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Brown Bag Theater Company’s ‘Los Cuentos de Nuestra Gente Festival’ Celebrates Latine Artists and their Beautiful Work

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Like many other fields, the world of dance, acting and creative arts is often dominated by those outside the Brown and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) community. Serving as a counter to this norm stands the Brown Bag Theater Company presented “Los Cuentos de Nuestra Gente” in order to shine a spotlight on the many amazing Latin artists and allies found at our very own UCI campus on February 27. 

Created by current UCI students and alumni, the event premiered on YouTube and featured three full-length short plays and several smaller vignette pieces. The event was expansive in the stories it captured and the methods involved in this process. 

For instance, one piece that viewers are likely to enjoy is “Zu Sein,” created by recent  UCI Master’s of Fine Arts graduate Jesús López Vargas. The piece, which translates to “to be” in German, stars UCI alumna Erika Clark and captures the significance of storytelling and knowledge creation. As mentioned by its synopsis on the BBTC website, the piece delves into the consequences of telling our stories which can oftentimes take a toll on our lives despite being a freeing process. The vulnerability involved can leave a part of us behind. Outside of its significance, the artistic choices provide a piece that is incredibly well made and the music — provided by Pan Pan Gou — only further exemplifies the beauty and message portrayed by Vargas. 

Photo provided by Jesús López Vargas

The festival featured five other short vignettes that captured a multitude of creative outlets. These included works such as “The Giants you Come From,” a short story written by current graduate drama student Heather Lee Echeverria and “En mi Hogar,” a six-minute dance piece choreographed by student Piper Bockstahler and performed by Ebett Cruz. Each piece was both thematically and visually unique, portraying the sheer variety found in UCI students who have worked hard in creating these works during such a difficult time in their lives.

These performance pieces contributed greatly to the overall festival; however, one interesting aspect of this event that delves outside of this artistic field involved the incorporation of their “Tiendita de Arte,” or their little shop of art. As stated on their website, one of the primary goals of the BBTC is to provide a space for Latinx artists of all mediums to showcase their work. These mediums often stand outside the traditional acting and composition boxes, thus, this “tiendita” served as a method of allowing these creators to sell their pieces. Whether it is jewelry, photographs or paintings, the tiendieta collected a variety of works of art. On this page, viewers can find jewelry and clothes created and upcycled by TikTok-famous UCI student Arielle Sidney Kenny or pick up some photograph prints captured by the aforementioned Vargas, all of which are great finds. 

The tiendita and vignettes are aspects of the festival which are amazing on their own, but the main event revolved around the three short plays, each written, directed and performed by UCI students and alumni. “Merging Lanes,” the first play featured, was written by UCI graduate Nick Krentel and directed by graduate Lucas Goodman and depicts the relationship between a widowed mother (Kiki Ruiz) and her gay son (Jason Ta) as they undertake a spontaneous move to their new home in Oklahoma. Actors Ruiz and Ta are incredible in portraying such a contentious yet profound, loving relationship that many viewers will be able to relate to, a goal that Krentel wanted to achieve. Both performers worked together well while not even being in the same room, as the performance was recorded individually. As Krentel mentions, many of the most profound moments in his own life revolved around being in cars as when there is nothing to do but to talk, much can be revealed. 

Cybelle Kaehler and Mieke Rosecrans’ “Furlosophy” is a bit less introspective but just as fun for viewers. Similar to the 2017 film “A Dog’s Purpose,” the audio-only play takes their audience into the mind of a newly reincarnated dog named Hero (Alex Bobroff). Contrary to the 2017 feature film, Hero has lived many lives in different forms, one of which being the ancient Greek philosopher Seneca, which is likely the reason behind his constant commentary about the world and people around him. Viewers will love this character most as he indulges in cheeseburgers and scratches as well as everyday dog activities such as sticking his head out the window, despite the many protests he proclaims about stooping to the level of a dog. Similar to the other pieces, for those looking to delve into the world of Hero and his new family, one can visit the page the BBTC has dedicated to the event. 

Photo provided by Free Line Creative Studio

Ending the premiere was “The Best Thing in the World,” written by UCI graduate Stacey Manos and directed by the event’s producer and co-artist director Meghan Minguez-Marshall. This piece reflects on the relationship between bubbly 6-year old Micah (Katherine Hay) and her older sister Elena (Hope Andrejack) as they navigate through their difficult home life. Throughout this piece, the audience was given much perspective to undertake as it allowed for one to revert back to a childlike point of view. Similar to the main character Micah, viewers can recall the sheer hope, love and optimism associated with being a child even when presented with conditions such as addiction, neglect, death and emotional trauma. When asked about the influence behind her piece, Manos said that she wished to write about the topic of unconditional love in non-conventional families. This was incredibly important to highlight since, as adults, one could choose to focus on the damage caused by mother Jodie (Sarajane Bradford) in the piece, yet, Manos and Minguez-Marshall focused on the beauty of the relationship of two sisters instead. The creators decided to continue to film this piece in person, however, they still followed social distancing and mask guidelines, a fact that heightened the definition of what theater and performances can encompass during this difficult time for the industry. As Manos recounts, working around a pandemic was “challenging but rewarding” and through working online she and the rest of the “Best Thing in the World” team could more frequently meet about their work to discuss the changes they had to make around it pertaining to COVID-19, a fact that helped strengthen the relationship between them all. For those looking to see more of Mano’s work, the playwright and poet can be reached through her instagram at @skmpoetry.

Despite these limitations, the rest of the creators in the “Los Cuentos de Nuestra Gente Festival” presented audiences with a phenomenal multi-faceted event that is sure to keep them anticipating more. For those looking to get more information about the creators, directors, actors and artists within these pieces, the BBTC website offers a multitude of information on this event and other works. 

Carisa DeSantos is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at caridesantos@gmail.com.