Since January, Cindy Dias and Charlie Chauca have been planning a play — and on Friday, the student-produced show, “Paper Towels,” is set to open at New York City’s International Arts Relations, Inc. (INTAR) Theatre.
Dias, the play’s producer and a junior majoring in theatre, said she found the one-act play by Puerto Rican playwright Nelson-Diaz Marcano after searching online, and Chauca, the play’s producer and Dias’s high school friend, suggested the two collaborate on the show at INTAR Theatre, where he previously worked.
Dias said she was initially surprised that Chauca, a junior majoring in theatre at Hunter College, had so much confidence in the idea.
“At first I thought it was a crazy idea because no 20-year-old produces a show in New York City, when you’re still in college,” Dias said. “It’s unheard of.”
The theatre aims to support the work of Latinx artists and promote the idea of “theater arts without borders” — a mission that made it a good fit for a production of “Paper Towels,” which follows the journey of Toño, a man who seeks revenge after losing everything in Hurricane Maria and moving from Puerto Rico to New York City. The show has never been produced before, so Diaz-Marcano, who is based in New York City, came to rehearsal to advise the cast and crew.
Dias said the play emphasizes the effects of Hurricane Maria, and the U.S. government’s response to the crisis, on Toño’s mental health. She described it as “activism theatre” — when theatre is used “as an art form to inform an audience.”
“He wants to seek revenge for what he’s lost because he feels personally victimized by the current administration’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico,” she said. “There’s a bunch of debate about gun control, mental health issues and what it means to be a person of color in the United States or in New York City.”
As the pair decided on a budget together and put plans in motion, Dias brought several Binghamton University students and alumni on board. LeeAnn Epstein, a junior majoring in theatre, John Knitter, a junior double-majoring in theatre and medieval studies, Emma Miller, a sophomore majoring in theatre and Natividad Guillen, a senior double-majoring in integrative neuroscience and environmental studies, have hands in the project as sound designer, stage manager, props master and cultural outreach coordinator, respectively. Alumni Jenna Brady, ‘19, Holden Gunster, ‘19 and Nicholas Coccaro, ‘17, have taken on the roles of assistant director, set designer and fight director.
The team held open auditions in New York City after securing the space at INTAR Theatre, with in-house rehearsals starting in early July. Dias handled most of the show’s preproduction paperwork during the spring semester, turning to BU’s theatre department for support. She also consulted Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., a senior lecturer in Cornell University’s department of performing and media arts, who has directed two plays at BU.
Dias said her experiences working with Simmons on “Smart People” and “Baltimore” showed her a model of activism theatre that she hopes to emulate with “Paper Towels.”
“I’ve always loved theatre, and I’ve always felt I was an activist because I’ve always fought for something in my life, but in high school I had no idea how to put the two together,” Dias said. “I really found it when I worked on ‘Smart People’ freshman year at BU … I learned from the work of Simmons and from other black and brown playwrights who write about issues like this.”
As president of BU’s Diversity in Action committee, an outreach group that aims to diversify theatre at BU, Dias said BU has made progress in bringing multicultural issues to the stage.
“[Simmons] brings all that training in activism theatre to Binghamton and I think it’s really important for people working in our shows to have that specific training … We do have shows like ‘Baltimore,’ but we also have shows like ‘Guys and Dolls,’” she said. “I personally believe everyone in the department is trying to bring in as many diverse shows as we can, and we actually had a decent number of students of color on stage this past year.”
Dias plans on pursuing a career in activism theatre, and although members of the “Paper Towels” team have varied interests and specializations, she said everyone has shown a dedication to bringing the themes of the play to light.
“Every person I brought into this has a passion for activism and a drive to fight for justice, and I asked them to join the team because I knew they would help me spread awareness as opposed to just doing their jobs,” she said. “Everyone really put their heart into this show because it’s a show that I feel like all of us collectively believe in.”
“Paper Towels” will run Friday, Aug. 2 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 3 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. The show has a run time of approximately 45 minutes.
INTAR Theatre is located at 500 W. 52nd St., New York, New York, on the corner of 10th and 52nd. Guests should ring the buzzer for 4W upon arrival and take the elevator or stairs to the fourth floor.
Tickets are $12 and can be purchased through the “Paper Towels” Facebook page or by searching “Paper Towels” on eventbee.com.