By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa
Gabriela Fuentes arrived in Des Moines in 2018 and didn’t know a soul. While living in Washington DC she applied for a job with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and followed the opportunity to her new home. While she loves advocating for reproductive rights, “Mostly I’m an actress,” she says excitedly. Before moving to the United States, she was involved in theater in Bolivia, where she was born and raised. She was so focused on acting that she wrote her master’s thesis on how to use actor’s physical movement techniques and exercises to help caretakers connect with children who have experienced trauma. In DC she didn’t have time for auditions so when she arrived in Des Moines, she immediately began looking for other actors, theater events, and opportunities to act. In 2019 she was the only Latina in Manic Monologues. She followed that up performing traditional Bolivian dances with Gateway Dance. That led to being the featured performer at the inaugural Latino Gala in 2022. In the spring of 2023 she landed a role in Native Gardens, a production of the Des Moines Community Playhouse. The role required Fuentes to memorize and perform entirely in English, the first time she had to do that for a full play. “I worked so hard for that role. It was twenty hours a week to prepare for the 90-minute performance, but I took more time since it was all in English. I wanted to make sure I got it right.” Her persistence paid off. She was nominated for a Cloris Award for Best Performance in a Lead Role in a Play for her role as Tania del Valle. The Cloris Leachman Excellence in Theatre Arts Awards, also known as the Clorises, celebrate excellence in theatre in greater Des Moines. The award was created in 2015 to honor local companies’ achievements and create excitement around Des Moines’ growing theater scene. Fuentes was also nominated and won a Dionysos Award from the Des Moines Community Playhouse for Outstanding Adult Performance in a Jhon Viars Theatre Play. For that award the audience nominates actors and season ticket holders make the final decision.
Her talents are not limited to the stage. In 2023 Fuentes partnered with Durón Films for the 48-Hour Film Project. The 48-Hour Film Project takes place in over 100 cities across the globe and brings together filmmakers, actors, and crew to write, film, edit and present a film in two days. Fuentes starred in ALONE, a horror film directed by Honduran director Mateo Durón who is also known for his media productions in Des Moines and other cities. The short film also won Best use of Genre, and 2nd place in Best Film of 2023, out of 53 films that were screened. It was the first short film shot in Des Moines where 95% of the cast and crew were Latino. The film used folklore from Honduras, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Mexico to create a story around “Duende” from Latino mythology, known for terrorizing single women. Fuentes played Jada who is haunted by the stories of the Duende she heard as a child.
Fuentes is just getting started. Now a decorated actress, she wants to involve more Latinos in theater and film. “I really want to work with the community. I want to keep creating with more people, more folks who want to explore theater and acting.”