Anthony Arnone | October 05, 2021
Performance Earns Kennedy Center Honor
Alum Stephanie Paredes’ on-campus production of Water by the Spoonful highlights commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
Why not us? That simple question not only spurred Stephanie Paredes ’04 to co-found a theatre company in Rochester, NY, but it still drives her to push both social and personal boundaries within her life today.
Paredes’ drive led to her production of Water by the Spoonful with the Department of Theatre and Music Studies, which received a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award at their 2022 National Awards Ceremony. The award “recognizes programs in higher education using theatrical production to promote long-term societal impact through an artistic lens, to encourage empathetic exploration of the complex cultural and physical world, and to advocate for justice on campus and throughout the world.”
Paredes never planned to start a theatre company after college. As a journalism major, she never planned to have a career in theatre at all. For her, acting was simply one of her passions. It wasn’t until her senior year when she worked with two directors – Louis Moreno and Colman Domingo – that she realized she could have a career in theatre.
“That was the first time that I got to speak my native tongue (Spanish) on stage,” Paredes said. “Being a student of color on a predominately white campus was a struggle and even though I had built a cultural family with other students of color, finding my theatre family was a different sense of fulfillment.”
Paredes continued acting after graduation and auditioned for community productions throughout Rochester, but often felt overlooked. That was when she noticed a familiar face auditioning for the same productions, and like her, was overlooked while casting. Paredes finally struck up a conversation with Annette Ramos – a conversation that led to the founding of the Rochester Latino Theatre Company (RLTC) in 2011.
“A lot of theatre companies claim to hire a diverse cast, but often lean on the same core cast of actors and that leads to a lack of diversity in their productions,” Paredes said. “We felt we didn’t have an inclusive environment to audition and Annette and I just kept wishing someone would start a theatre company focused on sharing our cultural stories and give us a chance. Then we thought, why not us?”
A decade later, Paredes returned to the place that sparked her interest in theatre to direct her first production – a production that just so happens to hold one of her “dream roles.”
Ruth Childs, associate professor of Theatre and Music, was one of Paredes’ teachers while she was a student at Brockport and often served as a mentor. Childs was part of the committee that chose Water by the Spoonful for this year’s Fine Arts Series. According to Childs, the play had been considered previously but the committee’s general feeling was that it needed to be directed by a member of the Latinx community. While working with Paredes on another project, Childs knew she had found their director.
“Something special happens when you bring an alum back. They bring positive energy to the campus.”
“Something special happens when you bring an alum back. They bring positive energy to the campus,” Childs said. “Stephanie was not only co-founder of RLTC, but she was also President of ALAS (Association of Latinx American Students) as a student and a vital presence to the theatre department.”
Childs continued to work with the production, assisting Paredes during her first stint as a director. They first set their goal on casting the production, but filling the roles for Water by the Spoonful wasn’t as simple as it seemed.
“The play focuses on a Puerto Rican family, but we need a diverse group of actors,” Childs said. “You have to cast the show as it is written. It isn’t even a choice.”
Paredes knew from the start it would be a challenge to cast the show. As a person of color who experienced what it is like to audition in an uninclusive environment, she was aware that students of color might struggle with auditioning on a predominately white campus in western New York.
“I felt it was important to show my face to the students and let them know the production had an Afro-Latina director who is here for them,” Paredes said. “We attended Club Craze and other student-focused events and talked directly to students and invited them to the theatre. I lost my voice that night trying to recruit them, but it was well worth it. The cast is incredible.”
“I felt it was important to show my face to the students and let them know the production had an Afro-Latina director who is here for them.”
Stephanie Paredes ’04
The production highlights a diverse cast of characters that struggle with family, friendship, loss, addiction, and the intersection of it all; topics everyone can relate to, not just members of the Latinx community.
“The show focuses on addiction and having that experience in my family, it helped me understand that there is the addict and the human being behind the addict,” Paredes said. “You need to understand the addiction and how that impacts the human being. For me, this has always been part of a healing journey. We can’t judge others on where they are in their healing process. We wouldn’t want someone to judge us on ours.”
Paredes hopes her production “caused good trouble” and that Water by the Spoonful can be the start of something great at Brockport. She notes that while this is only one production, by one department at the college, it may help members of the community understand the necessity for not only a diverse population but also an inclusive environment.
“We need to provide students an environment where they feel included, welcomed, and celebrated,” Paredes said. “Whether it is religion, race, or gender; people need to feel safe to just be them. If we can’t do that, then we aren’t giving them a proper education or climate to be successful in.”