Teatro Leyden's Wave
Seven years ago, it occurred to a couple of Leyden theater directors that there was a large group of students missing out on participating in productions. For these teachers who believe deeply in the important life skills built both on stage and behind the scenes, something had to change in order to offer more students opportunities. Then, an idea - take one common script, and perform it in English and Spanish, giving multilingual students who were developing English language skills an equal shot in live theater. And, the award-winning Teatro Leyden was born.
This type of theater is very rare and unheard of at the high school level.
Technical director Vic Pilolla recalls one female lead, who quite literally got off the plane from Columbia and was cast in a show one week later. She later told her English teacher that this experience made her want to learn English even quicker so that she could do even more in theater.
“The students, and helping them connect with theater, is where my heart is - it’s why I do what I do and have been grateful every day that I get to come to Leyden and ‘play’,” said Pilolla.
Even though a tropical paradise retirement awaits in Hawaii, Pilolla felt deeply compelled to finish out this year, and with good reason. A few years back, when Teatro Leyden won an award and additional funds for its innovation, the Superintendent asked the theater department what they wanted to do with the money. “New lights, perhaps, or maybe some special equipment?” No. Again they had their sights set much bigger, on creating more opportunities for kids. They wanted to commission a playwright to author a play just for Leyden - a show that we would own.
“I wanted to produce a World Premiere, right here on our stage. I want our kids listed in the script as the original cast, and our set design on a back cover,” said Pilolla.
The theater department was off and running with the full support of the Leyden leadership to commission a play. They secured Chicago-based playwright Nancy Garcia Loza, a former student of Leyden’s director of curriculum Michael Manderino, to draft a script. García Loza, is a self-taught pocha playwright who is currently under commission from Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre and Albany Park Theater Project.
Garcia Loza and the team at Leyden worked through nearly 17 rewrites and drafts before the final script was ready to roll in March of 2020. The day after the cast list was posted, schools in Illinois were shut down due to the pandemic. What started as a few-week delay, turned into an entire school year and then some. Wanting to honor the seniors in the cast, a scaled-down radio style version was produced for a close group of family and friends.
During the 2020-21 season, Garcia Loza had various projects that were halted by the pandemic including five world premieres; one of them being Teatro Leyden’s Wave.
Here we find ourselves, a year-and-a-half later, and well into the 2021-22 school year. The show has been re-cast and is currently in rehearsals, with an eye on a World Premiere of the play “Wave” on October 22.
“Some of the students who were initially cast in the younger roles when they were freshmen and sophomores, have aged out, and look too old now to play those roles,” said Pilolla.
And according to director Frank Bavone, that’s more than okay. “The dedication these students have shown in spite of a global pandemic and having this show postponed multiple times is as impressive as the resolve that one of the play’s main characters, Dahlia, shows within the story itself,” said Bavone.
Bavone goes on to share that a group of 10 students have been with this project from the very first table read in spring of 2019. They spent countless hours during the lockdown as well as that summer workshopping the script via daily Zoom calls, which culminated in a LIVE audio drama July 2020. Over the next year, they participated in several other readings, all of which playwright Nancy Garcia Loza used to write the play that will finally see the stage in October.
“During that entire time and throughout this pandemic, each of these kids maintained a solid GPA, held down gainful employment, dealt with family struggles, health issues and other private issues,” said Bavone. “And yet, in this uncertainty, their commitment to theatre and particularly this show has never wavered. These kids' resolve and positivity gave me hope that everything was going to be ok after all,” said Bavone.
Everything is on the move in Tijuana: a border wall cuts into sand and sea, a blazing presidential campaign is soon to arrive, and the whales migrate. Everything is on the move, except for one young girl: Dahlia. On Playas de Tijuana, Dahlia is waiting to be reunited with her mother, just as promised a year earlier. For the past year, she has been living with relatives in Tijuana, keeping a painstaking count of the days. When her plans are disrupted, Dahlia is determined to find a new way. Together with her best friend, Diego, the unlikely pair venture into uncharted waters looking for a way north.
October 22, English 7 p.m.
October 23, Spanish 7 p.m.
October 24, 1 p.m. English, 6 p.m. Spanish
October 29, Spanish 7 p.m.
October 30, English 7 p.m.
English-Speaking Cast: Armani Gennell, Mia De Leon, Daniel Martinez, Julia Aragon, Mia Herrera, Yamilet Garcia-Gaona, Selma Duratovic, Christian Jimenez Garcia, Rhiannon Dienenthal, Gabriela Rodriguez, Grace Dillon, Oliver Prus, Gabriela Drozd, Stephanie Garibay, Alessia Incandela, Giovanna Fermin and Alexander Suryovch.
Spanish-Speaking Cast: Angel Morales, Daniela Castro, Rodolfo Torres, Jimena Ramirez, Danna Vera, Kathy De Jesus, Desiree Morad, Christian Jimenez Garcia, Madeline Medrano, Athiana Moran, Grace Dillon, Jairo Reina Perez, Gabriela Drozd, Layla Diaz, Gabriela Rodriguez and Alexander Suryovch.
Ensemble: Virgil Oppedisano, Christian Lagunas and Matthew Perez.
Crew: Assistant Directors: Jimena Ramirez and Korneliusz Kopera West; Stage Manager: Jisselle Munoz; Asst Stage Manager: Chloe Kovacevich; Costumes: Alexandra Holubowicz; Projection Design: Cyrill Reyes; Alum Staff: Fabian Bartos and Angelica Herrera; Director: Frank Bavone; Tech Director: Vic Pilolla; Lighting Design: Gabe Gorsline; Costume Design: Soozie Holms; and, Playwright: Nancy Garcia Loza.