watch Mexican telenovelas," says LaRotta. So I used to watch telenovelas with my grandma. But it was always just crazy to me."
In Latinauts, "there's a lot of Spanish-speaking," says Lopez, adding that English-only speakers shouldn't be scared off by that fact. "Some of the crew members will be speaking in Spanish in their scenes, and we'll be replying in English or translating subtly for the audience, just to make sure they're taken care of and having a good time."
"It's not always easy to be proud of your culture and live in America," says Lopez. "And that is very much something that binds us and bonds us. We talk about that before we rehearse -- we talk about our experiences and how this is somewhat of a responsibility, but also just our chance to have fun in a way that we have not been able to before. And it shows on stage, and when we're having fun, the audience is having fun. And we always try to have the most fun."