A poster advertises the International Fest of Theatre. Credit: Courtesy / AtticRep

In partnership with the Mexican Cultural Institute of San Antonio, AtticRep presents its third International Fest of Theatre from June 8-18. The event addresses the issue of immigration with three theatrical pieces as well as an art exhibition and symposium. The theatrical works will be presented at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theatre at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, while the symposium and art exhibition will be held at the Mexican Cultural Institute.

Roberto Prestigiacomo, AtticRep’s producing artistic director, and Mónica del Arenal, director of the Mexican Cultural Institute, sat down with the Rivard Report to discuss the Fest and the importance of talking about immigration today.

Roberto Prestigiacomo, AtticRep’s producing artistic director (left), and Monica del Arenal, executive director of the Mexican Cultural Institute.
Roberto Prestigiacomo, AtticRep’s producing artistic director (left), and Mónica del Arenal, director of the Mexican Cultural Institute. Credit: Kurt Gardner for the San Antonio Report
Rivard Report: How did you become involved with the Fest?

Roberto Prestigiacomo: About 18 years ago, the director of the Mexican Cultural Institute, Felipe Santander, created the first International Fest of Theatre. Mike Casey, who is on our board of directors, always talked about how fantastic that festival was. Theatrical companies from all over the world were brought here for 10 days to work with local talent. Eighteen years later, I’m picking up where Mr. Santander left off.

AtticRep has been doing theater for 11 years. The mission of the theater has always been to create a platform for dialogue around difficult subjects. In these 11 years, we brought work to San Antonio that no one has ever seen. We produced about 46 plays; 45 were San Antonio premieres, Texas premieres, or world premieres. We brought that kind of work and developed an audience for that.

Gradually, we decided that this cycle of producing topical, off-Broadway plays was over. Let’s move on, regenerate. That’s what I did three years ago with the inaugural Festival. From the Mahabharata was a piece that was created locally, but it incorporated talent from abroad.

We continued the experiment last year with 14. Again, one play with international talent. I had a team of 17 people representing 14 different nationalities. Some were local to San Antonio, others from abroad. I like that, because the new artistic journey of AtticRep is to mix the creative talents of people from other countries with the local artists. The only way we can grow is to work with people who have new insights and have done work that we appreciate.

That’s the kind of synergy we want to create with AtticRep’s new direction. We’re converting from seasonal format to festival format. The reason is that the festival format allows us to bring together talent from different places and have the performances back-to-back in a more condensed time frame. They also work with our local talent so that we can continue to learn and grow artistically.

The set design of Through the Wall by Betsabeé Romero.
The set design of Through the Wall by Betsabeé Romero. Credit: Courtesy / AtticRep
RR: Do you feel that this format will excite the community and appeal to more audiences?

RP: Definitely. 14 and the Mahabharata projects were the most popular in the previous two seasons, possibly because they were performance pieces, mixing theater and dance with visuals.

RR: Talk about the social change you hope will be spurred by AtticRep’s new direction.

RP: For the last two years of the Fest, we focused on the aesthetics of performance – a mixture of dance, text, visuals, and projections. This year, we are focusing more on the message rather than the aesthetic of it. We are focusing on a text that is also a reflection of our community.

We’ve gone into the community to listen to the stories of real people, and out of those stories we’ve created plays. We are doing this in partnership with the Mexican Cultural Institute. They are also creating a symposium around the topic of immigration, which is why Mónica is here with us today. Mónica introduced me to the playwright Regina Moya and has also given us ways to look at the immigration problem from different points of view.

It is the continued mission of AtticRep to create a platform for dialogue. This time we’ve gone into the community and heard true stories of immigration. Out of that, we’ve created a play that will be performed as part of the Festival: Through the Wall/A Traves Del Muro. On the Porch with the Lavens is another example of community-based theater. With both plays, we asked people to tell their stories, and out of that we created two plays in collaboration with international artists.

With the immigration plays, we asked immigrants to tell the stories of their crossing. With the Lavens, we asked them to tell the story of their family. They wrote music, too, so it’s a mix of concert and play. They’re from San Antonio, but they are immigrants, too. Their father is from Amsterdam.

RR: What is your ultimate goal for this year’s Fest?

RP: With this new political climate, immigrants are perceived as criminals, so I want to offer a different voice. I did a project about immigration in 2007 with AtticRep and now, 10 years later, I’m doing a similar project. The difference between 10 years ago and now is that people today are scared to tell their stories. The stories they’re telling now deal with human trafficking. In 2007, they didn’t even use that term, but today, everyone is talking about it, especially young people.

A still taken from Through the Wall/A Traves del Muro.
A still taken from Through the Wall/A Traves del Muro. Credit: Courtesy / AtticRep

So I do hope this new format will continue to bring people together because I do want to further this work. My objective is to have people talk more about immigration and to have a better understanding. People should have a positive dialogue about immigrants and what they contribute to this country. My little contribution to the discussion is that immigrants are not criminals. I’m an immigrant. I’m an American citizen now, but I’m originally an immigrant. Immigrants come here because they have a need, because they are persecuted in their homeland. They are criminalized there, then they come here and are criminalized all over again. So this is my way of activism, if you will.

We were originally going to have four companies. A company from Italy that came here two years ago and performed for the students at Trinity [University], a very famous international company – their visa was revoked because they went to Tehran to perform. Because Iran is one of the seven nations in the ban, they had to apply for a different visa, and it was going to take six months to process.

RR: How are your two institutions supporting each other?

Mónica del Arenal: The Mexican Cultural Institute is providing the resources for Through the Wall. The testimonials are easier for us to get because we are Mexican. The immigrants would be suspicious [otherwise]. They are very worried about the future. Playwright Regina Moya, who is Mexican, has been in touch with these people. She’s very close to them all, especially these migrants who work in construction and housekeeping. Their stories would be very difficult to get without this sense of proximity.

RP: We got Regina through contact with the Institute. Without her, we would not have Through the Wall.

MDA: The second important contribution is Betsabeé Romero. She is the artist whose art we will present at the Institute. The main theme of her exhibition is immigration. It’s about a seed that goes on a journey and blooms in a new place. This is the metaphor of the exhibition. Betsabeé has done many projects on immigration and about the link between the criminals and immigrants. Some of the pieces are sensational, presenting the facts on both sides of the border, but done in an artistic way, so that’s what we want to show at the Institute. She is an internationally-renown artist known for her activism and provocative work. She also designed the set for Through the Wall and will be participating in a forum during the symposium.

Betsabeé Romero stands in front of her work. Credit: Courtesy / Betsabeé Romero

RP: The collaboration makes the festival more than just plays. It’s theater, an art exhibition, the symposium…

MDA: Storytelling for children, too. We want to present the big picture of the facts about immigration in San Antonio – the academic vision, the artist’s vision, and the people’s vision in the stories they tell. We want to raise awareness about how to protect the children, the women, and the people who cross illegally by presenting this information to the public. The symposium is open to the public.

All of the stories have been translated to English. It’s important to get the message across to Anglos.

RP: Yes, we don’t want to preach to the choir. The Mexican people know the story. It’s we who do not know the reality of what it is.

MDA: Also performing Through the Wall at the Tobin, where migrants don’t usually go, expands the audience. The audiences are different in the Institute and the Tobin. This way we can get the message across to as many people as we can. We hope to get as many people as possible to stop looking at immigrants as “the other.”

Below are AtticRep‘s three theatrical pieces, which bring talent from India, the United States, and Mexico:


Snapshots of a Fervid Sunrise | The Tobin Center, Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater

Written by Mahesh Dattani
Design and Direction by Dushyanth Gunashekar
Performed by Vaishwath Shankar

June 8 at 7:30 p.m.
June 9 at 8 p.m.

Dattani’s new play is a story of two teenagers in love, but not the kind of love we normally associate with teenagers. Khudiram Bose and Thillayaadi Velliamai never met, but they were both connected by a common passion – a love for their motherland. These brave young people took on an entire establishment, shaking the foundation of an unjust government.

On June 9, the piece will be preceded by a special dance performance. Entitled Dhanasri Thillana, it is performed by Kalalaya Indian Performing Arts students Aarthi Karthic and Madhavi Subramaniam (students of Kausi Subramaniam). The choreography is by Aarthi Karthic.

To buy tickets, click here.


On the Porch with The Lavens: How Music Shaped a Family | The Tobin Center, Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater

A production by AtticRep in collaboration with Tuppence Entertainment
Directed by Roberto Prestigiacomo
Written by Rachel Laven and Jacob Pursell

June 10 at 8 p.m.
June 11 at 2:30 p.m.

A screenshot from Snapshots of a Fervid Sunrise. Credit: Courtesy / AtticRep

This new, original work tells the story of San Antonio’s own Laven Family, from the generation that emigrated from Holland to the present day Laven family band. The show will feature live performances of songs by Rachel, Niko and Andreas Laven, and they will tell their stories up close and personal on their widely known “porch.”

To buy tickets, click here.


Through the Wall/A Traves del Muro | The Tobin Center, Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater

Written by Regina Moya
Directed by Roberto Prestigiacomo
Scene Design by Betsabeé Romero

June 16 at 8 p.m.
June 17 at 8 p.m.
June 18 at 2:30 p.m.

Through the Wall/A Traves del Muro is created from testimonies of Mexican migrants that have illegally crossed the border between Mexico and United States. It contains texts generated from interviews and stories of the people who crossed the border to achieve their American dream.

To buy tickets, click here.

Art Exhibition and Symposium | Mexican Cultural Institute

From June 15 through August 31, 2017, an exhibition of art by Betsabeé Romero entitled El Vuelo y Su Semilla will be on display at the Mexican Cultural Institute. Ms. Romero will be in attendance for the Opening Reception on June 15 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The galleries are open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

There will also be a symposium on the topic of immigration. Additionally, there will be activities for children with storytelling by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz. These activities will be held June 12-14, 2017, with the dates and times to be announced.

Kurt Gardner is a cultural critic and digital marketing professional. He reviews film, theater, and music for Blogcritics, ArtBeatLA and ArtSceneSA.