The following is a transcript of highlights from a November 2023 conversation between La Broa’ (Broad Street) playwright Orlando Hernández and director Tatyana-Marie Carlo:

Getting to know la comunidad latina of Providence

Marta V. Martínez speaks with the cast of La Broa’ (Broad Street) on a barrio tour. Photo by Marisa Lenardson.

Tatyana-Marie Carlo: The first time I ever went to Broad Street was during my first week of grad school at the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program. Marta Martínez led us on a tour of Broad Street, including Doña Fefa’s Market, which is a cafe now. It was a bonding experience for my classmates and me. And it was cool to meet Marta almost immediately after starting school.

I got to know the larger Rhode Island Latine community through the relationship between Trinity Rep and Rhode Island Latino Arts! Before my first semester, I was in Providence apartment hunting, showing my mom where I’d be living. We were right in front of Trinity Rep, and [former Associate Artistic Director] Tyler Dobrowsky happened to walk by. He invited me to Teatro en El Verano rehearsal.

Orlando Hernández: I remember you coming in! We were rehearsing a love scene for Romeo & Juliet, so it was just us and Maria [Gabriela Rosado, who played Juliet].

TMC: Through Tyler, Trinity Rep, and RILA, I was able to direct La Tempestad for Teatro the next year. That’s when I started meeting more of the Providence Latine community, and it has just multiplied since, especially after directing Tanta Bulla.

OH: My family has a connection to Providence. My mom is Jewish and grew up on Public and Milk Street. The first time I came to Rhode Island as an adult, I went to check out the house she grew up in. It was a tiny little house without heat, and she had all these stories about growing up there. It was now a very Latino neighborhood. That was definitely not the case when she was there in the 50s. It raised questions about neighborhoods and places changing,

When I moved here in 2014, I went on a little reconnaissance to find different things to get involved in. I found the Rhode Island Latino Artists Network, which was part of RILA. They had a networking event in south Providence. I met Marta, and other artists like Saúl Ramos, who would translate that Teatro production of Romeo and Juliet. That’s how I got involved with Teatro en El Verano as a playwright/translator and actor. It’s just fun for me because there’s a very clear thread for me from South Providence to Trinity Rep, and beyond. For me, the Latino community and the arts community in Rhode Island are all kind of threaded together.

A collective breath

TMC: When I was directing La Tempestad, I remember thinking there wasn’t a pipeline from Teatro tours to the main stage. I was always screaming from the rooftops that if these actors are good enough to tour the state, they’re good enough to perform at Trinity Rep!

The cast of Tanta Bulla… ¿Y Pa’ Qué?/Much Ado About Nothing, 2019’s Teatro en El Verano production.

The first time someone did cross over was Rudy Cabrera in A Tale of Two Cities. But Sueño was really the watershed moment. I cast Rudy, as well as Arturo Puentes, Victor Neto, Alfie Antillon, and Catia: all people who started with Teatro. I think that helped pave the way for more Teatro artists to get to the main stage. La Broa’ really brings it all full circle.

OH: For a long time, Trinity Rep and Teatro en El Verano wanted to develop something for the main stage. And Marta was already adapting some of her oral histories with [Brown/Trinity Rep alum] Marcel Mascaró into theatrical works like monologues.

I wasn’t brought in until February 2020, when Marta and Tyler reached out to me about adapting “Nuestras Raíces” into a full main stage production as a Trinity Rep commission. But of course, COVID hit and it was shelved.

In the spring of 2022, Tatyana picked it back up as a part of the new play development festival she led at Trinity Rep. That’s when it really picked up momentum again.

The script has changed more than I can even say. It has transformed because of the way the room has felt, and the input from everyone.

TMC: And since this play is inspired by Marta’s book, we had to make some changes, right? There are so many people that she talks about, so we had to combine stories, or bring certain characters together.

I’ve been on the periphery of this project for a long time. I wasn’t directly involved until … what was the first workshop I did?

Tatyana and Orlando in a November 2023 workshop of La Broa’ (Broad Street). Photo by Natasha Samreny.

OH: As a director? Probably this past August.

TMC: Yeah, that was the first time that I was officially involved. I had been watching it and organizing workshops, but that was when I began directing.

OH: Something that Tatyana brings to the rehearsal room is a feeling that ‘We’re all in it together, and we’re gonna figure it out.’ When Tatyana came in, it felt like the ship was headed toward the destination.

Some of the actors that are in the production have been a part of it since the beginning. But some of the folks were just at workshops, but they’re very much a part of what the script is and what this whole project is. Like Jeff [Ararat], for example, brings great energy to the room, and he’s from Central Falls. He was like “This is the type of theater that didn’t exist when I grew up. And now I get to be a part of it.”

One of the workshops was on Zoom last fall, and that let us tap into a network of artists on a national scale. We had Latine actors in New York, in Texas. It affirmed that this is both a Rhode Island story and a Latine story, shared across lots of places in the United States. In a lot of Latinx spaces, there’s this sort of relaxation and humor, this “extended family” feeling you find that’s not always in predominately white-led spaces.

TMC: I’m with what you were saying Orlando. It’s like the feeling when you get home and relax! And it was the same with The Inferior Sex working with all women, but for different reasons. There is a collective breath that can happen in these spaces where we can be ourselves and say, “We’re here to do the thing, but it can also be fun.”

Even when things are at their toughest, there’s even more laughter and more joy in Latinx spaces. I think about my grandmother’s funeral, how you’d hear roaring laughter alongside people sobbing in the corner. There’s just an ease knowing that the work will be done, but we don’t have to be militant about it. I’m really excited for [non-Latine cast members] Madeleine Russell, David Bertoldi, and [stage manager] Buzz Cohen to be in the space and watch this all happen.

Representation Matters

TMC: Trinity Rep is “Rhode Island’s State Theater.” And especially being in Providence, where over 40% of the population is Latinx, and neighboring cities like Central Falls where the population is over 70% People [should] see themselves represented, and we can also tell stories we don’t always hear about. The great thing about La Broa’ is we know that there are a lot of Latino people here now, but at one point there wasn’t.

The cast of La Broa’ (Broad Street). Photo by Marisa Lenardson.

We get to hear the stories of Buddy Cianci, who was this huge figure. But what about the regular, everyday people who made it possible for generations of families to be here now? Everyday people like Doña Fefa weren’t acting as pillars of their communities for fame or notoriety. They were doing it to help people. I think highlighting the stories of people who wanted to help their communities [but] weren’t necessarily a “big figure” like a mayor shows that you, an everyday person, can make the world a better place.

OH: Agreed. I want to get historical for a second. The U.S., let’s be real, is an empire. And one of the major places where it has exploited people and resources is Latin America. If you look at why there are so many Latin Americans coming to the U.S, it’s because of the very unequal, exploitative relationship between the U.S. and Latin America.

My dad came from Puerto Rico to the U.S. because the U.S. was like this center of power. You could get an education and could find new opportunities. A lot of Latin American people would not want to live in the freezing New England winters otherwise!

I think in the U.S., we’re kind of reckoning with the fact that the U.S. holds different realities. And some of the more beautiful realities come from these violent contradictions. People coming here for very messed up reasons that can be directly tied to American exploitation of Latin America, whether economically or politically. Some people come because they’re fleeing from conflict. Some come for opportunity. Some come because they have family here. But when they end up here, they find ways to support each other as a community. And in the process, they’re changed, and the place changes.

Theater holds this potential for viewing and experiencing transformation. You watch people become characters, you become part of a world that you didn’t know about. And then maybe you can become empowered or instigated to act in the world outside of the theater.