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Peru and the City

Gay actor and writer Peru Flores discovers Houston’s vibrant theater scene.

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Peru Flores was photographed at Playhaus HTX, a Space City pop-up art gallery. His images were shot by photographer Nghia Tran of NT Photography, with the assistance of Nina Herzog and Elizabeth Tran. Flores is wearing select designs by Nicholas Nguyen, creator of the clothing line Mysterious by NPN.

When Peru Flores agreed to fly to Houston from New York City for his sister’s wedding, he had only planned on staying for a few weeks.

“My friend Maya helped me buy a two-way ticket,” Flores recalls, adding that Maya is still waiting for him to return and pay her back for the ticket. “It’s been two years, baby!”

Flores, a 28-year-old gay actor and writer, began his career in entertainment not in New York City, but in his country of birth and namesake. Growing up in Cusco, Peru, for the first 14 years of his life gave him a special appreciation for the empowerment that actors feel onstage.

“Whenever I performed, people just really liked me,” Flores says. “I found performance to be very therapeutic because it was the one place where I felt safe.”

Although Flores was admired as an actor, his sexuality was met with less enthusiasm. Though he was not publicly out while living in Peru, Flores faced anti-gay bullying and abuse from both classmates and teachers. The discrimination came to a head in an incident Flores later realized was an attempt at conversion therapy, spearheaded by the school without his parents’ knowledge or consent.

Years later, Flores came across some articles on conversion therapy that got his attention. “I thought, ‘Wait a second, I went through that!’” he recalls. The incident ultimately marked his mother’s decision to move to the U.S.—an opportunity that would allow Flores’ dreams of acting, writing, and performing to flourish.

Humble Beginnings

Flores and his mother moved from Peru to his sister’s two-bedroom apartment in Odessa, Texas. The 14-year-old found himself sleeping on the floor while his mother and sister shared a twin-size bed for several months. During this time, he took comfort in reading and writing. “The beauty of Texas summers is that the light just lasts forever,” Flores recalls, noting that he was able to read and write despite not having electricity at times. “I would go to the door of the apartment complex because the sun would come in and I could read, write, and do my homework by natural light. When it got dark, I would go inside, light a candle, and do the rest in there.”

Despite not having the most privileged start in the U.S., Flores remembers taking his surroundings in stride. “In one of my old notebooks I wrote about this store in the mall that sold popcorn with different flavors. That, to me, was the American dream.”

To continue his pursuit of an acting career, Flores decided to move to New York City. He fondly recalls his memories of an earlier visit to the Big Apple during his junior year of high school. “I remember seeing a rainbow flag for the first time in person. I knew it meant gay pride, and it made me so happy. It was such a validation, and I instantly fell in love with New York.”

In true New York fashion, life escalated quickly for Flores. Within one month, he enrolled at NYU, found an agent, unenrolled from NYU, and began studying with The Barrow Group Theatre Company and School (home to alumni such as Anne Hathaway, Vera Farmiga, and Mike Birbiglia). Although he accomplished much during his seven years in New York—including landing a role in The Kite Runner and working with the Upright Citizens Brigade—Flores’ relationship with the city was not without problems.

“I had been working as an actor steadily for a couple of years, and then I kind of fell off,” Flores admits. “My lease ended, my job ended, I had no job prospects—and then my sister called to tell me she was getting married. She said, ‘Just come to Houston, give yourself a break.’” That break has become a journey of nearly three years for Flores.

Since his arrival here, he has learned to better understand both the entertainment industry and his mental health. “I struggle with anxiety and depression, and it wasn’t until I came to Houston that it became a real thing,” Flores says, adding that Houston’s calm yet progressive pace has allowed him to focus on his mental health.

While in Houston, Flores is refusing to put his acting and writing career on hold, taking the city up on what it has to offer aspiring actors. After discovering Station Theater, Flores quickly established a local stage presence by starring in and producing several of his own successful comedy shows such as GREASE(D)! A Live Parody, Unpopular Opinions: Live, and his most recent production, Peru and the City.

“[These experiences] taught me that there are other [places] in the United States besides Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago where there is a demand and need for entertainment,” Flores notes, “as well as queerness and people of color being represented in media and entertainment.”

Gay, Brown, and Latino

Throughout his career, Flores has encountered numerous barriers stemming from his sexuality and the perceptions about his gender expression. In New York, he recalls casting directors questioning the authenticity of his auditions for traditionally masculine roles, paralleling his own discomfort with sacrificing his sexual identity for the sake of an acting role. 

“Casting directors would ask, ‘Oh, you’re reading for this part? But this is a football guy,’” Flores says. “That’s when I realized, not only was this weird for them, but it was also weird for me. I didn’t want to play those parts.”

Intersecting with his queerness was also his brownness—and in this case, Flores was wanted by some casting directors for the wrong reasons. Flores says that the roles commonly available to him were the stereotyped Mexican drug dealer or troubled teen. Those roles made him feel like he would compromise himself.

Difficulties navigating his identity within the entertainment industry led Flores to take on comedy, and specifically improv, as a new form of artistic expression. “I don’t have to compromise who I am onstage with improv,” Flores says. “I can just be a hot blonde cheerleader for a scene, and everyone has to believe it. That’s the beauty of improv—whatever I say, goes.”

Through his exploration of improv, Flores was able to marry his love of comedy with his queer identity, culminating in his June 2019 production of Peru and the City, a fresh take on Sex and the City starring an all-LGBTQ cast. “It was the first time I produced a show that was for Pride—a gay show, meant for gay people, and I really cherish it,” says Flores, adding that the production marked the beginning of upcoming projects that will continue to merge his identity with his work.

Hey Peru and Future Endeavors

Flores’ time in Space City has inspired him to create an episodic web series based in Houston. He says Hey Peru, the show’s working title, is a blend of Broad City and 30 Rock with a K-pop soundtrack and “a gay cherry on top.” Though the show was originally set in New York, Flores rewrote the show to reflect what his time in Houston has taught him about creating the opportunities and representation he has always wanted to see.

“There are more queer things to do, beyond the already established ones,” Flores says, hoping others will become leaders within their own communities to push for more diverse sources of entertainment. Flores cites his success in booking two atypical venues for a comedy show—Rich’s and White Oak Music Hall.  “It’s all about asking and presenting your case. Some people will say no, but a lot more will say yes.”

Flores also cites K-pop music, and its artists’ reputation for constant conceptual changes, as a major source of inspiration for his own branding and artistic endeavors. “I really want to give myself the opportunity to express myself to my fullest artistic abilities,” Flores says. “I’m not a one-trick pony. Parodies, drama, comedy, grungy performance art—I want to do it all.”

In addition to Hey Peru, Flores has produced a short film entitled The Morning After, a semi-autobiographical story about the dark side of a relationship gone awry, which he just began submitting to film festivals. In the future, the actor and writer envisions hosting a production similar to the NYC performance art Sleep No More at a local indie venue such as Barbarella Houston.

You can keep up with Flores’ projects and artistic journey through his social media.

For more information about Peru Flores’ work, visit instagram.com/heyperu/ or HeyPeruTV on Facebook. As Flores explains it, “If you want to see someone be a cute idiot, here’s the page for you.”

This article appears in the September 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Martin Giron

Martin Giron is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine. He is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in sociology at Rice University.

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