New Arizona theater company inspires audiences to think about universal human rights issues

Teatro Dignidad’s Alba Jaramillo. (Photo by Betsy Kaplan/Arizona Sonora News)

A Tucson human rights lawyer saw a need to create a conversation about issues within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Tucson’s newest theater company Teatro Dignidad produces plays about matters of human rights to open dialogue.

When Stage Director [of this specific production] Barclay Goldsmith was introduced to the play he felt that it was “begging” to be put on.

“This play found us,” Goldsmith said.

He then came to the local human rights lawyer, who was once his student, with the one-woman one-act play Digna, which tells the story of the famous Mexican human rights lawyer in a lecture setting.

“The role of Digna Ochoa spoke to me on a personal level, and it’s the reason I studied law,” Alba Jaramillo, Teatro Dignidad’s company chair, director, and lead actor said. “So, when I saw this play about a woman attorney from a poor community, I identified with the role and was able to identify with the issues because they are close to my family.”

Teatro Dignidad has now performed Digna 17 times, both in English and translated into Spanish.

Jaramillo is YWCA Southern Arizona’s Director of the Women’s Center for Economic Opportunity. She primarily works with immigrant women and felt very conflicted in that the launch of Teatro Dignidad would offer Digna in only English.

“We were able to get it translated with one of our theater members, and we staged it,” Jaramillo said. “We had people that came from Mexico to see it, and that was amazing to see. The actual commentary that we got from the Spanish speaking audience was really deep.”

Alba Jaramillo playing the role of Digna Ochoa in Teatro Dignidad’s “Digna” at YWCA Southern Arizona. (Photo by Barbara Gonzalez-Beltran)

Every play Teatro Dignidad puts on must address at least one issue within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The organization aspires to do community action around the theme of the play.

“This time we did the Climate Ribbon Project,” Jaramillo said. “One of the issues in this play [Digna] was an environmental injustice. With this project, people were asked to commit to how they’re going to take action to improve the environment.”

Teatro Dignidad’s team considers themselves “ARTivists,” someone who joins a human rights art campaign or creates their very own. The company encourages their audiences to become ARTivisits as well.

“Anyone can be an artist, and anything can be a work of art with a purpose — with an actual issue around it,” Jaramillo said. “Taking the issue and mixing it with art to promote human rights is using art as a form of protest or awareness and education.”

As of now, the company’s next play will aim to premiere around March or April of 2018. The team seems to have settled on the youth play The Sound of Cracking Bones.

“It’s about two children who get trapped in a war zone,” Jaramillo said. “They’re child soldiers. The play doesn’t tell you where the war is and it’s written in a way that it could be anywhere. Right now, I’m playing with the concept of children in cartels.”

Alba Jaramillo playing the role of Digna Ochoa in Teatro Dignidad’s “Digna” at YWCA Southern Arizona. (Photo by Barbara Gonzalez-Beltran)

All in all, Teatro Dignidad hopes to bring awareness on issues of human rights as they’re recognized universally through the plays it puts on. “Dignidad” is Spanish for dignity, which inspired their first show Digna.

Politically, the company aspires to expose people to the language, understand the rights, and give audiences the tools to make a call for action.

“As a society, even in legal training, unless you take a focus in human rights they don’t teach you in law school how to litigate it,” Jaramillo said. “The concept of human rights is so foreign— no one really understands what it means in terms of legal obligation.”

Betsy Kaplan is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

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