When East Austinite Adam L. Chapa Sr. was shot in his driveway in 1998 by a teen gang member, his family’s life forever changed. But Teatro Vivo’s latest production “Sangre de un Ángel” (Blood of an Angel) now aims to encourage young adults with Chapa’s story.
The play by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce of “Mariachi Girl” is directed by Chapa’s cousin Si Mon’ Emmett. The free performances June 1-3 at 8 p.m. with an additional 4 p.m. performance June 2 will be at the Hillside Theatre at the A.B. Cantu Pan American Recreation Center (2100 E. Third St, Austin, Texas), near Chapa’s home.
Sangre de un Ángel tells the story of a rebellious teenager who seeks the approval of his troubled friends. But when his auto mechanics teacher gives him the opportunity to rebuild a classic 1957 Chevy, he’s encouraged to go back to school. Just as he’s looking forward to a hopeful future, trouble follows him home.
“Teenagers, teenagers of color most importantly, don’t often see themselves represented in professional theater in a way where we can see the multiple elements of their lives influencing their decisions,” Emmett says. “Their stories are important.”
Playwright and teaching artist Jelisa Jay Robinson, who is African-American, grew curious about speaking Spanish ever since her father began teaching her a few words when she was in the fifth grade. But when she starting learning the language, she received pushback from some of her classmates.
“Why are you trying to be Mexican?” they asked.
As a young girl, she began exploring cultural identity and remembers searching the phrase “black people who speak Spanish” online. In an Austin360 interview last spring, Robinson said that after discovering Latino reggaeton artists who looked like her but were singing in Spanish she saw that “there isn’t just one way to be black.”
Robinson’s first full-length play, “Stories of Us,” takes an in-depth look at black and Latino relations. Last spring the play was among those chosen for the Austin Latino New Play Festival, which helps emerging playwrights workshop their scripts. After readings of her play resonated with the crowd during that festival, Teatro Vivo is now presenting the full production of the play at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. “Stories of Us,” which is directed by local actress and Salvage Vanguard Theater Managing Director Florinda Bryant, runs through May 8. Thursday-Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. while Sunday matinee shows are at 2 p.m.
“This is our first production that looks at Afro-Latinidad,” Teatro Vivo co-founder Rupert Reyes said in a statement. While they’ve presented other plays over the years that have addressed racism within the Latino community, he said “Stories of Us” has much more depth and insight into the Afro-Latino experience.
“The conversation that explores the similarities between blacks and Latinos needs to begin or continue,” he said. “I don’t know what the forces are at play that divide us. I do know that we can be one of the forces that unite us. We hope that all of our plays create a movement for more unity on the community level, the local level.”
Tickets, which range from $12-$20, are available online at teatrovivo.org.
The popular festival, which is presented by Teatro Vivo in collaboration with ScriptWorks, offers three days of live staged readings from Feb. 25-27 at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
All of the productions spotlight the Latino experience and identity in engaging ways, from dealing with loss to coming of age stories. This year the festival brings two theater pieces for youth.
Featured playwrights include Detroit-based theater artist Emilio Rodriguez; scholar and artist Roxanne Schroeder-Arce (who also wrote the popular bilingual musical “Mariachi Girl”); actor, dancer and performance artist Krysta Gonzales; and University of Texas undergraduate student Andrew Valdez. After each reading, the playwrights will participate in talkback sessions with the audience.
General admission tickets are donation-based. Reserved seats range from $15-$40. Visit teatrovivo.org for more information.