Hispanic Productions Take Center Stage for BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts

TICKETING: Streaming is limited for this event and requires a free ticket, or passcode, to access the livestream. Patrons will be able to request a passcode by clicking the link for the desired showing of the performance on byuarts.com. Once they’ve completed the ticketing process, they will receive an email containing a passcode which they can use to view the stream on the date selected.

Three evenings of performances explore the work of Cuban American playwright María Irene Fornés

Livestream performance schedule:

  • November 19, 7:30 p.m.
  • November 20, 7:30 p.m.
  • November 21, 7:30 p.m.

Please note: A free ticket is required to attend one of the livestreamed performances. See BYU Arts for full details.

At a time when important conversations about race are taking place across the BYU campus and throughout the country, the Department of Theatre and Media Arts is producing two livestreamed plays that feature a Hispanic cast, director and playwright.

“Letters from Cuba” and “Manual for a Desperate Crossing” were written by Cuban American playwright María Irene Fornés, who passed away in 2018. “Letters from Cuba” is based on three decades of letters Fornés received from her brother in Havana, while “Manual for a Desperate Crossing” is about a fictional crossing from Cuba to Key West, inspired by interviews with survivors who fled Cuba on homemade rafts. 

Director and BYU theatre professor Kris Peterson was scheduled to direct “Wendy and Peter Pan,” this past March, only to have the event postponed until fall when campus shut down due to COVID. When the play was canceled for a second time, Peterson was asked if she would like to direct one of the fall virtual performances instead. 

“I jumped at the chance. I’d spent the summer immersing myself in education about race in the hopes that one day I could be a good ally,” said Peterson, who is Costa Rican. “One of the ways I felt I could do that was by representing more of my own heritage. As a Latina faculty member, I wanted to represent more of the diverse Latinx culture we have here at BYU. I spent several weeks reading scripts by Latinx authors and fell in love with the poetry of María Irene Fornés.” 

The plays, which utilize both student and community actors, provided a unique opportunity for cast and crew. Student actor Darci Ramirez, who plays Fran in “Letters from Cuba” and Balsera 4 in “Manual for a Desperate crossing,” described a shared sense of connection.

“I’m Guatemalan. My castmates are Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Mexican and Cuban, just to name a few,” Ramirez said. “Some of us are first generation, some are second generation, some of our families have always been in the States. Though we don’t all share the same exact experiences as the characters, it’s like there’s a common spirit that we all identify with. We’re discovering a part of ourselves and our respective heritages through these productions, and deciding what that means for us.”

“I am excited that we are working with so many actors of color and that we get to hear so much of the dialogue in ‘Manual for a Desperate Crossing’ spoken in Spanish,” Peterson said. “I chose to do two very different stories about Cuban immigrants. In both, we’re exploring why people leave their homes and what the poetry of their lived experiences looks, sounds and feels like.”

As with most artistic endeavors this semester, the cast and crew faced logistical and personal obstacles to bring these performances to the stage.

“The rehearsal process has been very difficult to adjust to, and demanding in a way that a lot of us as performers just weren’t trained in,” said Ramirez. “But we’ve had such amazing support from our director, stage and production managers, and creative team. One member of the team got the virus and had a pretty difficult recovery, but so many people rallied around to make the show go on. It’s inspiring to see people venture into the unknown so willingly.”

Peterson described the challenge of creating an online-only performance. “In many ways it feels like learning a new language. Actors are performing individually in their own spaces, so we’ve had to navigate how to get them equipment, costumes, lighting and more, as well as help them connect to each other through a computer screen.”

As director, Peterson has witnessed a unification of spirit and hope. “We are exploring themes of love and life and how they motivate and sustain us through difficult moments of separation,” she said. “Right now our world is very separate, so our production feels quite timely in that our shows are actively wrestling with the impact of that separation. 

“These plays are quite different from what BYU has produced in the past,” she continued. “I’m thrilled that we get to showcase the resilience of these characters as they navigate their own stories. We’re excited to be involved in a project that is pioneering performance in a digital space, and excited to be pioneers in representation of Latinx plays. I hope that audiences will leave with a sense that there is room for everyone’s story to be told.”