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Musical Theatre Student Wants to Show the Mystery of the Spider Woman

by on April 04, 2018 3:35 PM

Penn State's School of Theatre’s is bringing "Kiss of the Spider Woman" to the Playhouse Theatre stage this week, with performances Thursday through Saturday.

The musical deals with the lives of the fictional characters, Molina and Valentin, two prisoners in a Latin American prison. To escape the violence and fear, Molina fantasizes about a diva named Aurora, whose role of “The Spider Woman” scares Molina as her kiss kills.

Sophomore musical theatre student Jessica Ortiz portrays the Spider Woman.

Ortiz first became interested in theater because of her grandfather, who played the role of Chino in "West Side Story" on Broadway. She began her training at the age of five, focusing on all areas: dancing, singing and acting. At this young age, the Steel City native performed and took classes at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and Pittsburgh Musical Theater.

After continuing to pursue theater through high school, Ortiz auditioned at eight colleges for musical theater. Deciding that she wanted a personalized experience away from her home in Pittsburgh, she landed on Penn State.

“I knew that, coming here, I would be getting a lot of attention because there’s only about 12 kids selected for each class. I knew that we were all different and we would feel special; we wouldn’t just be a number,” Ortiz said.

“We get so many opportunities here. I love the balance between the conservatory life with the really hard training, but you still get to experience the university.”

Freshman year, as no surprise to anyone, is a struggle. Between making friends and figuring out who she was as a person, Ortiz felt the hardships of starting out at this university. Now in her second year with a new class of 12 freshmen, she’s happy to be one of the veterans.

“It was nice not being the youngest one. When you’re a freshman, everyone’s looking at you and you feel like you have to prove yourself, and that’s not really there anymore,” Ortiz said. “I definitely feel more like an adult now.”

Sophomore year has taught Ortiz a lot about theater, especially in playing the titular role in "Kiss of the Spider Woman."

“I learned a lot in all of my classes, but more specifically in sophomore studio class with John Simpkins,” Ortiz said. “He helped me look at roles in ways that I never looked at them before. Nothing is just surface level; I have so many different options to take with this role and so many different perceptions and outlooks on life.”

With the role of the Spider Woman, a lot of people will first see her as a beautiful woman that can sing and dance, but Ortiz refuses to stop there.

In rehearsals, Ortiz tries to give the Spider Woman flaws and problems, just like any real human would have, because she exists on a deeper level than just in Molina’s head — noting that “every character deserves an arc.” With that belief and the knowledge she has gained in class, Ortiz hopes to bring as much life as possible to the Spider Woman and show the character is not simply a pretty face.

“My main focus when I go into the room is to have a deeper and deeper understanding of who the Spider Woman is every single day because she’s such a mystery,” she said.

Tickets for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" are available here. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday.


Jack Bowman is a Penn State student and writer for Onward State.
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