Last September 2016, during the Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s 23rd annual Fiesta Boricua Ivan, met Nelson Roman, Ward 2 City Council and others from Holyoke and Springfield, MA. When Nelson visited Humboldt Park, Chicago he had just missed UrbanTheater Company’s (UTC) powerful revival of LOLITA DE LARES by Migdalia Cruz, which was on his radar. Even though Nelson didn’t see UTC’s production he heard great things about the play and the work by UTC. Later that fall, UTC was set to produce the Midwest Premiere of Carmen Rivera’s LA GRINGA directed by UTC’s Artistic Director Miranda Gonzalez along with Mikey Oquendo, which ended up being the most successful production to date. It ran a total of eight weeks and sold out every single performance. Even though Nelson hadn’t seen any of UTC’s work he knew he wanted to create a partnership with UTC, especially after hearing about LA GRINGA. Executive Director, Ivan Vega and Nelson talked about creating a partnership where UTC’s productions from Humboldt Park could also have a short run in Holyoke, MA. Fast forward to September 2017, an idea called, From Humboldt Park to Holyoke (a spin from our motto, From the Streets to the Stage) became a reality.
UTC was invited to perform LA GRINGA in at El Mercado from September 21-25, 2017 thanks to Nelson Roman, founder of Palante Theater Company and the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA). We were greeted with open arms and treated like family. The population of Holyoke is 50% Puerto Rican and growing, which is one reason why we felt at home. We stayed at Jay’s beautiful Bed & Breakfast where we woke up to boleros and salsa and the smell of coffee and breakfast, owned and run by Jay, a Puerto Rican man whose saying was, “you all better not leave any food on that table.” Jay is a great businessman and an inspiration to many in Holyoke. He was also a fantastic host!
UTC’s four performances during the weekend were dedicated to the people from Mexico and Puerto Rico after the devastation from both the earthquake and Hurricane Maria. During that weekend UTC created a space for reflection and healing. People laughed, people wept, people hugged. There were many generations in the same room as well as recent evacuees from Puerto Rico. On Saturday, September 23 during our matinee performance, U-Haul trucks were being loaded with supplies next door for Puerto Rico. Betty Medina, the José López of Holyoke (what everyone calls her), from Enlace de Familias (local organization) was preparing and planning logistics for evacuees who will soon arrive. The weekend taught us that no matter the distance we are always together. LA GRINGA could not have come at a better time. The evening after the 2nd Annual Taste of South Holyoke Festival, percussionist Julissa Rodriguez graced El Mercado with an opening ceremony calling our ancestors into the space. The cast elevated and turned that room into a higher vibrational plane. IT. WAS. MAGICAL.
After LA GRINGA’S final performance, we received a tour of the beautiful (and haunted) Victory Theater. We sat at a table after dinner and acknowledged one another as we reflected our weekend and time together. We laughed. We cried. We had everything we could ever imagine and things we never imagined we needed. We created community. A big thank you to everyone from Holyoke for making our stay memorable, to our enchanting cast and crew and to LA GRINGA’S playwright Carmen Rivera for not only writing this piece but for letting us bring it to life. We look forward to our next Holyoke visit!
by Ivan Vega, UTC Executive Director &
Miranda Gonzalez, UTC Artistic Director