Senior Lorraine Guerra recently received a $2,000 grant to purchase plays and works by and about people of color and will hold her first staged readings in the Memorial Union 193 degrees coffee house.
Guerra pursued and earned this grant from the Dean of Libraries, having noticed a lack of diversity in the plays and playwrights available to the University of Rhode Island’s script library available for theatre students.
The entirety of playwright of color, Nilo Cruz’s play “Anna in the Tropics,” will be read on Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.
Cruz became the first ever Latino to be honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2003 for “Anna in the Tropics,” which is about a Cuban American family in 1929 Tampa, Florida.
For Stage Manager and senior Gavin DiFranco, it will be his first time doing location theatre, which is a performance or reading in a place that is not a theatrical setting.
“It’s different because there’s no lights or sound cues but you still have to worry about managing the space, getting schedules out to people,” DiFranco explained. “There’s still plenty of work for a manager to do even though there’s definitely not as much. It will be an interesting experience.”
Guerra picked this play to be the first for her series of staged readings of the around 200 works she and a group of students, called Our Voices, decided to buy with her advisor with the grant money.
“It’s just a story that I had never heard and that I had learned a lot from,” Guerra said of the play. “To hear it from another perspective of a marginalized group that I wasn’t aware of is important to me and that’s why I wanted to bring it to URI because it shines a light on Cuban Americans and what their journey is like in America.”
Senior Arturo Puentes will be reading the part of Juan Julian, the new lector hired to read to the family of Santiago during their long days of rolling cigars by hand in his factory. Juan Julian chooses to read Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” to the family, giving the play the title, “Anna in the Tropics” and the characters find their lives starting to intertwine with those of Tolstoy’s books.
“I really admire Lorraine’s vision in order to bring awareness that we lack diverse plays and diverse playwrights in the department,” Puentes said. “I feel like doing a play that raises awareness to the different type of diverse plays from minority playwrights will enhance a lot of people’s perspectives about what we can do.”
That is exactly what Guerra hopes to do with these readings and with the plays and works she has purchased. She doesn’t want to just challenge people to read more plays and works by and about playwrights of color or give students of color the chance to act out stories written for and about them, but to challenge the theatre department itself to expand their curriculum to include these works and playwrights.
Guerra has seen in her past few years that there is strong representation of white playwrights and their works in the curriculum, despite the fact that theatre is international and made for and done by many diverse groups of people.
“I think that representation is very important because there’s plenty of people of color who want to act, who want to be in theatre, who want to direct, who want to do all these things and we deserve to have a voice and be a part of these places,” Guerra said. “But, when you look around and see a department of people who do not look like you, it can definitely diminish you or make you feel like you don’t belong when you do.”
Guerra plans to continue to do these staged readings monthly with the plays and works she purchased.