Camino Real: What’s in a Name?

“…the square of a walled town which is the end of the Camino Real and the beginning of the Camino Real” (Camino Real prologue).

The pronunciation of Camino Real offers two meanings, both of which help explain the exquisitely human paradox of this place. The first, in the above quote, is pronounced “caMEEEno reAL,” which means the resplendent, dignified way, or royal way (Guare xi). All is offered, provided you can pay the bill.

The second is pronounced, CAmino Reel, which means a base and scandalous place, a rusted and dilapidated structure – a “grim reality” (Guare xi). A place where the, preferably, forgotten reside.

Do these names have to do with the two sides of town? Very much so. The ritzy side, the grand Siete Mares Hotel, the “caMEEEno reAL” looks shiny, proper, upscale (Guare xi). And the other side of town, the CAmino Reel, with the flop house, the pawn shop, and the gypsy’s establishment, looks run down, pasted together. But, judging a book by its cover, well, we know where that gets us! And like many lines drawn in the sand, inhabitants of both sides wish to venture into the world opposite to their own. Whether or not that is allowed,… that remains to be seen. And in truth, all one has to do is scratch the surface to see that both sides of town represent both meanings, both sides of reality, regardless of how they appear. For aren’t most places and most humans a mash up of harmonies and disharmonies?

The beauty of this play lies in Williams’ poetry and how he weaves together the co-existent realities. Sixteen Blocks on the Camino Real, which is the version we are creating, premiered in 1953 at the height of the McCarthy era. A period of time rife with accusations of subversion mostly without evidence. Many artists, among the charged, lost their careers, their livelihoods, perhaps because they stood up to the tyranny or someone named them as a Red. This period in history influenced the structure and style of Camino Real.

And it was the artists that stood behind this play, because they knew not only that it was a shift in the theater paradigm, but also poetry in motion. Some notable artists of that time that championed the play were Oscar Hammerstein, Clifford Odets, Jean Arthur, Fredric March, Arthur Schwartz, Harold Rome, Gypsy Rose Lee, Valerie Bettis, John Steinbeck, Willem de Kooning, Paul Bowles, and Gore Vidal (Lahr).

This is a play of courage, loss, love, control, passion, faith, betrayal and triumph at all costs. The characters, the dancers portraying them, inhabit these aspects and take us on the journey.

But that is the next blog post: "Get to Know the Characters: Part I."

Until then: “…look down with a smile tonight on the last cavaliers...”(Camino Real 110)

- Helen

Previous Posts from Helen Pickett

Creating a Ballet Based on Camino Real with Choreographer Helen Pickett (Nov 18, 2014)


Guare, John. Introduction. Camino Real / by Tennessee Williams ; introduction by John Guare. New York: New Directions Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

Lahr, John. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2014. iBooks.

Williams, Tennessee. Camino Real / by Tennessee Williams ; introduction by John Guare. New York: New Directions Publishing Company, 2008. Print.