‘Real Women Have Curves’ Actress Santana Dempsey Talks Starring Role + Impact Of Play

Photo: Myron McClure Photography
31 Aug2015
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Real Women Have Curves is the timeless, award-winning comedy by esteemed playwright Josefina López that tells the story about five full-figured Latino women who are in a time crunch to meet an outlandish deadline inside a tiny sewing factory in East Los Angeles that will determine the livelihood of the business.

The updated production of the story will be performed live in a little over a week at The Pasadena Playhouse under the direction of Seema Sueko. The 2002 film version of the story starred America Ferrera, but this version will bring together a collection of brilliant, talented women to celebrate “real bodies, life in southern California, and the incredible bond when women work together.”

Blanca Araceli (Carmen), Diana DeLaCruz (Rosali), Cristina Frias (Estela), and Ingrid Oliu (Pancha) are the women who make up the Real Women Have Curves cast with Santana Dempsey starring as Ana, where she will have the responsibility of holding the 1 hour, 40 minute production. I caught up with Santana and she talked about her character Ana, the scene that made her break down in tears, the impact of this story and more! Check out the excerpts from our chat below.

On description of Real Women Have Curves: “Basically, the play is about five Mexican women in East LA working together in a garment factory to meet an impossible deadline.  The owner, Estela is an undocumented worker. She plays my sister. We find out at the top of the show that she does not have a temporary residence card.  Much fear of her being deported and the rest of the workers losing their jobs is a big theme in the show.  This play was written over 20 years ago and all of the themes are still present today. Which, in a way is sad. Like we haven’t come as far as we think we have. Especially, themes surrounding body image and immigration. It’s called ‘Real Women Have Curves’ because it truly celebrates real bodies. All bodies. We are all perfect if we believe we are. No one has the right to define us. This is something I really love about the play.”

On the character Ana: “My character is Ana! She’s an outspoken 18-year-old girl always trying to educate and inspire others. She is the most Americanized of the women. She been in the United States since she was little and does not identify with her Mexican culture the way her mother Carmen does. Ana doesn’t want to be like her mom. She wants to be the American girl she sees on TV, the American girls that are in her class. She really just wants to fit in and not be an outsider. Ana is super smart, a writer, an artist, and really defiant. She wants to do something with her life. She wants to go to college. And in this way of wanting to do all of these bigger things that she considers to be so American, she’s almost denying where she came from. Her identity. Her family. Ana kind of takes for granted how much her parents fought for her to be in this country.  Are still fighting. She doesn’t realize all of the “puro lomo” (hard work) her family sacrificed for her until she works with them at the factory. Ana learns to embrace her identity, her body, her family and realizes we all are fighting a battle. A battle that only we as individuals can win. Because the battle is within.”

On the impact Real Women Have Curves will have: “Most of the people know about this play from the screenplay and I think it’s going to impact them in positive and negative ways. Negative ways in the sense of, ‘Like damn these things are still here.’ We’re still dealing with, especially in Los Angeles and on the west coast, being undocumented and the fear of ICE (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement) coming to take us away. So I think it’s going to instill, especially for the younger generation, a bit of this fear like wow this still exists. A lot has changed, but a lot hasn’t. In a positive light I think the things that are great with this play is that it’s still talking about bodies and real women and that we have issues, all of us do, I have issues. It’s kind of ingrained I feel like in women to kind of compare each others bodies.”

Photo: Pasadena Playhouse

Photo: Pasadena Playhouse

On the scene that made her cry: “The first day we had to do the scene where my character takes off her clothing and it was much more challenging for me than I had anticipated. I was completely prepared for the scene but when I stood on the stage in a bra and underwear defending my body to my mother, I choked up. I held my script up to hide my face because I could feel the tears coming and I didn’t want the other women to see me cry. I didn’t quite understand my own tears. I just stood there sobbing, feeling exposed. Before I knew it, I felt all of this heat around me. When I opened my eyes, the entire cast and director were surrounding me in tears too. They were crying. I know it is silly but seeing Ingrid who plays Pancha cry with me was magical. It was one of the most emotional and loving moments I have had. It has taught me a lot about myself. It brought up a lot of personal body image insecurities that I didn’t even know I had. In hindsight, I’ve learned that I too have much work to do on my own self esteem surrounding how I look and how others think I look. I need to really embrace all of my imperfections and view them as beautiful just as my character Ana does. Ana loves herself just as she is. Ana is teaching me to truly believe the words ‘I like myself.'”

On working with the cast: “The cast is great. We spend six days a week together for eight hours and that’s a lot of time together. There hasn’t been any cattiness or anything like that. I couldn’t imagine doing this play with any other women. The director is amazing, her name is Seema Sueko and we’re all committed. We don’t judge. We do have to all disrobe, we’re looking at each other’s bodies, at our own imperfections and not judging, so I’m in a very safe environment. However, it’s like anything, everyone has a different process on how they rehearse, how they memorize, how they create a character is different so that’s been an adjustment for me. When you do TV and film you’re not watching anybody else process. You just kind of come on set, rehearse, and then you shoot it. You do a take or two and then you move on. This isn’t like that. You rehearse everything before, work out those kinks, then you put it up a month later.”

After Santana Dempsey wraps up Real Women Have Curves be on the look out for a short film she wrote and stars in that follows a girl waking up from a night she doesn’t remember; that will be out this fall. Also be sure to check her out on an episode FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airing in early 2016.

In you’re in the California area be sure to check out the production of Real Women Have Curves at the The Playhouse Mainstage located at 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101. The show runs from September 8 – October 4, 2015. Tickets are on sale now.  Watch a behind the scenes look at the play below and share your thoughts in the comments.

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Photo: Myron McClure Photography

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