With more than eight million people and as many as 800 languages spoken in New York City, it’s up to the people to keep their cultures shining bright. And that’s exactly what People’s Theatre Project (PTP) has been doing for the immigrant community in New York for the last decade and a half.
Rooted in Washington Heights and Inwood, PTP makes theater with and for immigrant communities to build a more just and equitable world. PTP is more than a theater company; it’s a social justice organization. Social justice is both their operating framework and their end destination – defining social justice as a state of equitable representation and political power in which systems work for all people, in particular those who are marginalized by discrimination based on race, gender, economics, sexual orientation, language and ability.
Throughout history and across cultures, theater has been used to inspire and move social justice forward, and the immigrant- and women-of-color-led cultural organization carries on that important tradition.
Now in its 14th anniversary season, PTP is Manhattan’s largest performing arts organization north of Harlem. Through ensemble-based, multilingual and multigenerational programming, PTP’s unique brand of theater is a powerful artistic platform for immigrants and members of the Latine, Black, and Queer communities.
PTP will soon begin work to develop the city’s first and only immigrant cultural center, located in Inwood, thanks to its selection after a rigorous process by the City of New York, which kicked in $15 million to date. The center will present live musical and dance performances, film screenings and other community events, and audiences from across the city will be able to experience theatrical performances that center and explore the breadth of immigrant experiences represented in New York City. For children and families, the center will offer festivals, student matinees and field trips and community partner programming.
The center will house the PTP Company, a professional multilingual ensemble of immigrant artists of color, and the PTP Academy, a theater and social justice leadership program dedicated to the holistic development of immigrant youth; all participants in the academy receive a full scholarship. Since 2009, PTP has engaged more than 10,000 Latine, Black and immigrant youth of color in its partnerships and public programs.
Founding Executive Director Mino Lora was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and has been living and working as a theater artist, activist, educator and arts administrator in New York City since 2000. She has dedicated her life to social justice and worked with young people in the city, Dominican Republic and South Africa, and has been a guest lecturer and speaker at Yale University, The New School, Columbia University, Fordham and SUNY Potsdam.
Inherently, the target audience of PTP is immigrants and people of color with a primary focus on the Latine community, especially Washington Heights and Inwood, because this community serves as an important political and cultural hub for Dominicans and other communities of color.
What issues does People’s Theatre Project work to address?
Mino says that, “For too long, immigrants and people of color have been sold a story that they have little value in our society and their voices don’t matter. We are facing some of the greatest challenges our world has ever seen. Our country is in need of deeper civic engagement in our communities, yet immigrants and people of color do not see themselves represented in the American dream and many feel disempowered to make a difference. We aim to flip that narrative by offering immigrants and people of color the space to reimagine a just society and engage community stakeholders in a productive dialogue.”
How does the “theater” factor in?
Founding Managing Director Bob Braswell says that, “Theater is our passion and serves as an accessible and exciting vehicle (like a big colorful party bus!) to get us to our end goal. Making theater is an act of joyful resistance and it belongs to the people! Our rehearsal rooms and stages are brave spaces full of creative possibilities where we can build community, experiment with new ideas, and activate leadership.”
The core belief of PTP is that the stories of Latine, Black, and immigrant communities must be told by immigrants themselves, which is why PTP creates high-quality, accessible theater for these communities and their artists, and brings the issues and stories that impact their everyday lives center stage.
This April, PTP will celebrate the world premiere of The Diamond – an original play – written by immigrants and starring a majority-immigrant cast, playing at Pregones Theater in the Bronx. The play follows a group of detained immigrants who conspire against a dystopian government. They lead a revolution but realize they will only be free when they remember who they are.
Created by immigrants, The Diamond is written by Christin Eve Cato (Sancocho) and directed by Chuk Obasi (The Weaver (part II): Paradigm), and is brought to life by a ten-member, majority-immigrant cast: Ampeire Bireije (Uganda), Josephine Cho (Korea), Yadira De La Riva (Mexico/US), Yekta Khaghani (Iran), Gerdania Mendoza (Dom. Rep/US), Journey Peters (US), Elizabeth Salazar (Guatemala), Paola Alexandra Soto (Dom. Rep), Vida Tayebati (Iran) and Osei White (US).
The Diamond’s creative team includes Amanda Ekery (composer); Izmir Ickbal (scenic & projections designer); Rodrigo Hernandez Martinez (costume designer); Xiangfu Xiao (lighting designer); Majo Ferrucho (stage manager); Jiawen Hu (producer); Angela Dixon (assistant director); Bob Braswell (managing director); and Mino Lora (executive artistic director).
“This world premiere production of The Diamond represents the culmination of four years of research, story-sharing, devising, workshopping and production,” says Lora. “It is incredibly rewarding to finally share this play with the world. It takes very personal stories and weaves it into a fictional dystopian nation that illustrates the challenges that far too many immigrants in today’s world experience. We hope The Diamond will inspire audiences to recognize the immense power of our heritage and identities as well as the role that immigrants and people of color can play in this country.”
The show will run April 12-23, 2023 at Pregones Theater, at 575 Walton Avenue in The Bronx. Tickets are available at https://peoplestheatreproject.org/thediamond/. General admission is $25, and student and senior admission is $10. The Diamond is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Through PTP Academy and PTP Partnership programs, the organization ensures that the next generation of immigrant children finds a way to express themselves by partnering with local K-12 schools and community partners. Students work together with their teaching artist to create a multi-disciplinary theatrical collage that celebrates the cultures represented in the classroom. Through this process, students build their creative capacity, celebrate their culture and discover the power of community and collaboration through theater.
The PTP Academy is a rigorous, multi-year theater and social justice leadership program dedicated to the holistic development of immigrant youth and youth of color. PTP Academy feels like an artistic laboratory that fosters a deep sense of belonging, a brave space where participants can come as they are and grow in their social-emotional learning as young artists and leaders.
PTP’s core programs—the PTP Company, the PTP Academy and PTP Partnerships—are designed to work together as an ongoing programmatic cycle. Together, PTP participants, artists and audiences deepen their sense of power and strengthen their connection to community, reimagining and building a more equitable world.