Embodying the Universal in the Particular
[Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of April, Art of the Rural will share a series of new writing and multimedia from HowlRound about the twenty-one-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater. The collaboration bridges two vast geographies and cultures, Puerto Rican and Appalachian, and two distinct aesthetics. Curated by Imagining America’s Jamie Haft and Dr. Arnaldo López of Pregones Theater/PRTT, the series explores the creation of BETSY!, a musical about a Bronx singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history.
BETSY! offers an important lens on a long-term rural-urban exchange and the many threads of commonality along America’s rural-urban continuum. This series is part of a strategy to develop new scholarship and multimedia about the vision, values, practice, and complexities of intercultural artistic collaboration, which will eventually be digested into a learning guide for teaching BETSY!. We’re proud to share the work of HowlRound, Imagining America, Roadside Theater, and Pregones Theater. BETSY! the musical premieres off-Broadway, April 9-26, 2015 (purchase tickets by clicking here).]
Today, we are sharing excerpts from two essays recently published as a part of Imagining America and HowlRound’s celebration of BETSY!. Authors Ben Fink and Elise Santora conjure those moments we share with a work of art when our soul recognizes it’s likeness in the stories of another.
Developing BETSY! in 2006 at Pregones Theater in the Bronx. Photo by Erika Rojas.
From Elise Santora’s essay, “Embodying the Universal in the Particular”:
“Through my experiences, I have come to believe that every role comes just at the right time for me to play it. But at the same time, I know it will make me uncomfortable in some way. In that discomfort exists the challenge I must tackle as an artist. Like life itself, I find acting not a purely joyous experience.”
“These women make no apologies and have no self-pity. They possess unfiltered hope of making a life within the confines of survival—of war, hunger, abandonment, and all the harshness that accompanied the majesty of an unspoiled American wilderness. I felt each woman’s presence through her music and words, their will to survive for their children, and for a future better than they would ever expect to experience.”
“Like Betsy, I have had to piece together my own family story, of meeting my own mother’s mountain people in Puerto Rico much later in life, with my own spirits traveling in tow.”
South Jersey families work with Ben Fink at Appel Farm.
From Ben Fink’s “Constructing a Bridge Culture”:
“Before Roadside and Pregones existed as companies, Appalachia and the Bronx were already playing tag at the bottom of the Fed’s annual list of America’s most economically distressed communities. After several years of following which community was winning, I reasoned the Bronx must be an enclave of Appalachia’s dear lost cousins—or perhaps vice versa.” – Dudley Cocke, Roadside Theatre
“They’re both examples of “negative” solidarity, solidarity based on the shared experience of oppression. Yet if two (or more) cultures want to work together toward ending that oppression, many organizers would argue, this kind of negative solidarity won’t be enough. They also need positive solidarity: a base of shared experiences, shared memories, and above all shared cultural traditions to build on. BETSY!, both the show itself and the twenty-one-year history of cultural exchange and artistic collaboration that produced it, can be seen as a sustained effort to construct this kind of positive solidarity… Will our families from Appel Farm find their own place on the span that Roadside and Pregones have built? And in doing so, discover the strength of their own postings? We’re excited to find out.”
Read more here: http://howlround.com/constructing-a-bridge-culture