ROCHESTER — A play set in a barber shop owned by a Puerto Rican man with clients talking about family, relationships, crime and education will debut next month.
And at the helm of the all-male Latino cast is a Puerto Rican woman.
Nydia Rivera, a local artist, said that she was thinking of ways to fill the voids she saw in community theater when the barber shop concept came to her. And "Macho’s Place" was born, she said.
‘There are many voids to fill artistically," Rivera noted. "The challenge for me was to find where is there a void. That was my quest."
In writing the play, though, her intent was not to represent all Latino men but simply to offer a slice of life in the community, she explained.
"It’s a moment in the lives of these Latino men who gather at the barbershop to share their frustrations, their news and what’s going on in their neighborhoods," she said.
Latino Theatre Productions is the second local group to arise in a renaissance of Latin-based live theater. Rochester Latino Theatre Company was born last year, and Rivera directed one of the presentations of its first play earlier this summer.
She hopes more local artists step up to the plate.
"We hope to become inspirational to others who want to take on the roles of acting, directing and writing," she said. "The more, the merrier."
A native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, Rivera said that she deliberately wrote the material in "Spanglish" — a blend of English and Spanish — for people who are Latino but were born and raised on the mainland and who are more comfortable conversing in English.
"We wanted to include them because there’s often no material (for this audience)", Rivera added.
The play’s premier also will serve as the acting debut for most of its nine cast members, said Elena Goldfeder, a Cuban-born actress and playwright who is the stage manager.
During a rehearsal Sept. 24 at the Shoshin Karate-Do studio owned by José Rivera, who also appears in the play, laughter erupted several times as Rivera offered notes for the novice actors as they struggled with staging concepts of blocking, delivery, body language and staying in character.
She and Goldfeder, who assisted with line reading, sat in front of the set as they went through several run-throughs of the final scenes of the one-act play. The barber’s chair is the focal point of the set with the men at chairs along each side of it.
"I need all of you to enunciate, to speak clearly, to take your time," Rivera said. "I know we (Latinos) can speak very fast. But on stage, it’s at a cost. When you go through emotions, you have to dig deep."
Goldfeder, who also has worked with Rochester Latino Theatre Company and is director of Casa Hispana at Nazareth College, said that she is heartened by the stereotypes that the men in the cast are breaking, such as that Latino men are not responsible.
"They have been here," she said. "They are rehearsing. We are thrilled with them."
And Rivera is not taking it easy on the group just because so many in the cast are new at theater, Goldfeder said.
"Nydia is excellent," she added. "She is tough but knows how to do it and get good results. … When you have a director like Nydia, you listen to her."
Rivera’s work as a director may be not be as familiar with Rochester residents as is her role as "Hola Lola," an improvisational storyteller for children. She also is a children’s theater instructor with Kuumba, a program for urban students to promote visual and creative arts, she said.
Rivera also has written skits for several organizations, including plays for Proyecto Prevención Players in the 1990s that featured actors living with HIV/AIDS.
For Harry Roldan, the opportunity to work with Rivera has proved to be a "funny and poignant" experience.
"We have to be clear about the fact that it’s her vision," he said. "We can’t clown around too much. … You have to take it seriously."
As an actor, she also has helped him stretch because he plays a man who never had a father in his life, even though Roldan never lived that experience, he said.
"I believe in Nydia," said Roldan, who is from New York City. "I trust her. She has great vision. She has great direction. I’ve grown a lot (as an actor)."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on "Macho’s Place," visit https://www.facebook.com/macho.place.