- “After Orlando” in the South Bronx: Creating Safe Space for Healing
It was exciting to host the official kickoff performance for the “After Orlando International Theatre Action,” which began exactly three months after the massacre. As an assistant professor who often directs plays, I initiated After Orlando at Eugenio María de Hostos Community College in the South Bronx because I wanted an opportunity for our community to come together, process, and mourn. Such a forum seemed critical, given that my college does not even have an LBGTQ club; moreover, the majority of our student body, like the Pulse victims, are Latinx. After Orlando was a labor of love, since I did not receive any payment or course release for producing, directing, and acting in it; nor did I have a budget, although I did have use of our black-box theatre on campus. Likewise, all of the actors and production team volunteered their talent. In addition to the student actors, I was able to cast another professional actor, besides myself, who was an alumnus from our college. While the performance was well-received, the most successful aspect of this show was how deeply and profoundly it affected my cast and production team.
In both the selection of plays and the casting, I made conscious choices to enhance the connection between the material and our community. From the script compilations that NoPassport and Missing Bolts had assembled, I chose the plays that best fit our South Bronx campus. I wanted to highlight the talents of my actors and reflect our Latinx population, but I also wanted to showcase additional voices that are often not represented in our country. For example, I presented the Muslim American experience with Rohina Malik’s At the Store with my Daughter. After choosing a diverse ensemble, I cast each individual piece based on who had the acting chops to rise to the challenge of each scene, as well as who could accurately represent the characters. Among my diverse cast, three of the actors were of mixed heritage, so they could play many roles. For instance, the professional male actor whom I cast is Filipino and Chinese, but he also speaks fluent Spanish. I selected full ensemble pieces for both the beginning and end, and I ensured having a balance of comedic and dramatic scenes. This framing allowed for a feeling of inclusion for both the audience and my actors. Moreover, this approach was quite effective, since the audience laughed and cried, offering a balance of emotions. If I had only selected dramatic works, it would have been too emotionally overwhelming given the recentness of the massacre. The response to our work was so tremendous that we remounted it for two additional performances during Puerto Rican Heritage Month.
These artistic decisions also directly impacted my cast and crew, all of whom identify as LGBTQ. The team was very grateful to have the opportunity to participate, because it helped them heal and mourn; as a group, they expressed how this production gave them a sense of purpose in the face of such a tragedy. One of them personally knew one of the victims and had been at Pulse only ten days before the shooting. Here are two reactions from participating adjunct professors I feel compelled to share (with their permission). Sergio Mauritz Ang, one of the actors, stated that
as a gay man of color, working on After Orlando affected me in innumerable ways. It provided me a platform to give a voice, channel my sadness and pain into something beautiful and healing. I am grateful that as an actor, I had the privilege of illuminating a few of the many souls [End Page 183] affected by this tragedy. Because we had a wide spectrum of genres presented, the audience responses were a mix of laughter and tears. But I think they were all tinged with a similar melancholy, because of our collective understanding about the event that transpired. Ultimately, the audience also reveled in our attempt to celebrate the truths of those vibrant lives lost. The simple task of coming together, releasing words to make change has been the thing I...