When Benito Vasquez, Marissa Castillo, and Jorge Diaz founded TEATRX in 2018, they never could have imagined what fate had in store for the Latinx theatre company two years later. The trio launched TEATRX to serve the Houston community, which despite its high Latinx population, features a glaring lack of Latinx stories on its stages, not to mention few Latinx creatives and administrators in other positions throughout the city’s robust theatre community. Even though the company is just two years old, they have already proven to be a force to be reckoned with, advancing Latinx performing arts and supporting the city’s Latinx community, its artists, and its stories.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And it hit hard. Just like cities across the globe, Houston theatre was shut down. Productions were postponed and cancelled. Artists were out of jobs. Layoffs and furloughs happened. Theatremakers were all of a sudden in the middle of a crisis that no one could have possibly been prepared for. Even so, as artists typically do, they persevere and they find a way to make art. With in-person gatherings off the table, theatre artists turned to the digital. Live-streams, Zoom readings and concerts, Instagram Live takeovers, and cast reunions became the norm. Balcony Scene in Quarantine is TEATRX’s answer to theatre in a digital world. The five-episode web series will premiere daily episodes at 8:30 PM CDT from June 22-26 via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Balcony Scene in Quarantine responds to our present moment of social isolation and longing for a time when making theatre “the old-fashioned way” was possible. The series documents TEATRX’s journey to make theatre and be creative in a digital world with the use of virtual platforms such as Zoom. Per usual, TEATRX’s work is specific to Houston and, in this case, it touches on some of the challenges that Houston theatre artists are experiencing at this moment. Naturally, this work is highly influenced by factors outside of TEATRX’s control—namely, COVID-19 and the inability to make theatre the way we used to make theatre. We can no longer gather in rehearsal rooms to build a play that audiences will later crowd into a dark theatre to watch. Those days already feel like the distant past and, without a vaccine and Coronavirus cases on the rise in Texas, it seems to be our current reality for the near future. Like it or not, Coronavirus is here to stay (hopefully temporarily) and theatremakers can either take a break or do what they do best—be creative and work around the pandemic. As always, people need the arts. Now perhaps more than ever.
The five-episode web series follows the TEATRX team as they fully produce a digital live-streamed bilingual adaptation of the famous “Balcony Scene” from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Episode one introduces us to TEATRX’s team and touches on the effects that COVID-19 has enacted on the Houston theatre ecosystem. The series continues with digital auditions and interviews with local actors. Audiences then get a chance to witness something they hardly ever get to see—rehearsals. Episode four sheds light on real-life stories from people who have been separated by the pandemic. Finally, Balcony Scene in Quarantine ends with a live-streamed performance of the balcony scene, which has been translated and adapted by Ashley Parra, TEATRX’s Production Coordinator. Elissa Cuellar and Matthew Martinez will play Juliet and Romeo, respectively. Benito Vasquez and David Derringer co-direct.
“Loved ones are being separated by COVID-19 all over the world. Romeo and Juliet, and the balcony scene, in particular, personifies the longing people are feeling; the longing to hug a friend they miss or kiss a loved one who is self-isolating,” notes Marissa Castillo, TEATRX’s Marketing and Communications Director, adding, “This web series is an exploration of those themes in the world and in the scene.”
Speaking of translating the classic play into Spanish and contemporary English and adapting the play to life in the coronavirus pandemic, Ashley Parra recognizes,
“It was important to find a bridge between two different cultures and identity. Me as a first-generation Mexican American and me as a theatre artist. By making space for the Latinx narrative we find that the balcony scene is not just an English story but a story that can be found in multi-generational homes, it is a defiance to the tradition and norms that many of us have experienced.”
Balcony Scene in Quarantine joins a growing body of work called Latinx Shakespeares. Coined by theatre scholar Carla Della Gatta, Latinx Shakespeares “describes a textual adaptation or a performance in which Shakespearean plays, plots, or characters are made Latino.” Latinx Shakespeares have become key sites for Latinx theatremakers to adapt Shakespeare, remix Latinx identity, and engage in intracultural theatre that speaks to the present moment. Latinx Shakespeares are American Theatre just as Latinx Theatre is American Theatre. And, as TEATRX reveals, the balcony scene effectively speaks to a social distancing world in which we long for the very connections we once took for granted. While none of us really knows where the coronavirus pandemic will take us, one thing is for sure—we need the arts in times of crisis.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.