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In Chelsea, a Latino theater company makes its debut

July 8, 2020 : The Boston Globe, by Terry Byrne


On a recent Friday evening, a talented cast of Boston-area Latino actors participated in a Zoom reading of “Anna in the Tropics,” Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the drama that ensues when a family-owned cigar factory hires a reader to entertain the workers. The performance marked the debut of Teatro Chelsea, a new theater company launching under the auspices of the Apollinaire Theatre Company/Chelsea Theatre Works.

Teatro Chelsea grew out of Apollinaire’s desire to create more opportunities for theater that reflects the interests of the Chelsea community, where Latinos make up two-thirds of the population. Jaime Hernandez, a 19-year-old actor and Chelsea resident who has performed in several small theater company productions, including Apollinaire’s, immediately stepped up to serve on the board.

“We really want to find a way to eliminate barriers that prevent Chelsea residents from attending or participating in theater,” says Hernandez. “One way is to offer bilingual productions, another is to schedule performances at times that respect people’s work schedules. We are also opening auditions to residents and will adjust our rehearsal schedule to meet their needs.”

Hernandez is one of six members of Teatro Chelsea’s governing board, which also includes actor Armando Rivera, producer Edwardo Chacon, Salem State University theater student Yeimi Benitez, Chelsea High School theater director Kariana Santos, and filmmaker Oldren Leyva Romero.

Teatro Chelsea, which will operate under the auspices of Apollinaire, received a Creative Catalyst grant from MassDevelopment to help it launch. Its governing board is now looking to hire a part-time program manager.

“I love the fact that the board already includes a filmmaker, a poet, and a musician, in addition to theater artists,” says Apollinaire founder and artistic director Danielle Fauteux Jacques. “Initially it will provide opportunities for more bilingual performances and serve as a community theater, but with the wide range of artistic interests, it will be exciting to see what emerges.”

Planning for Teatro Chelsea began in early March, before everything changed. Hernandez says the original plan was to have a fund-raiser in September, followed by two full productions — one in December and one in April 2021. But, he says the company will follow the lead of the larger Boston theater companies and hold off until January before attempting to make any plans.

“I see this as a great learning opportunity for me,” says Hernandez, “and whenever we can get it going, the goal is to make Teatro Chelsea fun, and to make it feel like home for audiences and performers.”

In the meantime, Apollinaire took a break after 14 weeks of Zoom play and screenplay readings to prepare for this summer’s substitute for Apollinaire in the Park, “Chelsea Stories,” three new Zoom plays, each based on the life of a Chelsea resident. The three residents will be selected by a community group, and the cast will devise the play over the course of a week, include some original music, and present the production either in Spanish or English with subtitles on consecutive Saturday nights July 25, Aug. 1, and Aug. 8. For more information, go to www.apollinairetheatre.com.