Department of Theatre & Music Studies Announces Collaboration with Rochester Latino Theatre Company
With all due respect to Tom Wolfe, sometimes you can go home again. This fall, Stephanie Paredes ’04 will return to the SUNY Brockport campus to direct the Mainstage production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Water by the Spoonful by Tony Award®-winner Quiara Alegría Hudes (In the Heights) for the Department of Theatre and Music Studies. Paredes, co-founder of the Rochester Latino Theatre Company (RLTC), recently directed “Coffee Card” as part of the virtual Festival of Ten: Revisited. The Hudes play, an occasionally comic drama about family, forgiveness, and fortitude, takes place in Philadelphia’s Latinx community. Performances are currently scheduled for October 2021.
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Paredes is “passionate” about the play, in which she appeared as “Haikumom” during a reading at the RLTC. Bringing that passion to Brockport, and to a theatre department which she admits “gave me life” when she was a student, has her feeling “excited, nervous, and humbled,” as well as wanting to do the show justice, and to “make the department proud.” The assignment gives her a sense of responsibility, returning to the department as a director and as a person of color, when it was two directors of color—Louis Moreno and future Tony Award® nominee Colman Domingo—who guided her through the Brockport productions of Maggie Magalita and Once on this Island during her senior year. They made her realize that she might have options for a career in the theatre.
While a student in the early 2000s, Paredes realized that while Brockport was not always the most welcoming place for a person of color, an individual department could become an oasis. She feels that “the theatre department can be a leader, along with student clubs and organizations—and the greater Rochester community—in cultivating collaborations and partnerships. They can cultivate directors of color.” As their talents—and the talents of other marginalized people—are developed, “sure, there are more people at the table. But you know what? Build a bigger table. As Shirley Chisolm used to say ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’ And, coming from my culture, where food is so important, you should feed all the people at the table.”
The collaboration began when Ruth Childs, an associate professor in the department, was gathering alumni to participate in the Revisited project. She had stayed in touch with Paredes through the years, and was glad to reconnect in a more meaningful way “this time as collaborators, rather than as teacher and student.” As the chair of the department’s show selection committee, she knew that Hudes’ play had once again been submitted for consideration for the 2021-22 season. “It had been in the mix in the past, and every time it came up, the committee’s general feeling was that it needed to be directed by a member of the Latinx community,” Childs recollected. “While working together again on Revisited, a light bulb went off, and I realized that Stephanie would be the perfect person to do the show.”
About the play itself, Paredes feels her passion “stems from being a human, a woman, and a mom.” With addiction weaving its way through various characters’ lives, the themes of judgment and forgiveness intertwined for the director, and begged the question of how you manage “to love someone through your judgment of them.”
Paredes plans for the production are all encompassing. Given her connections in the Latinx community, her hopes are to make it into a multi-cultural, multi-sensory event. “I want the audience to walk in and smell the culture embodied in the play—my roots and the roots of the characters in this play—through the foods my foremothers prepared, and see art created by Latinx artists, and hear the rhythms of Latinx music played live in the lobby. At RLTC we don’t just ‘do shows;’ we create experiences, and I want to bring that essence of my company to Brockport.”
Remaining part of the campus community during the ensuing years since Paredes graduated, Childs sees the “diversity issues on everyone’s mind lately—on campus, nationally, and even globally. As we attempt to mend fences and alter people’s mindsets, Stephanie will be a terrific ambassador for other students. She can help them realize that there are no limits to their professional goals.”
Hoping to “contribute more back to the department than it gave me,” Paredes credits Childs and Maria Scipione, another faculty member in the theatre department “for seeing that I was steeped in potential that I did not see in myself. The two of them lovingly shoved me into that potential.”