Meet the cast of Theatre Exile’s Extreme Home Makeover

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Robert Hakalski

Theatre Exile’s 25th anniversary season begins with the world premiere of Extreme Home Makeover by up-and-coming Texas-based playwright Makasha Copeland. The story follows the Tejano family as they go to great lengths for a chance to appear on a famous home renovation TV series! I spoke with some of the cast members to find out more about the show’s themes, their characters, and even what they would change if given a chance to makeover their own homes! Extreme Home Makeover runs through November 21st at Theatre Exile (1340 S. 13th Street). Tickets are available here.

Q: How does it feel to be back in a live theatre?!
Jessy Gruver: It’s truly an amazing feeling. Not that I ever really did, but I will never take live audiences for granted. I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to be in a theater with real live humans who are all sharing this experience together in real time. 

Krystal Rosa: So exciting! I forgot how great it feels to feel the energy of a live audience and how that helps with the performance. Sharing space with an audience has been missed so much.

Angel Sigala: For this past year and a half, the theatre community had to transition into a more intimate world, with virtual shows over zoom and pre-recordings. To be back in a room with actual humans, longing to sit in the dark together to listen to and share stories, feels electrifying to say the least. We needed this, it feels good to be home.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your character in Extreme Home Makeover? Who are you in the Vega family?
JG: I play Valentina, the person responsible for getting her family to apply for the reality show. She has just lost her husband and is not giving herself permission to deal with her grief. Instead, she puts all her efforts into creating an application tape in the hopes of being selected to receive a new home on the reality TV show. She is Marco’s and Lupe’s mother and the sole bread winner in her home, and feels a tremendous sense of pressure and responsibility to keep everything afloat. 

KR: I play Lupe who is a 10-year-old who also is very smart for her age and she knows it. Lupe is full of light and is always trying her best with what she got. At times she feels that because of her age, she can’t help the family as much as everyone else can which makes her feel useless. As the youngest member of the family, Lupe looks up to everyone, especially to see how everyone deals with the loss of her father.

AS: Marco Juan Valdez Vega is a 16-year-old with a soft spot for all things nature, struggling to find his place in the world and figuring out what kind of person he wants to become. After struggling with the death of his father, he is designated the “head of the household” and starts to find out that the life of an adult is not always the easiest.  

Q: This play explores various themes…which one do you resonate with the most?
JG: In true Jessy style, I will say that I cannot choose! There are several themes that Extreme Home Makeover explores, but they are connected and it’s really difficult for me to separate them out. Grief, poverty, the elusive quest for the American dream, the importance of family- these are all interwoven throughout the piece, as in life. The interconnectedness of them all as expressed so effectively in Makasha’s script is what really resonated with me the most. 

KR: For me, I resonate with how each of the family members tries to see the light at the end of the tunnel through all of the obstacles that are/were thrown their way. It’s not an easy task, but having a strong and loving family really helps with moving forward in life. 

AS: Family dynamics and the effects of a culture deeply rooted in machismo are themes that Marco specifically has to deal with, especially while being thrust into the position of head of household. “To provide and protect” feels like a huge weight for someone who is just starting to explore the world, and being able to relate to this made my connection with Marco a lot deeper. 

Q: What drew you to this show? Why did you want to be a part of this story?
JG: The first time I read it I felt like it jumped through my screen and yanked me by the shirt collar. I knew I had to do it. It was so funny, felt so realistic, and yet had this tremendous warmth that made me care very deeply for these characters. Theirs is a story we haven’t really seen on stage yet, and telling new Latine stories is something I feel very strongly about doing more of, especially now as the theater community is becoming more cognizant of whose stories it’s been missing. I’m so grateful to be a part of this production. 

AS: This play, written and directed by Latine people, needing a full Latine cast, and being produced in one of Philadelphia’s most popular theaters were all green flags for me. Representation matters! My hope is that this is a good step into more inclusive and intentionally diverse stories coming to stages in Philadelphia because theatre is for everyone. 

KR: Simply that this show is for the community I’m a part of. Any chance that I get to play a character that is Latina and isn’t shown as a stereotype, I try to be part of that project. Our stories aren’t always told by us so when it is, I try my best to push those stories forward and support fellow Latine artists in our entertainment community.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
JG: This is a Tejano story, but it is a story about resilience, about family, about grief, and about poverty, and the American dream. It’s something that many can relate to in at least some capacity. It’s about how precarious life is for so many people and how so many in this country are one disaster away from financial ruin. It’s about striving and working together and overcoming. 

AS: Hope and compassion for families of color living in financial burdens is something that I hope can reach our audience when watching our play. Unfortunately, the system in America is so broken that no matter how hard some families try, making ends meet to have a calm and sincerely modest life is incredibly hard. We especially see this in Black and Brown communities. This play comments on this topic and we hope that it can spark up conversations within the community. 

KR: I hope that all of the audience members understand first and foremost that Tejanos and other Latine people are human and go through the same struggles that everyone else does. The hardships the Vega family endures are struggles that all families can relate to. Even if there are people in our audience who aren’t part of the Latine community, I hope they get a better idea that the family they see on stage is a reflection of real families in our country. We need to show more grace and compassion for others even if we don’t know everything they are going through.

Q: If you could be on an Extreme Makeover type show, what part of your home would you love to see get an update?
JG: Fun fact- my home was featured on a reality TV show! My friend Rachel Street is a fantastic designer/contractor/realtor and each episode of her show Philly Revival on the DIY network features a full renovation of an old Philadelphia house. So in my case, I wouldn’t change anything about my house. The entire design had to be a surprise until we were on camera to see it- which was nerve-racking! But it’s beautiful, and it’s home.

AS: I have always wanted a backyard oasis to be able to host family and friends for some good carne asadas in the summer. A beautiful yard, with a nice deck, outdoor bar/grill, and a hot tub or pool would definitely be on the list! 

KR: My bedroom! I wish I had the talent of knowing how to furnish and decorate a room that looks like the rooms on Queer Eye or something like that. To have my space look and feel like my heaven would be amazing.

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