By Cami Yates
Amid the pandemic, many shows that were supposed to be presented in Theatre and Dance’s 2020 season were delayed or scrapped altogether. For productions moving forward in this socially distanced era, production teams pivoted to new platforms to broadcast performances to online audiences.
La Ruta, written by Isaac Gomez (B.A., Theatre and Dance, 2013) and directed by graduate student Anna Skidis Vargas, is a story about women of Ciudad Juárez who are disappearing and is inspired by real testimonies from women affected by the ongoing femicides along the border. It is inspired by real testimonies from women affected by the ongoing femicides along the border.
Emily Garcia, a senior in Theatre and Dance, played the role of Yolanda, one of two mothers who fights to uncover the truth about her missing daughters.
“I remember when it was first announced that UT would be putting on a Latinx show,” Garcia said. “The entire department was gushing with enthusiasm! This would not only be an incredible opportunity for the department, but also for the community at large.”
The rehearsal process mostly took place over Zoom, with the actors separating into breakout rooms to rehearse for their scenes. The cast rehearsed five days a week for four hours a day, blocking their fight choreography online while also dealing with Zoom-lag, struggling with mirroring settings and tackling heavy subject matter.
“It was weird at first talking to a dot on the wall instead of looking into the eyes of my scene partners, but because of the incredible work of my fellow actors and the guidance of our director Anna Skidis Vargas and Assistant Director Roberto Soto, we were able to put ourselves into the circumstances of the show and not think about how silly we may or may not have looked,” Garcia said.
Closer to the date of the online stream, some of the cast and crew met in person to plan the technical aspects of the show. This involved the actors working in their own studios, with a webcam, lights and a backdrop all placed and controlled by the production team.
“Since this experience was new to everyone, we focused on making sure everyone was safe, everyone felt heard, and that everyone had everything they needed to put on the very best performance we could,” Garcia said.
La Ruta is also the first mainstage production of the Department of Theatre and Dance to include an all-Latina cast. In fall 2020, Hispanic students made up 35.2 percent of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the second biggest group in the department.
“Growing up, I never saw my life on screen. People who looked like me were never at the center of the story,” Garcia said. “With the production moving to a virtual format, I was excited about how accessible our story would now be.”
Even though the show took a format different from what was originally planned, the cast and crew managed to cultivate a safe and encouraging environment for the actors and production team to become vulnerable and share this story.
“Whether the next production is online, in person or in some new and innovative format, I look forward to expanding the opportunities for people of color and highlighting all of the beautiful emotional complexities of humanity.”