Ricardo Vila-Roger is a teaching artist-in-residence at the University of Pittsburgh. He recently directed Water by the Spoonful, written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, in an attempt to bring the Latino voice to Pittsburgh.1
Background: Vila-Roger was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico but moved to the continental United States for his father’s army placement.2 He explains that the army was and still is a way for young men to get jobs and “unfortunately get off the island.” While Ricardo does not identify as an outgoing person he has joined the Latino community in Pittsburgh through Café con Leche and the Latin American Cultural Union.
Water by The Spoonful: Water By the Spoonful is “a Pulitzer Prize winning play that has not been touched in this town.” Ricardo added that there are theater companies in Pittsburgh that are dedicated to produce plays written in the past five years and “if they're not doing it, who will? It’s definitely a voice that’s not well heard here.” He knew that even if a lot of people from community didn’t come, there would be more than 18 theater classes of students who are required to attend all shows. Even if it didn’t reach the larger community, the conversations and discussions would be created between students. It is also important to note that Ricardo chose Water By the Spoonful because it has more roles for students and women in particular. “Even when we do Latino theater, sometimes it’s very male heavy” but at the university there are lot of talented women to whom he wanted to give opportunities.
During the rehearsal process one of Ricardo’s favorite moments captured “the definition of diversity.” Casted in the play was an Egyptian man, fluent in Arabic and an Asian woman, fluent in Chinese, but the play contained some Japanese dialogue. There was one theater student who takes Japanese and “It was just awesome to have a young white male come in to teach an Asian female and an Egyptian male Japanese. It brought people together who were there to learn.”
Although the show didn’t have the attendance that Ricardo hoped, it was received really well. “People had never heard about the author but wanted to look into her other works because her writing was so beautiful.” Feedback from teachers about the discussions with students was positive as well. One student said that even though she is not Latino there’s so many things she could relate to. “That’s the whole point. Even though this might seem like it’s very narrowly focused on Latino culture because it’s so specific, it can actually be much more universal.” Talk backs brought in the actors, assistant directors, prominent faculty at the university, and Ricardo to create conversations with the audience. Ricardo says that he definitely formed more connections and become aware of what’s out there in the greater Latino community in Pittsburgh from the experience.
Vision for the Future: Ricardo hopes to put together a theater group that has a focus on Latino plays or plays about Latino topics. While he doesn’t feel qualified in his business skills to start a theater company alone, he is in the early stages of planning with others. At this stage the group would be started by many Latinos in theater and others who are aware that it’s a voice that’s not being heard in Pittsburgh. Recently a show with several Puerto Rican roles was produced in Pittsburgh but the roles were filled by non-Puerto Rican actors. “Even when we can sort of tell our stories, the opportunities aren’t necessarily open to us. So how can I change that, rather than complain about it?” As an easier way to see and create conversations than academic papers, Vila-Roger envisions how moving it would be to even bring play readings to Pittsburgh. He says, “Just to bring awareness to these places, I think people don’t even look them up, they don’t know them, it doesn’t occur to them that these are voices that are worth listening to.”
1) "Ricardo Vila-Roger - Richard E. Rauh Teaching Artist-In-Residence." University of Pittsburgh Theater Arts, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
2) Vila-Roger, Ricardo. Personal interview. 9 November 2015.