A freight train howls in the distance as a pedestrian sits cross-legged and lights a cigarette, watching curiously as floodlights wash over nearly a dozen actors moving about the Tucson Convention Center grounds on a soft February night.
Borderlands Theater is rehearsing Barrio Stories, an unconventional new production that will run from March 3 to 6 throughout the TCC campus and adjacent La Placita Village downtown.
The weekend-long show includes 41 actors and 60 extras — ranging from first-timers to local professionals — who will perform three separate plays written by Elaine Romero, Virginia Grise and Martín Zimmerman, and directed by Marc David Pinate, Borderlands producing director.
The interactive, outdoor presentation will recreate the neighborhood that was razed when TCC was erected in the late 1960s. The stories recall the decades when local residents never locked their doors and held cultural celebrations regularly, Pinate says.
Barrio Stories’ asymmetrical style was inspired by the rasquachi theatrical aesthetic — a create-with-what-is-available and site-specific technique developed by Chicano playwrights and actors, he says. This style removes theater from its traditional settings and brings real stories to public spaces for society’s working class. Pinate hopes this presentational mode will attract a new generation of Latino theatergoers.
“For us to survive we must integrate ourselves into the community,” Pinate says. “We must show that we provide a valuable asset to different sectors of Tucson. And one of those sectors is youth and education.”
During Barrio Stories’ rehearsal, Alva B. Torres, a member of Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson, watched cast members. Torres, 83, was one of the many outspoken community members who fought the leveling of the barrio in the 1960s. She says she supports this new generation that believes in re-creating some of Tucson’s history that countless residents work tirelessly to preserve.
Pinate envisions Borderlands creating a touring troupe that would collect and share tales. He is also interested in creating regional partnerships among other theater companies in the Southwest. “I think the Southwest has a particular story, history and feel to it.”