Cowboy contemplation: Luca Torrens plays the SF Fringe Festival

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday August 1, 2023
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Luca Torrens in 'Howdy Stranger'
Luca Torrens in 'Howdy Stranger'

Go west, young them!

A gregarious spirit of pioneering and possibility animates "Howdy, Stranger" creator-performer Luca Torrens' solo show, which they describe as "a transmasculine Western."

This month, Miami-based Torrens will visit the Bay Area for the first time, presenting three performances of her bowlegged brainchild as part of the 2023 San Francisco Fringe Festival, which runs from Aug. 10 through 26 (Torrens performs on August 13, 16 and 17).

"It's like a live cartoon," said Torrens, 23, describing the 50-minute show in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "It's a little ridiculous and I loooove doing it."

The musical tall tale of a cowboy named Jean who wants to be a lawman but has an aversion to gunplay feels a bit like "Pee Wee's Playhouse," but sweeter and more sincere. Beneath its silly surface, Torrens has incorporated themes with strong personal resonance.

"This young man, Jean, is trying to earn a badge from the Sheriff, who's sort of a father figure, an outside source of validation." Torrens explained. "But he's a very sensitive, pacifist kind of guy. He's uncomfortable with the 'shoot first, ask questions later' mentality and gets made fun of because of that.

"I'm not sure whether Jean is a guy or is transmasculine —which is what I consider myself— but he's definitely queer. And I think that queer people and trans people can connect to the whole idea of wanting to fit in but worrying about how you're being perceived. Just being yourself is a huge dissonance and you've got to find acceptance within yourself."

Torrens first developed a shorter version of "Howdy, Stranger" last year as a senior theater project at the New World School of the Arts, but the show's origins go back to their early childhood.

Luca Torrens in 'Howdy Stranger'  

Into the Fringe
"My professor told me that I should pick a topic that I was passionate about and the one thing that I love and could talk about forever is cowboys. My family always watched a lot of movies together, and the Westerns always stood out to me. There's just this huge mythology to everything," Torrens recalled, voice growing giddy with memories.

"I'm really inspired by the music of Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash, these storytelling trail songs. And I love horses. God, it's just so cool!"

After Torrens presented a 20-minute version of the show at school, a professor who was familiar with the San Francisco Fringe Festival, suggested Torrens apply for a spot. They did, then promptly forgot about it.

Like many Fringe festivals in North America, the San Francisco iteration operates without curation. Would-be participants pay a small fee to enter a lottery, from which a final bill of performers is selected. Performers pay a small fee for the performance space and earn back some of their investment through ticket sales.

"This spring I got an invoice in the mail from them," Torrens recalled. "I thought I was being scammed and then I remembered that I'd entered."

The opportunity spurred Torrens —who graduated in May and has been jumping between acting jobs in South Florida— to expand her script and add four more original songs to the pair featured in the original version.

And with that, in a dust cloud of innocence and optimism, the young cowboy gallops into town, heart on their sleeve, open to all possibilities.

With the San Francisco presentation of "Howdy, Stranger," Torrens says hello to new audiences and a bold new sense of self. It's not just a Western, it's a coming-of-stage tale.

"Howdy Stranger" is one of 15 works being presented at the Exit Theatre in the 2023 San Francisco Fringe Festival. "Howdy Stranger," Aug. 13, 16 and 17. $14-$20. Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St.

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