This month, St. Louisans can experience something they’ve likely never seen or heard before: 90 minutes of local theater focused on Latino themes and characters.
Theatre Nuevo is staging a series of one-act plays in English, Spanish and a sprinkling of Spanglish, from the touching tale of a struggling family restaurant to a new take on “Little Red Riding Hood.”
The presentation is the brainchild of Anna Skidis Vargas, a local theater professional who wants to honor her heritage. Skidis Vargas, who's from Southern Illinois, has Mexican-American roots. She said the project gives all Latinos a chance for visibility.
“Growing up I didn’t see myself on stage anywhere," Skidis Vargas said. "The only way I could do that was if I went and got up onstage myself."
One word you might not know: ‘Latinx?’
The production, “Orgullo: A Pride of One Acts,” consists of eight short plays. The Spanish word “orgullo” means “pride” in English. The pieces are about how Latinos are proud of their identity and communities.
Skidis Vargas, 29, put out a call for original work from all over the country after founding Theatre Nuevo last year. She and co-producer Gabe Taylor selected a mix of serious works and comedy, and pieces that focus on a variety of different Latino experiences. While some of the scenes include Spanish, the meaning is the context.
“You won’t need to bring an interpreter,” Skidis Vargas said.
Skidis Vargas did use one word that might make you go for your Spanish-to-English translation guide: “Latinx,” pronounced “la-TEEN-ix.”
Spanish speakers have always used "latino" or "latina." Proponents of the new word say it includes those with more fluid gender identities.
“’Latinx’ is a way to talk about our community without letting it be a gendered noun,” Skidis Vargas said. “There’s been a lot of talk about ‘Latina, Latino.’ A lot of people said ‘Latinao.’ Saying ‘Latinx,’ to me, is a lot easier.”
‘People may be surprised’ who’s onstage
Skidis Vargas is directing two of the one-act plays and acting in two others. She has a role is “La Cita,” (The Appointment), which is about a session with a therapist.
Robert Ayllón, who has Mexican and Spanish roots, is the actor in the counselor’s chair. He said “La Cita” and the other plays will make us all examine ourselves and our perceptions of Latinos.
“Latinos come in all different kinds of shades from very white to very dark,” Ayllón said. “People may be surprised who those actors are onstage, and what those actors look like.”
You don’t have to be any particular ethnicity to relate to the production “Orgullo,” according to Taylor, the plays' co-producer.
Taylor, who is of African-American and Eastern-European heritage, thinks many people can relate to the plays’ messages.
“A really strong sense of community and a really strong sense of kind of accepting who you are and forming and reclaiming identity,” he said.
Christina Rios formed her identity as a child growing up in a poor Mexican-American family in St. Louis. Poverty is a theme in "Byzantine," the play she’s directing. It takes place at a garage sale, where a young man says he shouldn’t own a table his parents could never afford.
“When you’re super-poor, I think there’s this kind of idea, like almost a pride,” Rios said. “It’s like, ‘I don’t deserve that.’ It’s just very matter of fact.”
Rios said hallmarks of the Latino community include hard work and determination. It’s a mindset Skidis Vargas and Taylor illustrate by pulling off their first bilingual production.
“When I first said I was going to start Theatre Nuevo, there were a lot of people who were like, ‘Oh, is there even much of a market for that here? Is anybody even here?’” Skids Vargas recalled.
“It was like, ‘Well, I’m here.’”
“Orgullo: A Pride of One Acts” is on stage at 1900 Park Creative Space in Lafayette Square. It runs this weekend through Sunday and July 21-24.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL