Most artists invent themselves in some way, but Rudi Goblen has invented himself much more than most, leaping into the unknown each time, nailing his landing with talent, hard work and faith in himself.
He taught himself to break-dance at 13 and co-founded Miami’s top hip-hop dance crew. He tagged along with a friend to an audition, and ended up hurling himself into performance art and dance theater. Born in Nicaragua and homeless for a time as a young boy, he dropped out of high school but has taught at top arts schools and written his own erudite solo theater pieces.
Goblen will premiere the third and most ambitious of those works, PET, next weekend at the Miami Light Project. The result of three years of interviews, PET is framed as a “support group for the broken-hearted and serial monogamists,” with Goblen leading the search for love.
All those experiences help to make Goblen one of the most compelling figures in Miami’s contemporary live-arts scene. And he sees no contradiction between his self-made street past and his avant-garde theatrical present.
“You just have to do it,” says Goblen, 31. “I am a B-boy [hip-hop dancer], a dance theater artist, a writer, an emcee, a music maker — I am all those things. It’s not like now you’re doing theater, and now you’re breaking. People say ‘Oh he used to be a B-boy and now he does theater.’ That’s like saying, ‘He used to be Nicaraguan and now he lives in Miami.’ All those things will always be inside me.
“What I love about theater is it’s open to everything. I can do all the things I want to do and know how to do, and learn all the things that catch my attention.”
Goblen’s hunger to learn and confidence in his considerable talents have attracted a crucial series of mentors and supporters.
“Right from the start he was always willing to do things he’s never done before,” says Michael Yawney, an FIU theater professor and playwright who is directing PET and who met Goblen in an experimental dance theater workshop a decade ago. “You have this intense intellectual insight, but he’s not stuck in the groove that some people get pushed into in higher education. He thinks outside the box because he’s never been in the box.”
Goblen was just 3 years old when he left war-torn Nicaragua for Los Angeles with his mother, 9-year-old brother, grandmother and uncle. Less than a year later, the uncle threw the rest of the family out of the apartment they shared. He soon took back Goblen’s brother and grandmother, but the little boy and his mother were homeless for months.
“I remember standing outside with the two boxes of clothes we had,” Goblen says. “We slept around, in shelters, in people’s houses.”
His mother sold clothes and other items until she and his grandmother had saved enough for a one-bedroom apartment, where the family took turns sleeping in the only bed. By the time Goblen was ready for middle school, they had moved cross-country to Sweetwater, where his mother still lives.
“I was really young, and I don’t remember a lot,” he says, downplaying those difficult years. “It’s just something that happened and made our skin tougher. Yeah, there was some struggling, but that’s the essence of life.”