Theater

Juggerknot Returns with The Blues Opera, an Immersive One-Man Show

Eric Garcia stars in The Blues Opera.
Eric Garcia stars in The Blues Opera. Photo by Scott McIntyre
Eric Garcia takes a sip of espresso and leans back on the couch in the center of the performance space. He lets out a sigh of delight, “Like mother’s milk,” he says with a sly smile.

The Miami native has just finished a rehearsal for his first-ever professional acting gig. Although, it’s hard to argue the man is acting when he’s spending more than 90 minutes recounting stories from his past to a roomful of strangers.

Juggerknot Theater Company returns with its first in-person performance in more than two years with a one-man show written and performed by Garcia. The musician and bluesman, who also goes by the stage name Uncle Scotchy, invites the public into an intimate space to share his deeply personal stories about love and loss in The Blues Opera.

The structure of the immersive play is simple: Guests believe they've been invited to a game night at Uncle Scotchy’s place. When they arrive, the ten-person group gathers in the living room of a Little Havana duplex. Garcia greets the audience and invites them to interact with the storyline via a game. As the story progresses, the audience moves through the pseudo home.

The stories Garcia tells deal with the loss of his parents, heartbreaks courtesy of former flames, and, ultimately, love. The love of a son, the love of a husband, and the love of a mother. The stories tear through your heart like a hot knife as Garcia's kind and gentle eyes heal your wound just as quickly.

The Blues Opera is one man’s journey of self-reflection that's profoundly personal and deeply relatable.

“The way to heal yourself is with the truth,” says Garcia, looking down at his feet. “That’s the basis of this whole thing: I was learning how to tell my story.”

In late 2019, Garcia suffered the loss of his father. His mother had died nearly a decade before. When the pandemic hit, the musician found himself painfully alone and without parents to care for. The solitude led him to a place of reflection and, ultimately, to writing down his story.

“The way to heal yourself is with the truth. That’s the basis of this whole thing."

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“One thing I learned that is really interesting is when you’re performing as a musician, especially with a band, your mind can wander. But If you’re telling a story and your mind wanders, people will just disengage," he says. "Even though I’ve been a musician forever, and a frontman, I didn’t know how to just talk to a crowd.”

After putting together a collection of stories, the performer decided to share them with the world. In late 2020, he organized a weekly storytelling night called Uncle Scotchy’s Storytelling Extravaganza, in which, in addition to his tales, he invited strangers to step onstage and share their stories. One fortuitous night, Juggerknot’s Tanya Bravo and her sister Natasha happened to be in the audience.

The Bravo sisters, who've known Garcia since they were teenagers, were left in awe of his performance.

“We went, and we saw him share his stories, and we knew he wanted to do something more,” recalls Tanya sitting across from Garcia in a nearby armchair.

After the show, she and Natasha went to Garcia’s home and saw his storyboards laid out and immediately began to conceptualize a play taking place in a similar, intimate setting.

“First we thought of doing an immersive performance at your house,” Bravo says, looking at Garcia. She adds with a laugh, “And then shortly after, we realized that was a bad idea.”

Instead, the team at Juggerknot found a duplex in the Little Havana neighborhood that would work beautifully for the setting. Part of creating an authentic setting was having authentic props.
click to enlarge Performances of The Blues Opera take place in a Little Havana duplex. - PHOTO BY SCOTT MCINTYRE
Performances of The Blues Opera take place in a Little Havana duplex.
Photo by Scott McIntyre
Nearly every prop used in The Blues Opera is an item from Garcia’s home or one that belonged to his parents.

All over the duplex are personal photographs from Garcia’s past. In one image, an adolescent Garcia stands with a wide-eyed grin next to his mother in Chinatown in New York City. In another, a twentysomething Garcia plays the harmonica among bandmates while living in San Diego. On a corner table sits a photo album from his parent’s wedding day.

The setting is a crucial element of the show. The first half takes place in the living room, where Garcia welcomes audience members as if they were guests at a game night in his home. As the audience moves through the house with Garcia, it becomes clear that one side is dedicated to stories about his mother, while the other side focuses on stories that pertain to his father.

“I think this type of storytelling and theater, immersive in particular, really lends itself to allowing people to really understand and put themselves in the shoes of the character and what that feels like,” Bravo says.

"This is new, and we’re really excited to come back with this show."

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“This is really different for us,” Bravo adds as she looks over to her old friend, sunken into the couch. “It’s the first time that we do one space with just one actor. We’re so used to working with multiple actors, sets, and storylines. This is new, and we’re really excited to come back with this show, which is our first in-person show since 2020.”

Director Ana Margineanu prepared for The Blues Opera by listening to recordings of Garcia’s stories from his Uncle Scotchy’s Storytelling Extravaganza days. As she listened, she was ready to cut scenes and stories from the overall narrative of the immersive play. She would gauge the level of importance a story held by looking at the ink on Garcia’s arms.

“If there was some part of the story tattooed on his body, I realized that I couldn’t cut that story because it felt like I was cutting someone’s soul,” Margineanu says. As she says this, Garcia looks down at his left hand at a large tattoo of his mother’s smiling face.

“I’m not directing fiction,” continues the director. “Instead, we’re fictionalizing the truth, and we do that without ever lying.”

The performances for The Blues Opera are limited to ten guests per night. Shows for the month of May have already sold out, which led organizers to extend performances through the end of June.

The Blues Opera. Thursday, April 28, through Sunday, June 26, at a location disclosed to ticketholders only; thebluesopera.com. Tickets cost $85.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.