Originally from Saskatoon, SK, Rafael Antonio Renderos attended the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, BC where he studied musical theatre. During a stint back in Saskatoon, Rafael produced and starred in two shows under indie banner We Heart Heartbeats Productions: the self-written "Entropy Reigns", and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (co-produced by Saskatoon Pride as an official event), Rafael then made the move to Toronto to fully pursue a writing career.
Since then, Rafael is proud to have collaborated on the original iteration of pre-school web series "Miss Persona and the Marvelous Melodies" (now available on batterypop.com), and written a short film "Atop Coat Mountain" (also serving as director and costume designer), which premiered at the Sudden Impulse Film Festival and is now available online.
Rafael is proud to be a part of the Toronto Fringe thanks to the TD Culturally Diverse Artists Program. He plans to shoot a second, currently untitled short film, in the Fall. A revised version of "Salvador" will be given a reading in Vancouver at The Frank Theatre's Clean Sheets event, part of the Queer Arts Festival.
This isn’t the kind of thing you’re supposed to admit, but when I applied for the Toronto Fringe and TD’s Culturally Diverse Artists Program, I had not a thing prepared. Not a glimmer, not a spark. Applying was a challenge to myself: if the impossible happens, you’ll figure it out, you’ll make it work, you’ll write up a storm and brilliance shall be yours. La-di-da. I jumped on a plane content in the knowledge that the challenge need never be met.
It was my last day in El Salvador when the impossible actually happened.
A family trip: first time we’d all ventured 'home' together and my first time back in 20 years. Eight versus 28 - completely different experiences. Especially since in those intervening years I had come out as a gay man. To my parents in grade seven, my friends in high school, most of my extended family shortly thereafter. So, I’d become accustomed to my sexuality and found few reasons to hide it except on only the rarest of occasions. And never because it felt unsafe to reveal it.
The question of 'What Could My Life Have Been?' has passed through my mind countless times. What if my parents had stayed in the dingy house they shared with approximately 15 people and a few rats in Los Angeles, where I was born, making me the only legal citizen in the entire household? What if they had decided to do what so many others had done: stayed in El Salvador and hoped with everything they had that they’d make it out the other side of the civil war alive? They chose instead to find refuge in Saskatchewan in April when I was six months old. Though they were convinced it was a desolate wasteland (the leaves hadn’t come in yet), they planted their feet and began to build a life.
The latter alternate universe gnawed most as our trip progressed. To say I had lost all connection to my culture is an understatement. Though I always felt different, I considered myself Canadian first, American second, and in a very distant third, El Salvadoran, or more to the point, some sort of miscellaneous Hispanic.
As I watched from the sidelines as my family laughed and reminisced, a strange thing kept happening: the aunts, uncles, and cousins all wanted to know about my sister’s love life. Who was she seeing? Did she have a man in her life? When were the kids coming? Question after question. No one seemed interested in mine. It wasn’t even subtle.
Imagination ran rampant as it does, picturing what they all might have thought would happen should they ask: who do you have in your life?
Obviously I’d explode in some kind of glitter madness and warble an ode to the joys of man on man action as I jeté over a rainbow. The topic continued to be ignored.
To top it all off, every now and again, someone would make a homophobic comment. I kept quiet.
I asked my parents what life for the Gay community in El Salvador was like. They had little to contribute. So I asked Google and fell down a rabbit hole. The information available painted a picture of violence surrounded by an environment of impunity. There were glimmers of hope, like the fact that transgender citizens would be able to vote under their new identities in the next election, but overall, things looked grim. I contemplated my newfound knowledge as I boarded my plane home, passing a group of arriving Canadians, ready to hit the pool and drink.
Back in the cold of winter I ran through idea after idea of what I could write, I dismissed it all as complete and total crap. Apparently brilliance isn’t so easy to come by after all. La-di-da.
Kept Googling, kept falling down the rabbit hole. My experience in El Salvador refused to let go. There are a whole whack of reasons why I decided to go back, but the biggest was because if I didn’t I’d regret it for the rest of my life. I bought a ticket and hopped on a plane.
Without the security blanket of my parents and sister, this second trip couldn’t have been more different. My language skills proved even more pitiful than I’d ever thought. My North American entitlement became clearer than I’d ever hoped. But what became clearest, smacked me right in the face, was what I had most taken for granted: the freedom to express my sexuality, the freedom to be who I am.
It was my conversation with Joaquín Caceres, Gay rights activist, advocate for AIDS prevention, and founder of Asociacíon Entre Amigos, that really drove that point home. The story he shared with me over 100 minutes was so fascinating and impactful that it became the backbone of what would be called “Salvador”, which in Spanish means 'saviour'. I’m sure Joaquín, a gentle, humble man, would cringe at my making this comparison, but in a way, that’s what he is to me. Don’t get me wrong, I cringe at making the comparison too. I’d rather not be that privileged North American who goes 'back to basics' and Stella gets his groove back, you know what I mean? But if I’m Stella, then I’m Stella. And I’m grateful for it. And I’m grateful to Joaquín for allowing me to tell his story in a work that (in a small way) could help shine a light on a part of the world that’s most often associated with coffee or “Spring Break, b*tches”. And don’t worry, we’re not here to lecture you, or ask you to make El Salvador your #newcause. We’re still gonna entertain you. I mean, c’mon, how can you resist? There’s a drag queen.
In the end, brilliance didn’t need to be mine, would never be mine, because it was already Joaquín’s, all I did was listen and translate. La-di-da.