"I moved to Austin in... '97, with the idea of making it to UT, which never happened," says Salvage Vanguard co-artistic director Florinda Bryant. "And ended up auditioning for Laurie Carlos and meeting Sharon Bridgeforth. That particular audition quite honestly changed the course of my life."
That audition was for the premiere run of Bridgeforth's con flama; Bryant was cast in the show under the direction of Carlos. Bryant didn't know it at the time, but getting cast in con flama set her on a path of arts education that she probably never could have gotten at a college. "[It] gave me an opportunity to explore my craft and become an artist that I didn't even dream was possible," she says. "Working in the jazz aesthetic and working under... two such strong mentors."
In the past couple of years, Salvage Vanguard lost its longtime theater space on Manor Road, and Bryant lost one of her mentors when Carlos passed away. "And I was like, 'okay, I need other artists to be being trained in this particular methodology so that I can continue to do my work,'" Bryant says. "So it seemed really natural to be able to bring this show into our season as a way of honoring my elders, as a way of honoring Laurie Carlos, who's now one of my ancestors."
So Bryant is directing a revival of con flama and finding herself, somewhat surprisingly, in the role of mentor herself. "When did this happen? When did I become the grownup in the room?" she asks aloud. "Yeah, I am painfully aware that I am making decisions now and doing things that are shaping the kind of elder I'm going to be."
She also felt like 2018 was a good time to revisit this particular work, which debuted almost twenty years ago but spans decades, chronicling a young girl's coming of age while riding a bus in Los Angeles.
"As a woman of color... to me, it feels like 'It's never been worse! This is like a really horrible time to be a black woman in America!"" she says. "And I know that that's not new, you know? That that's not true. But what called to me about this piece is that you have this character who's living in just as dangerous of a time, who's still able to ride this bus and look at people who don't look anything like her and still find an opportunity to love, and still be open."