This keynote address was originally delivered at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference in Boston in August 2018. Quiara Alegría Hudes and her sister Gabriela Serena Sanchez provided dialogue on the conference’s theme, “Theatres of Revolution: Performance, Pedagogy, and Protest” (coordinated by the vice president for the 2018 conference, Ann M. Shanahan). An edited version of Hudes’s speech appeared in the October issue of American Theatre and online at americantheatre.org.
This is cool. We’ve never done this before. She’s my sister.
She’s my sister.
If you have further questions on that fact—
I get questioned about it a lot—
We will be handing out explanatory cards during the book signing directly after this. We made little fliers.
So where should we start?
My daughter got her first pimples.
Aw, tell her titi is proud.
At her request I bought her a face-cleaning brush. It cost twenty bucks, which seems expensive but less so when you consider its revolutionary design: “Our revolutionary rotary tool with ultra-soft fibers scrubs away more dirt, oil, and dead skin versus regular handwashing.” A lot of products have revolutionary design.
Yeah. Like the SpeedVault Handgun Safe. Revolutionary design.
An eyeliner pen that is not only liquid black, but also smudge-proof. Revolutionary design.
A TV wall-mount bracket for 46-inch to 90-inch flat screens.
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Quiara Alegría Hudes and Gabriela Serena Sanchez delivering the keynote address at the 2018 ATHE conference: “Theatres of Revolution: Performance, Pedagogy, and Protest.” (Photo: Eric Ewald.)
An adjustable lightweight shower bench.
TubShroom! The Tub Drain Protector Hair Catcher/Strainer in a gorgeous shade of blue.
Being revolutionary costs as little as $10.99.
Shipping is extra, because revolution is not eligible for Amazon Prime.
Okay, let me turn back to that face brush I bought my daughter. At least that product actually rotates. The soft bristles spin in a circle. And that is actually a revolution. It revolves, turns back on itself, perpetually anew, perpetually starting over. Maybe today, Gabi, we should look inward, turn back on ourselves. Maybe you gotta turn back on yourself for real revolution to be possible.
Cool. After we each speak, then we can synthesize our work and be in conversation. (Gabi sits while Quiara delivers her remarks)
I want to start with love. I love this woman up here with me, my sister, who will always be my baby doll. Fellow travelers, I love every one of you here today. I suspect there is at least one love story in your life that blazed the trail to this very gathering. Maybe you loved the way lights felt on your face, the blindness as you looked out at the invisible audience bank. Maybe you love backstage anonymity, the chaotic machinery and runaround that keeps a performance seamless. Maybe you were seven and loved the first play you saw. Back then, you probably loved it more than you understood it. Remember how glorious that was, immersion in an experience you didn’t totally understand? Why do grownups cling to “getting it”? What an unadventurous, small parameter for experiencing art.
—Tomasito, what do you want to be when you grow up?
—Luzecita, what about you?
—When I grow up, I want to go to the theatre and get it!
Maybe, like me, you loved a cousin and wanted to tell their story.
Maybe, like me, there was a mentor. In my case, Paula Vogel and her warm ebullient enthusiasm. One time, in our sixteen-year friendship, I saw her lash out with anger and self-defense at a bunch of whiny MFA students (hint: myself and my cohort), and the way she showed that hurt made me love her even more, more than ever, because it is hard for a woman to stand up for herself, and I always wished my abuela had stood up for herself just one time in a life spent in service of others, so when Paula did just that, I loved her doubly for it.
Tending our wounds is central to loving. Love is richer when it comes with an understanding of pain endured, of mortality faced, of chasms crossed. To love is to face the wound honestly and then let the wound be less than one’s entire truth, to love despite the wound. That is the kind of love, I think, that calls me to speak today.
I suppose I need your help. I am here not to share wisdom, juicy gossip, or war stories (sorry if that’s what you were expecting), but to articulate a question and reach out my hand for guidance.
For I fear that at 40, having produced three musicals and four plays I am proud of, two early plays I am fond of, and a handful of work I’d rather forget about—at 40 years old having worked on Broadway and off, regionally and internationally; having gone into debt and then paid off those debts all thanks to my theatre habit; having some paperback books that sit on library shelves with my name on the cover that maybe a kid like me will discover for free and feel less lonely as she cracks open the pages, I fear that today, after all that, the wound feels bigger than I can handle. I fear that the ways theatre has harmed me are winning out over the ways theatre has nourished me.
Since my first musical in 1998, opening night has always entailed stress. There is much to do and few hours. An entire team looks to me, the playwright, for ballast and strength, for confidence and support, for vision, clarity, and therapy should everything topple. And yet reviews loom; and the set isn’t working; and neither is scene seven; and what if I rewrite it and the actors memorize it, to discover that the new, revised scene seven sucks? How will the audience view my Latinx stories, and if they are mostly white, does that mean my cast is performing race, and doesn’t that injure our pride, our self-determination? How will it feel to go out onstage and once again not be afforded the luxury of neutrality? Will all the community outreach I’ve done in the Latinx community, saying Hey, you know that huge theatre downtown? I’m here to say, you are welcome there, I invite you inside! Will all that community outreach lead to two percent Latinxs in the audience or hopefully dear god maybe fifteen percent? Will the audience be mostly wealthy, and so will my characters’ poverty seem monstrous? Is my play cultural tourism? Will the critics be mostly male and white? Will my little sister come and see how she has inspired me and feel outed and humiliated and angry at what I’ve turned her life—our life—into? Will I lose my family due to the mockery I’ve made of our stories? What right have I to joke about or fictionalize our pain? Is honesty, which I strive for, also a form a violence?
By opening night I have lost weight. The mirror reflects back Skeletor. Reviews are posted. I will not read them for days or weeks, but their simple existence suffocates me. Even positive reviews yank my art from my hands and serve up my heart like a well-dressed ham. Even rave reviews have deposited me, post-celebration, in a disorienting depression where I feel my mouth has been slapped with duct-tape. People call and congratulate me not on the work, but on the Times review. Against my affirmations and meditations, I become once again the little girl seeking approval when I have worked so hard to reject that frame.
For a play I wrote in grad school, I remember feeling that the play’s bluntness was a violence against my own sanity. My own words exposed and outed me. Terrified, I emailed Paula Vogel, my teacher, who told me of her own experience with the terror of writing.
For Daphne’s Dive, I remember one night after a preview. The production was impressive, the cast was inspired. Nothing was going wrong at all—how often can we say that in previews, usually a calamitous precipice of disaster? And yet I got into a taxi heading home, and my heart pounded so hard, I said This is it, a heart attack at thirty-eight. I texted Amy Herzog, a fellow playwright, and told her, “Can previews actually kill? My heart is going to break outta my ribcage.” I threw a twenty at the driver, fled the backseat at the first red light, and began walking to the St. Luke’s Roosevelt ER. Then the crisp evening in Hell’s Kitchen and the foot traffic of drunk couples calmed me. Breath found me again. Another night of previews, survived.
Amy Herzog has diagnosed my condition: “theatre-induced psychosis.” That she can name it so precisely leads me to believe I am not the lone sufferer of this malady.
After opening my last musical, Miss You Like Hell, in New York earlier this year, I called my theatre agent and asked him to cancel my productions and commissions for the next two years. I need a break. Hey, my heroes have shifted genres. Ntozake Shange wrote choreopoems, plays, and straight-up poems. Leslie Marmon Silko wrote essays, novels, and poetry. I can try my hand at other mediums.
My work in theatre is not done. I’ve just pressed pause.
I feared that between taxicab panic attacks and theatre-induced psychosis, I might not survive another opening. And truth is, I like living more than I like theatre. I had to prioritize.
Having stepped aside for a minute, I can see and understand with clarity what was happening inside. Theatre, at least at the upper echelons of the professional field, is frequently elitist, expensive, exclusive, and nondemocratic. Our biggest-budget theatrical institutions purport to encourage equality and champion the underdog, but in fact must appease wealthy patrons and subscribers, disproportionately feature male leadership, and carry stubborn institutional memory beholden to the white aesthetics and values they have built themselves upon for decades.
To restate, I love what I do, what we do, and I stand here extremely proud of the work I’ve made at theatres big and small.
But the institutional-theatre landscape replicates many of the old structures and dynamics I abhorred in Philly, that I rebelled against by writing my Latinx family stories in the first place.
These structures and dynamics have hurt me. Like an onslaught of wolves, they come at me biting, growling. They mock, especially, my explorations of female wisdom, self-determination, and pleasure.
At my worst moments, and believe me they have been many and very low, my mom has begged me to practice wellness. “Quiara,” she says, “you’re not only a treasure to our people, you’re a treasure to yourself. Take good care!”
To which I look at her like she’s deranged.
Didn’t she hear the audience member demand his money back at intermission because he doesn’t come to the theatre to hear Spickanese?
Wasn’t she at the talkback when the subscriber praised my play, but took exception to the fact that the characters were Puerto Rican: “Why limit the story like that?” he asked. On the heels of this comment, an older black subscriber stood, emotional, saying, “We have a right to be here, too! We don’t have to explain ourselves! I’ve been a subscriber here for decades, and I’m sick of apologizing for my existence!” At which point many of the old-heads and silver-foxes at this talkback erupted into shouts and finger wags, and I watched this all unfold—this was in the first year of my professional career—and realized that many of the challenges I faced would have nothing to do with my work at all. I’m toast! The system’s rigged before my words hit the stage!
Didn’t mom know about the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning board president who asked me to relinquish my board seat quietly, despite my being female and Latina (his words), because they were beginning a campaign to save the NEA in the era of Trump? And my schedule would not allow me to participate in such a travel-heavy project? I said yes to his request and learned later there was no such campaign. His long-time collaborator, a white man, had not been reelected to the board and was quietly ushered back into his old board seat at my expense. Meanwhile, the other board members had been told that I had volunteered to give up my place due to family obligations. This in a democratic organization; this from a liberal leader. It’s shocking what people do to protect the status quo, to keep their friends in power.
I will not bore you with further anecdotes, but the math is that they add up over time. Corrosive and painful.
Theatre, I love you. Accomplishments, I stand proud. I treasure the collaborations I’ve built, the friendships I’ve earned, the jobs I’ve created. I treasure the letters from high school and college students who find value and comfort in my work. Who feel seen. Who imagine themselves with the title of protagonist. Who grab the baton and write their own truth.
But theatre, it hurt to get here, and I only now see the nature of the wound. I’ve only recently acquired the vocabulary to describe the affliction, the clarity to admit the hurt.
Just like my family loves Philadelphia. And yet it hurt them to leave their Puerto Rico farm behind. They love the 215, but it hurt to arrive in Philly and be harassed by the cops, be attacked by gangs because of their Spanish tongue, be priced out of their green-tree playground blocks every few years, migrating further and further north, getting more isolated from Center City, until finally they were living on treeless, no-playground, dilapidated cement blocks while judges and lawyers moved into their old homes. That my family holds fast to their Philly love even after the city has hurt them so, I think it makes the love more profound, more earned, gives it a realer edge and flavor.
Either that or they are delusional, and I really don’t like that option.
I remember my abuela who, armed with nothing but a second-grade education and maybe—maybe—a coffee can of savings, left her husband, moved four daughters to Philadelphia, and then for decades nursed and fed and caretook until her descendants had graduated from Yale or were locked up in state penitentiaries. She loved till her back doubled over, curving like Big Sur—a testament to every meal cooked, every diaper changed, every neighbor advised.
I am starting to understand the hunch of abuela’s shoulders. I feel it in my heart. The fatigue of the giver.
I struggle increasingly with the stubbornly entrenched, atheist white male aesthetics I inherit from my field. These include:
1. That love is dead, romance is transactional, and sex is not a source of pleasure but a race to the bottom.
2. That children hate their parents. The suggestion of familial love implies idiocy on the part of the playwright.
3. That wealth is either neutral or a hardship to the wealthy.
4. Regarding God: You’re kidding, right?
5. Joy is sentimental, harmony a falsehood. Harming others is the single human truth.
6. Genius is a male attribute. Intuition is a female attribute.
The canonical plays that led to the aforementioned aesthetics matter a great deal to me. O’Neill, Miller, and Albee are my heroes. Death of a Salesman was the first American play I read. It rol-licked my adolescent veins. It is the reason I write today.
But why my work must either uphold or negate the values laid out by Miller, Albee, and O’Neill is beyond me, as if all the paradigms have been laid out, and we’re now stuck rearranging the puzzle pieces or self-referentially rejecting the puzzle altogether.
Can institutional theatre not hold multiple worldviews and paradigms? Do multimillion-dollar capital projects lead to fancy theatres that reinforce a single aesthetic mode?
It is discombobulating and even humiliating to write Latinx characters who will be seen by mostly white audiences. It feels like either their brownness or humanity is destined to be the primary performance, the play itself a secondary action. My characters become Latinos performing humanity. This fear crippled me during the lead-up to my last piece, Miss You Like Hell at the Public Theater. Why was I writing this protagonist, Beatriz, so that she could be seen first and foremost through the filter of race, not to mention gender? Despite an impending deportation hearing, Beatriz experiences moments of playfulness, curiosity, and celebration. She fucks and dances for pleasure, in moderation. I suspected a criticism would be that Beatriz does not suffer enough. Show us her victimhood, let us see her ravaged. I was correct.
Writing Beatriz felt like having a child and throwing her at a bed of nails.
Business-wise, playwriting is a great deal. You may not get wealthy, but your work belongs to you. The independence is remarkable. Freedom from corporate ownership. No Hollywood studio controls your words. No record label locks your ideas in a vault.
But I understand, belatedly, the tradeoff and wonder if my work has been disempowered too. Plays are things to be produced, and so my career is dependent on the market realities of producing theatres and what audiences those institutions have cultivated, historically, for decades. It is a strange marketplace to funnel my particular family stories into. In many ways, my interests as a writer do not match the United States theatrical landscape. Many characters in my plays could not afford to see my plays, and if they were given a comp ticket they might feel out of place in that lobby.
Sure, I could work exclusively at the smaller theatres where audiences reflect the actual cities around them. Places like Portland’s wonderful Teatro Milagro, which first did my work, where it was an assorted crew of anyone and everyone who plopped down ten bucks for a ticket to see the new play in town. But how would my mortgage get paid? Groceries get purchased? Health insurance? Dream on.
I was asked to speak on revolution. I am unsure that I have earned this topic.
My great-grandmother, now she was the actual revolutionary. She fought for Puerto Rico’s right to self-governance and self-determination. Her left breast was blown off en el grito de lares fighting for independence for her island. Perhaps I will gird myself and get back into the fray. Perhaps I will lose both breasts if necessary. But it will hurt. I may sacrifice my breasts, but I demand the right to say “ouch” when doing so.
For you educators, artists, mentors, professors, administrators, grad students, fellow travelers, my words are more simple. When you return to your departments, do the ongoing work of scrutinizing the ways, big and small, that your department replicates the old structures.
Does your mainstage season, syllabus, and/or curriculum reinforce dominant cultural values, and in particular, appearance-based and presentation-based casting hierarchies? Do looks, class markers, accents, and presentation afford students more or less cachet when it comes to casting departmental productions? Are students paying thousands of dollars to learn and replicate upper-class market structures? Are departmental seasons modeling theatre for wealthy ticket buyers? Are there abundant opportunities for students to center themselves, and the department, in different values and aesthetic systems?
Perhaps the greatest revolution I can imagine is to insist that no matter how “other” my characters are in the white wealthy spaces of theatre, to nonetheless affirm that they are not guests on the American stage. To insist that I am a center, I am a hostess. New hostesses are required. My art is hospitality and an open door. Just as my abuela left her door open and rice pot full, though she was poor most days, fulfilled many days, and heartbroken some. She still said Entra, come in, can I serve you? I want to return to the theatre soon, to say this again: Come in. Enter. It is my profound honor to host you. Let me show you my beautiful house. It still stands. Pull up a seat at my table.
I am not there yet.
Today is my high tide of heartbreak. All tides, however, ebb.
And yet there is relief. That I can finally name it or am finally willing to. And there is gratitude that you have respectfully listened.
Before revolution, honesty. That is my first step. (Quiara sits while Gabi delivers her remarks)
Hola Mi Gente!
As mentioned, my name is Gabriela Sanchez; my pronouns are she/her and I have a button to prove it! I am extremely honored to be here today co-creating the future with each one of you. When my hermana asked me to join her I was thinking to myself, “Reaaaaally . . .? Like for real for real?”
Did you notice my accent and sass? Yasss . . . I am a Philly jawn born and raised. Norf and West Philly in the house! (Fist toward Quiara)
Anyway, I told myself, “Gabi, you have the time available in August, and this could be a really cool opportunity for you and your big sister to share creative community beyond your blogalog.” (The Latinx Casting Manifesto: two hermanas chopping up the drama.) Check us out on Tumblr.
And like that here we are, hermanas adding to our marble collection of memories.
To my fellow theatre-makers, today I invite you to explore the idea of collective liberation. Can everyone repeat after me: “The Power of the People.” The Power of the People . . . what does that look like? This room . . . this moment. . . . I want you to think about those words, that mantra.
Just to give you a little personal insight, my brain does tricks on me sometimes. I kinda knew a keynote speech meant public speaking. . . . Ahh well, I knew it meant public speaking! Dios mío I am terrified of public speaking. So, I am going to channel the ancient self-care rule: stop and take a deep breath. I am going to stop in this moment and take a deep breath. I invite you to take this breath with me. (Breathes)WEPA!!!!!
When I began to unpack this conference’s theme, “Theatres of Revolution: Performance, Pedagogy, and Protest,” my heart and mind intertwined on asking the question, What does liberation feel like?
As I take a sip of my cafecito and stare at my MacBook Pro screen for the answer, ready to type away I . . . stop, take a breath, and meditate on that question, What does liberation feel like?
Perhaps pure vibrations sent by my ancestors that chisel at my cheeks leaving permanent dimples. . . . A naked body. . . . My bulumcuous, round naked body, happy and glowing . . . full agency . . . jumping into a river where my curls flow, cleansing my soul of guilt and anger . . . letting go, simply existing: organs, flesh, soil, heartbeat . . .
Creativity is where liberation lives for me. Having a creative outlet to express myself in a way that is not policed. Because let’s be honest, there is a policing that happens over my existence in so many spaces and places I lose count. But I’m still privileged, so I keep fighting for collective power until we are all free.
“We must imagine new worlds that transition ideologies and norms, so that no one sees Black people as murderers, or Brown people as terrorists and aliens, but all of us as potential cultural and economic innovators. This is time-travel exercise for the heart. This is collaborative ideation—what are the ideas that will liberate all of us?” (adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds).
Mi imaginación is a nonlinear leap into the unknown, and it takes up as much space as it wants. Yasssss! (Snaps) Translation: my imagination is pretty badass; it is an indicator of possibility, even when I am set up to fail.
I often daydream about co-creation for the masses, a necessity for our future. But someone usually snaps me out of it: “Hey! Get your head out of the clouds! Hello . . . Gabi are you here?” My eyes blink wide open. I protect that daydream like my marbles, holding on tight, counting each one. . . . Then I laugh. The irony in that question, Am I here? Am. I. Here? I often ask that question within the oppressive spaces I navigate.
In a world where we are pursuing reflective democracy, it is critical that people of color [POC] see themselves as leaders who can represent their communities, or as my mom would say, “social-change agents.” Most fundamentally, we need a radical shift in culture in order for any of this to happen. We need to have a culture that affirms our ability to have full agency over our lives. And decision-making power over our bodies and over our expression of our gender and sexuality. We need a radical shift in culture, one that affirms our lives as lives that matter, our humanity as a humanity that matters.
My partner holds me accountable with her words: “In a system that not so long ago had us shackled and enslaved, our bodies as women rendered property under the law, we have to know our history. People forget this is now and this is what it has been!” We are two passionate warriors working in the nonprofit sector. The burnout is reaaaaaaal. I see why the universe brought us together. Strumming guitar soundscapes of revolution.
Culture change happens with the storytellers.
Culture change happens with the artist.
Culture change happens with the grassroots organizers.
Culture change happens with education that is not captured in political and legal jargon.
Culture change happens by changing hearts and minds.
That is the role of the arts: bringing freedom and healing by sharing complex truths.
As a queer, plus-sized Latinx womyn, walking in the world has not always felt comfortable. However, growing up in Norf and West Philly, I gained a survival kit: humility and grit. Perhaps the occasional resting bitch face.
Theatre and community organizing are platforms I use to speak my truth and fight for what I believe in. My vision for gender justice, racial equality, and economic opportunity is to foster womyn of color as the new generation of leaders in the Philadelphia theatre industry.
I believe theatre has the ability to transform lives and environments through redefining spaces, preserving diverse stories, and mobilizing people to gather from ALL walks of life to enjoy arts and cultures.
From as young as I can remember, I loved to perform for audiences, which at that time in my life usually involved my stuffed animals, family, and friends. In 1997, I experienced my first talent show with a “reaaaaal” audience at West Kensington Ministry, a cultural hub in North Philadelphia. I experienced stage fright during my first song of “Como la Flor” by Selena; however, the audience cheered me on and sang along. That was a defining moment for me: community folks showing up and having my back.
PA’LANTE. Meaning forward. Can you repeat after me? “PA’LANTE!”
My high-school application process is a traumatic yet glorious memory involving a white woman (my teacher at the time) telling me that I should apply to a “neighborhood high school” and reconsider my submission to the Creative and Performing Arts High School (CAPA) because “I was not smart enough” to be accepted. Oftentimes as a dyslexic kid I experienced micro- and macro-aggressions about my learning disability. I used it as fuel to work harder. So being accepted into the drama department at CAPA affirmed my capabilities as a talented actress and active learner.
Abuela Yuya, the matriarch of my family, had transitioned into a new spiritual realm, and all I could remember at her homecoming was the smell of her kitchen traveling through dimensions, feeding folks who lacked a meal and even bringing neighborhood rivalries together. My abuela is the linkage to my cultural roots, family traditions, womynhood, and passion about being a catalyst for social change.
Adulting . . . Conflict Resolution Theatre was my first reaaaal gig. This program, founded by my mentor Judy Nelson, is the reason why I chose to be an educator. For six years I played various roles within the organization, ranging from an actress to manager. I traveled to every Philadelphia recreation center you could imagine, performing musicals on conflict resolution. Unfortunately, what I discovered, at the age of fifteen, was that many black and brown neighborhood recreation centers had significantly less resources compared to predominantly white neighborhoods. That fueled me to advocate for those underserved children and communities.
In 2008, I was a recipient of the Union League Citizenship Award for good citizenship, cooperative attitude, self-control, perseverance, and good sportsmanship. It was the first time I was being acknowledged for my work ethic, which sparked possibility. Additionally, it was the first time I ever wore a suit, with a shirt to be exact. I straightened my hair because that was what it meant to look “professional” in this white-cis-male institution. Early lessons of navigating environments, being the only Latina in the room . . . code switching, “acting white.” Which I am clearly not good at.
Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue directed by José Avilés had its Philadelphia debut in the Independence Studio at the Walnut Street Theatre. It was the first time I saw a play directed by a Latinx director, in addition to featuring four Latinx characters whose stories took place in Philly. Fun fact: my big sister exposed me to theatre and reading plays at a young age. If you haven’t guessed that already.
Return of the fuel. My senior year, I decided to pitch my dream to classmates about mobilizing to create a multicultural theatre company. This was sparked out of rage due to the inequalities I faced attending Temple University: feeling alone as a Latinx student, the lack of diversity in the professors’ racial and economic backgrounds, and Temple University’s lack of support for plays featuring diversity.
Other marginalized students believed in my vision, and Power Street Theatre Company was born. PSTC is home to a collective of fierce multicultural and multidisciplinary artists dedicated to connecting communities through the performing arts by sharing powerful stories that innovate and inspire. Shout out to Erlina Ortiz, Asaki Kuruma, Diana Rodriguez, Lexi White, Anjoli Santiago, Corem Coreano. They are my backbone.
As the founder of PSTC, my vision is a direct call to action to build a table among POC leaders to innovate, collaborate, and strategize on the future of theatre in Philadelphia. I seek to challenge and combat systematic oppressions by creating positions of leadership for POC, womyn, immigrants, disabled people, and LGBTQ+ identified folks, as well as to set up a space for white people to experience multicultural stories as audience members and co-creators of multicultural artistic work.
Through PSTC, I have been committed to producing one new play by our resident playwright, Erlina Ortiz, each year. I have expanded platforms for artists from historically marginalized communities to both create and excel in artistic spaces. The longevity of members’ participation is a measurable outcome of this goal.
Mainstream theatres in Philadelphia are overwhelmingly white male led. This is not solely an issue in our city, but nationwide. Power Street Theatre Company is different. PSTC is unique in that it is entirely womyn-led and inclusive to People of Color and LGBTQ+ folks. The company brings multicultural theatre productions into communities lacking theatre access due to high ticket prices, lack of childcare, transportation issues, and other barriers. With community at the center of all PSTC does, organizing plays a huge role in how the company operates. Within six years, PSTC has engaged over 4,000 audience members through seven productions, six contracted performances, four pilot programs, and various collaborative community events.
Dreams are possible even for a dyslexic graduate, because I decided to create them! As the founder of Power Street Theatre Company, I produced our first production, MinorityLand, at Taller Puertorriqueño, a community-based cultural organization whose primary purpose is to preserve, develop, and promote Puerto Rican arts and culture. MinorityLand was an experimental piece in response to overwhelming gentrification occurring on Temple’s campus. To encourage new theatre audiences to engage with this work around gentrification, I canvassed the surrounding neighborhoods and built relationships with other social justice organizations within the community to bring their participants to see the play. Through these actions, I opened conversations around what theatre is and could or should be.
Stay tuned. PSTC will be remounting MinorityLand in summer 2019.
In the beginning of this year, I made a radical decision to resign from my three-year, full-time position as the director of education at Norris Square Neighborhood Project [NSNP], a unique organization that offers youth and community residents of North Philadelphia a safe space to explore culture and social justice issues, create art, and develop sustainable-agriculture skills.
In 2017, I brought my two worlds together: Power Street Theatre Company in partnership with NSNP launched Theatre en Las Parcelas, a series of culturally resonating performances in NSNP’s community garden space for the price of pay what you wish.
I made this transition, to resign from NSNP, in order to pursue my career in theatre for social justice, a path to which I feel magnetically drawn. This decision has forced me to face my fears about failing, succeeding, and breathing.
The universe works in magical ways, besides the discoveries of adulting. . . . Almost two decades after my first community performance of “Como la Flor” at West Kensington Ministry, I found myself back in that same space again producing two recent shows. In March 2018, for Womyn’s Herstory Month, Power Street Theatre Company produced Las Mujeres by Erlina Ortiz, a play centering on distinguished voices of womyn from herstory’s past, at West Kensington Ministry. The play was instrumental in Power Street Theatre Company’s gender-justice journey as a company; it was written, directed, produced, designed, and performed by womyn.
The primary communities I have served throughout my career are the residents of West Kensington and North Philadelphia, a geographic region of Philadelphia largely characterized by Latinx cultures, diverse histories of migration, and POC, with median household incomes of under $24,000 and disproportionate high-school dropout rates of 40–50 percent (U.S. Census, 2016). However, North Philadelphia is a far more dynamic and resilient community than these statistics imply; it is a comunidadfilled with vibrant people and music, colorful murals, and multidimensional neighborhoods.
PA’LANTE is rooted in my people’s survival. Almost 5,000 lives taken by a hurricane, but Ricans still move. PA’LANTE!
A few weeks ago, my hermana and I received our blessings at the magical ceiba tree at the Caguana ceremonial grounds in Utuado, Puerto Rico, from our mother. A cleansing, an offering . . . oral herstories . . . roots, thorns, sage . . . a cultural ritual deeply connected to our ancestors and to each other.
The trip fueled my addiction to innovation. . . . This type of liberation . . .
I want to continue to taste it, sweet like the treats out of my abuela’s pockets.
Imagination, innovation, and creation are self-healing processes and radical practices.
Much like the bruja and guerrera in my family.
Mom speaks to the Orisha, listens to the Tibetan bowl, and massages the thorns in the ceiba tree through her third eye.
Rooting . . .
She embodies everything I know about performance, pedagogy, and protest: an act, a responsibility toward resilience and preservation, to speak and live your truth. She tells me there is strength in our movements, and what I discover is the strength in our authentic relationships.
PA’LANTE with collective liberation!
The power of the people!
(Quiara and Gabi return to center stage, together again)
This is cool. We’ve never done this before. She’s my sister.
She’s my sister.
You’re my sister.
You’re my sister.
If you have further questions on that fact—
I get questioned about it a lot—
We will be handing out explanatory cards during the book signing directly after this. For real, we made little handouts.
So where should we end?
Pimples? Revolutionary products?
Nah. I’m thinking about how we can be hard on ourselves. In this pursuit of democracy, connection, and collective liberation.
Always asking, am I doing important work? Being haunted by that sometimes.
The breath I need to take. The pause you need to take.
Or your question, the simplest of all. Am I here? You are here, Gabi.
You are here, Quiara.
(To audience) You are here, fellow travelers.
(To audience) Your students are here too. And they bring their communities with them.
(Quiara and Gabi hold hands, take a breath)